Je Suis Charlie: “What’s Left?” March 2015, MRR #382

I woke up on Thursday morning, January 8, to learn of the massacre of twelve French individuals at the headquarters of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, by two other French nationals, Muslims who claimed allegiance to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This Al Qaeda affiliate which operates primarily in Yemen acknowledged that it had directed the Paris attack “as revenge for the honor” of the long-dead Prophet Muhammad, who had supposedly been blasphemed by the bandes dessinées of Charlie’s four famous cartoonists. Right away, I noticed that virtually all of the online stories and posts covering the bloody assault from major media outlets featured a video of the two masked gunmen fleeing their strike that looked severely edited. When I tracked down the original, full version of that video, it showed what was missing: the escaping gunmen wounding an unarmed policeman on the sidewalk outside Charlie Hebdo, then circling back to dispatch the policeman with a shot to the head as he lie begging for mercy.

This was just the most obvious example of media self-censorship in this incident, an act of squeamishness made more ironic by being contrasted in my mind to the regular cop-heavy American TV fare with its colossal—if fictitious—graphic body counts. Add to this the media outcry over the attack on “freedom of expression” that the Charlie Hebdo massacre is assumed to represent and the irony is complete.

Emily Greenhouse commented in Bloomberg (“What’s at stake in Europe’s response to Charlie Hebdo,” 1/8/15) on the “complicated cultural realities” across the continent as illustrated by France. Home to the largest Jewish minority in Europe, France also has the largest Muslim population in Europe. So, while French president Hollande proclaimed a nationwide battle against racism and anti-semitism in 2015, “[f]or all of France’s fine political abstractions, ethnic identity is inescapable. Everyone is obsessed with where everyone else comes from. The French government tells itself that it doesn’t ‘see’ or recognize race, so racism is impossible—but those are just words.” Holocaust denial, as well as overt anti-semitic hate speech, is illegal in France as well as the rest of western Europe, but this is not the case with anti-Muslim or anti-Arab hate speech. Using the case of the French government’s political harassment of comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala to illustrate the larger issue, Greenhouse writes: “It might upset some people that Dieudonné’s comedy—at the expense, some perceive, of Jews—is illegal, while Charlie Hebdo’s comedy—at the expense, some perceive, of Muslims—is not.”

Charlie Hebdo itself exemplified this contradiction by, on the one hand, firing a cartoonist in 2008 for making illegal anti-semitic comments while, on the other hand, regularly printing perfectly legal, nasty anti-Muslim cartoons. Jordan Weissman argued in Slate: “So Charlie Hebdo’s work was both courageous and often vile. […] We have to condemn obvious racism as loudly as we defend the right to engage in it.” Free speech absolutist Glenn Greenwald goes the step further in his column “In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons” on The Intercept website (1/9/15). “One defends the right to express repellent ideas while being able to condemn the idea itself.” Greenwald lays out this principle, which he heartily supports, while taking things to an extreme, which is his wont:
But this week’s defense of free speech rights was so spirited that it gave rise to a brand new principle: to defend free speech, one not only defends the right to disseminate the speech, but embraces the content of the speech itself. Numerous writers thus demanded: to show ‘solidarity’ with the murdered cartoonists, one should not merely condemn the attacks and defend the right of the cartoonists to publish, but should publish and even celebrate those cartoons. ‘The best response to Charlie Hebdo attack,’ announced Slate’s editor Jacob Weisberg, “is to escalate blasphemous satire.”
Greenwald then proceeds to reprint some vile Nazi/white supremacist anti-semitic cartoons, as well as some of Carlos Latuff’s more thoughtful, virulent anti-Zionist cartoons, in a tongue-in-cheek “solidarity.” This is plainly a case of “what is good for the goose is good for the gander,” to use an old cliché. Greenwald proceeds to lambast the suppression of ideas and the media’s self-censorship “out of fear (rather than a desire to avoid publishing gratuitously offensive material)” and argues that “there are all kinds of pernicious taboos in the west that result in self-censorship or compelled suppression of political ideas, from prosecution and imprisonment to career destruction: why is violence by Muslims the most menacing one?”

Glenn Greenwald excoriates unreflective calls for solidarity with Charlie Hebdo in order to bolster his defense of the right to express repellent ideas while condemning those ideas themselves. I do admire free speech absolutists like Greenwald, while not being one myself. One reason I am not is based on “fine political abstractions” like not believing in the concept of “rights.” Our “rights” cannot be guaranteed by some spook in the sky (God) or some piece of parchment (the Constitution’s Bill of Rights) or some fanciful state of nature (which seems in conflict with concurrent notions of “the survival of the fittest”). If we depend on the government to defend our “rights,” then what the government gives the government can certainly take away. And if we depend on ourselves, individually and collectively, to defend our “rights” through organization and action to advance our power, we come awfully close to declaring that “might is right.” The idea of “rights” then is sorely lacking in any intelligent foundation.

My main reason, however, is practical. If I belonged to a minority group, and some other group of people were organizing to massacre me and other members of my minority, I would do everything in my power to defend myself and my group to prevent being killed, including denying my attackers their free speech as a tool for organizing their attempt at genocide. In a previous column, I defended Vidal Sassoon’s history in joining the British 43 Group of Jewish war veterans in 1947 to streetfight against Oswald Mosley’s resurgent fascist Union Movement, with the 43 Group’s intent to bloody the Union Movement’s members, shatter its organization, and crush its social movement. Individual freedoms can never be absolute as they are invariably in conflict, with my freedom to stay alive in conflict with some fascist’s freedom to liquidate my commie pinko ass, for instance. If some Nazi scum were talking smack in preparation of wiping out me and my fellow Reds, I would not hesitate to shut them up to keep them from organizing and carrying through with their plans.

