Anarchism of Fools: “What’s Left?” April 2008, MRR #299

Part One: Anarchism of-by-for Fools

We Fascists are the only true anarchists. Once we’ve become masters of the state, true anarchy is that of power.

The Duke in
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Pier Paolo Pasolini

Today, both communism and fascism, ideologies that the French fascist Robert Brasillach once called “the two poetries” of the 20th century, seem exhausted given the triumph of multinational capitalism. Yet periods of ideological decay often breed strange new variants, such as the “Red-Brown alliance” in the former Soviet Union, which do not easily fit into conventional political-science categories of “left” and “right.”

Dreamer of the Day
Francis Parker Yockey and the
Postwar Fascist International
(1999)
Kevin Coogan

It was the December, 1993 annual general meeting, at the old MRR Clipper Street house. The one with the spacious, downstairs record library slash radio-recording studio. It was the night of the Great Purge.

I’d been doing shitwork at MRR for almost two and a half years, ever since I moved to the Bay Area in July, 1991. I’d also written a couple of guest columns under the pseudonym “Lefty” Hooligan. Tim Yohannan liked them enough that he proposed I do a “three dot” Herb Caen-style news column for the magazine’s recently revived news section. “All The News That Fits” was a regular feature of the news section by the time of the general meeting, though no one outside of Tim and I knew I was “Lefty” Hooligan.

Downstairs was jammed with volunteers, on rumors that something big was in the works. It was Tim Yo’s show that night, and he did a pretty fair impersonation of Mao, the Great Helmsman, unleashing the Cultural Revolution. First, he axed two-thirds of the music the magazine covered, claiming that what he was excluding just wasn’t punk rock. Then, he canned MRR co-founder and conservative columnist Jeff Bale, arguing that he didn’t want political opinions expressed in the magazine that could be read in the mainstream media. Tim proposed that individual columnists could cover the kinds of music-pop punk, crossover metal, emo, oi, etc.-that were now outside MRR‘s official purview. He also offered to let Jeff continue to do record reviews, an offer Jeff refused. The compromises were choreographed, as was combining Jeff Bale’s firing with the music purge, in a heavy-handed Stalinist minuet.

Tim sought to play off the right-Jeff Bale who wholeheartedly supported the music purge-against the left-those volunteers who liked what Tim considered to be non-punk music but who also didn’t like Bale’s increasingly conservative political bent. There was a lot of protest and grumbling but, for the most part, the strategy seemed to work. The only time Tim got worried, he later confided, was when Larry Livermore tried to rally the opposition to Tim’s actions. Larry pointed out that, without the magazine’s dedicated shitworkers, Tim couldn’t publish MRR, then went on to argue that since “we all” had recently turned out the Republicans from the White House by voting for Bill Clinton, MRR‘s volunteers should vote down Tim’s proposed changes to the magazine.

I was a drinking man in those days. I was on my third bottle of Red Hook, and feeling little pain. I don’t remember if I actually interrupted Larry’s ersatz Joe Hill speech, or simply waited for a pause in his diatribe to interject my little jab.

“I kinda remember the election of Bill Clinton to the presidency,” I said, gesturing with my nearly empty beer bottle. “But I don’t remember the election of Tim Yohannan to run Maximum Rocknroll.”

That broke Larry’s momentum. Within minutes, a dozen folks were voicing versions of “yeah, this is Tim’s zine, and he has the right to do what he wants with it.” The debate shifted from Bale’s firing and the music purge, to whether Tim had the authority to do what he was planning. And even though Larry excoriated the rest of us as sheep in his next column, when it came down to it, most of the volunteers sided with Tim’s right to run the magazine as he saw fit.

I still have great affection for Tim Yo’s memory. To call him a Stalinist would not have insulted him in the least. He was a hard assed bastard, often puritanical, who prided himself on being an outright asshole, when necessary. He ran Maximum like a well-oiled machine, and he never lacked for conviction in pursuing what he felt was right. The man had balls, and while his decisions in 1993 eventually spawned HeartattaCk and Punk Planet zines in response, they also helped revitalize punk rock yet one more time by insisting on a return to musical basics. Most of us shitworkers at the time thought Tim was too dogmatic in his political opinions, and too rigid in his musical tastes. Yet we respected the man, and worked for him, not merely because he was willing to stand up and fight for what he believed. When Tim decided to take on an issue or an individual, he gave no quarter, took no prisoners and fought to the bitter end.

I was reminded of the Great Purge recently when a locally administered anarchist internet board had one hell of a time ejecting a lone, locally based national anarchist who joined up to propagandize the anarchist milieu. The contrast couldn’t be more striking. I trust that anybody with access to Google can search out the parties in question, so I don’t have to name any names here. Frankly, I don’t want to give the national anarchists any more publicity. As for the anarchist board, they’re a bit of an embarrassment. It took them over a week of some of the most spineless debate imaginable to agree to ban the anarcho-fascist, and then only after it was pretty convincingly revealed that the NA was pursuing a strategy of political entryism. With all that, the administrator only reluctantly decided to shitcan the NA because he didn’t “have the (emotional) time to be arguing about this with strangers right now.” Is it any wonder anarchists keep losing revolutions?

The emergence in the Bay Area of self-declared national anarchists that regular anarchists now have to contend with is one more turn in the syncretistic politics on the far right. There are already national revolutionaries, autonomist nationalists, and National Bolsheviks. Rather than waste column space detailing the convoluted and arcane evolution, say, of national anarchism from the pro-Catholic International Third Position and the pro-Qadddafy National Revolutionary Faction, I’d like to make some broad comments on political syncretism, left and right.

Syncretistic tendencies seeking to combine seemingly opposing political ideologies can be found across the political spectrum, of course. But anarchism has proven to be wildly, almost indiscriminately syncretistic, hence the anarcho hyphenation that virtually every anarchist employs. One is an anarcho-pacifist, -individualist, -capitalist, -mutualist, -feminist, -syndicalist, -communist, -primitivist, or some combination thereof. Why not anarcho-fascist? That fascism enters the house of anarchism through the door of nationalism should not come as a surprise. For all of modern anarchism’s vehement opposition to the nation-state, nationalism and patriotism, there are several points at which anarchism is vulnerable to the siren song of nationalism.

Early anarchist writers like Proudhon and Bakunin distinguished between nationality and the nation-state, championing self-determination for the former and abolition of the latter. In turn, early anarchist movements in Russia, China, and Mexico had a decidedly grassroots nationalist caste. It was only in response to the persistent internationalism and class analysis of Marxism, which came to dominate workers movements after the Russian Revolution, that anarchism became more critical of nationalism, and more internationalist in perspective. This populist (some call it völkisch) form of nationalism reemerged in the anarchist milieu via the British Alternative Socialist Movement and the Black Ram Group in the 1970s and 80s, which attempted to reclaim various pre-Marxist utopian and socialist concepts from the far right. Finally, a number of former Black Panther Party members, and other individuals associated with the black liberation struggles of the 1960s, rejected their previous authoritarian politics for anarchism, all the while retaining their commitment to revolutionary black nationalism.

Mention of the Black Panthers points up that Marxism’s fervid internationalism has frequently been blunted, syncretized time and again with nationalism. The social democratic parties of the Second International voted to support the war efforts of their respective national governments during WWI, and Leninism has allowed Marxism to be hyphenated, until we come to Mao who wrote: “in wars of national liberation, patriotism is applied internationalism.” Needless to say, Lenin’s own support for national self-determination and his theory of imperialism greased the slide into an almost indiscriminate support for wars of national liberation, socialist or otherwise. And let’s not forget the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran, which has managed to meld its Marxism-Leninism with orthodox Islam.

Perhaps the most syncretistic kind of politics comes from the right in the form of fascism. Historians of fascism are still at a loss to come up with a minimum definition of fascism that the field can agree upon, precisely because of its capacity to incorporate apparently unrelated, even outright contradictory political ideas. The clerical fascism of Portugal’s Salazar, the justicialismo of Peron’s Argentina, the European empire of Yockey and Evola, the electoral fascism of the British National Party, the thousand European flags of de Benoist, the faux-socialism of Mussolini’s Salo Republic; fascism is all over the place. There are even those historians, like Zeev Sternhell, who reject that fascism is a creature of the right at all, and contend that it expresses a synthesis of ultra-right and ultra-left desires for a post-bourgeois social order that essentially goes beyond right and left.

Indeed, it is possible to cite a number of individuals, such as Mussolini and Sorel, who started as socialists but who became fascists. Small sections of the syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist labor movements in France, Spain and Italy came to embrace kinds of national syndicalism in sync with fascist corporatism. Yet Robert O. Paxton’s observation in his The Anatomy of Fascism holds true. While fascists often talked a strident anti-capitalist polemic, they never walked the walk by attempting to abolish private property, liquidate the bourgeoisie, give power to the working class, radically restructure the state apparatus, or the like. At most, fascists strictly regulated the capitalist economy within the national territory they controlled, subjecting the native bourgeoisie, sometimes harshly, to what they perceived as the interests of the nation.

For it is in the exaltation of the nation through extreme nationalism that we find what is essential to fascism. Despite its bewildering diversity, there hasn’t been a type of fascism independent of virulent nationalism. Yockey’s European-wide imperium and de Benoist’s tribal ethnes are merely variations on this theme, quite easily reconciled through an updated feudalism that, like Charlemagne’s mythic empire, would continentally unite a thousand autonomous European ethnicities. National distinctions may often account for fascism’s syncretistic idiosyncrasies. Certainly, the fact that fascism’s foundation stone is nationalism defines it as of the right.

A former professor of mine likened politics to farting into a whirlwind-you never know where the smell winds up. Political syncretism can sometimes present one with the choice of working with some rather odious people who claim to be on the same side. The National Anarchist who caused such paroxysms on the above-noted anarchist board did argue that his being against the state and nation-state were what defined his politics, that his type of tribal nationalism (read, decentralized racial separatism) was incidental to his fundamental anarchism, and that anarchists of all persuasions should be able to connect, communicate, and perhaps cooperate in opposing their common enemy, the state.

Keith Preston, an individualist anarchist, has also argued on his American Revolutionary Vanguard website that left and right anarchists, separatists and secessionists should all work together to overthrow the government. It is no coincidence that these calls for left-right collaboration, like the original call to go “beyond left and right,” invariably originate on the right. The right seems to actively syncretize with the left along the axis of revolutionary opposition to the state, a characteristic not limited to fascism. In the late 1960s, a significant segment of William F. Buckley’s conservative, college-based Young Americans for Freedom split off as anti-war, anti-state, right-wing libertarians and anarcho-capitalists. Under the influence of folks like Murray Rothbard, who published Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought with Karl Hess from 1965 to 1968, these right-wingers veered decidedly to the left and energetically courted left-libertarian elements on the moribund New Left of the day.

Jerome Tuccille describes all of this, rather humorously in his books It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand and Radical Libertarianism, from the perspective of one of those right-libertarian rebels. I was a left-wing anarchist at the time, and I’m here to confess that I was suckered into believing that some sort of left-right libertarian cooperation was possible. I participated in a couple of dismal efforts at seeking out some sort of common ground between left and right libertarians. I came to the realization, during a so-called left-right study group in which all the right libertarians were extolling the joys of hording gold and silver, that it was a waste of time trying to work with anarcho-capitalists.

Our supposedly minor differences-cooperative vs. competitive economics, social property vs. private property, collectivism vs. individualism-far outweighed our single, prominent commonality-our shared desire to abolish the state. We seldom attended the same events, we rarely took the same actions, and we hardly spoke the same language. What’s more, it wasn’t as if left leaning anarchists had all managed to get along, much less work together. And the shibboleth of unity on the Left was as much a pipedream, then as now. There was no good reason for left-wing libertarians to try and form an alliance with right-wing libertarians.

Just as there is no good reason today for the rest of the anarchist milieu to have anything to do with the joke that calls itself national anarchism. That won’t stop addled anarchos from paraphrasing Rodney King and pontificating that all anti-statists should try and get along. A couple of regular posters did just that on the anarchist board in question in response to calls to ban the national anarchist. At least King had the excuse that he was beaten senseless by the LAPD.

That nationalism proved instrumental in the process of syncretism in all but one of the historical examples described in this column is what’s particularly telling. As a stone internationalist of the Marxist persuasion, I’m aware of how much Marx underrated nationalism as a social force, and of how little the ultraleft has done to correct this deficiency. The same could be said for race and racism. And while these inadequacies are part of the reason I no longer call myself a left communist, this column has gone on far too long to discuss them here and now.

Next month, predictions gone awry.