All of this is crucially important, what with the violence at Charlie Hebdo threatening to “fuel support for the far-right, anti-immigrant, xenophobic politics throughout Europe” and here in the United States, again according to Emily Greenhouse. James Neuger details many of the particulars of this supposed turn to the right in Europe, from the National Front in France to Germany’s Pegida, in his article “Europe’s Islam Debate Erupts as Paris Killers at Large” (Bloomberg News, 1-8-15). It is far too simplistic however to argue that Islamic terrorism feeds rightwing reaction, squeezing out “freedom of expression” in the middle. This is actually part of a broader polarization of European politics which sees the rise of more extreme politics on both Left and Right due to a number of factors, as correspondents from The Guardian/Observer sketched in “Across Europe disillusioned voters turn to outsiders for solutions” in November of last year. Listed are not just the National Front but also the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire in France, Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement in Italy, the ultra-left Syriza and ultra-right Golden Dawn in Greece, leftist German Die Linke as well as rightist Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the rightwing Sweden Democrats and Norway’s Progress Party as well as the leftwing Feminist Initiative in Sweden and Danish Red-Green Alliance. Also discussed are Britain’s UKIP and BNP on the right and the pro-secessionist Scottish National Party, the rise of the Socialists and People Before Profit in Ireland alongside massive popular tax rebellions, and the left leaning Podemas Party that grew out of the indignados protests in Spain in 2011-12 in addition to regional secessionist movements such as the Republican Left of Catalonia. The Left’s anti-austerity and anti-globalization concerns are counterpointed by the Right’s anti-immigrant nationalism, with issues like anti-corruption and secession ranging across the typical Left/Right spectrum. But whether Left or Right, there are aspects to this “rise of insurgent parties across the continent,” to this anti-establishment, anti-EU upsurge, that mark a pause—if not a retreat—from the project of European integration.

How “freedom of expression” will fair through all of this is anyone’s guess.

BAY AREA CONFIDENTIAL…

When Tim Yo started me out with my own column, I was one of the original MRR news columnists. He wanted my column to be a study in three dot journalism a la Herb Caen, replete with snarky news items and snide bits of gossip. I took to the format like a fish to water, and ever since I’ve been a purveyor of snark and snide, news and gossip. Longtime readers remember I covered the incident when the East Bay BASTARD conference took umbrage with the San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair for expanding to two days and overlapping one of their conference days. This caused a minor split in the local anarcho scene which produced, among other things, a second annual Anarchist Bookfair. So now there’s an overall Bay Area bookfair and an East Bay bookfair every year because, you know, old splits never die and besides, there can never be enough time or opportunity to sell anarchist merchandise to the kids.

The East Bay Anarchist Bookfair on December 14 of last year was a study in bucolic harmony where the lion lies down with the lamb, and AJODA folks staffed a table near one run by the Qilombo folks without incident. After the demise of Occupy Oakland, all of OO’s myriad tendencies (pacifist, insurrectionist, unionist, communizing, squatter, decolonialist, etc) were in the doldrums, depressed, at a loss for what to do and where to organize, and hence prone to sectarianism and infighting. The whole AJODA/Qilombo kerfuffle that I reported on last year was typical of the internal nastiness that the entire Bay Area anarcho scene was experiencing. The Left tends to form a firing squad, rifles facing inward, when they have nothing better to do. But with the death of Michael Brown, rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, the death of Eric Garner, and protests around the country, Bay Area anarchos are no longer inward looking and focused on fighting amongst themselves. They’re looking outward, enjoying an upsurge of demonstrations, protests, and riots almost daily across the Bay Area, and no longer battling against each other.

Suigetsukan Dojo’s Girl Army opted out of providing security for December 2014’s East Bay Anarchist Bookfair, so one of the organizers recruited a bunch of muay thai ruffians to help keep the peace. The verdict: the anarchist bookfair was so mellow it was boring. Just goes to show that it’s nice to have a common enemy in the police and the powers-that-be to generate some scene unity, even if that unity is faux and forced and flash-in-the-pan.

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Of cults and sects: “What’s Left?” November 2014, MRR #378

Does “one divide into two” or “two fuse into one?” This question is a subject of debate in China and now here. This debate is a struggle between two conceptions of the world. One believes in struggle, the other in unity. The two sides have drawn a clear line between them and their arguments are diametrically opposed. Thus, you can see why one divides into two.

Free translation from the Red Flag, Peking, September 21, 1964
as quoted in Anti-Mass: Methods of Organization for Collectives

One man’s cult is another man’s PTA.

Okay, so the aphorism needs a little work. What I often call “The Left” is littered with examples of cults, beginning with Lyndon LaRouche’s Trotskyist National Caucus of Labor Committees in the 1960s and 70s which went on a rampage, called “Operation Mop-Up,” of physically attacking fellow left individuals and organizations after the NCLC itself was attacked by Mark Rudd’s and Bernadine Dohrn’s Revolutionary Youth Movement. LaRouche would quickly veer right into Fascism, and then into a lunacy of conspiracy theories involving the Rockefellers, London bankers, the queen of England, the ADL, the KGB, and the Heritage Foundation. Then there is the Provisional Communist Party, or CPUSA (Provisional Wing), a super-secret organization founded by Gino Perente with a cell structure and even a “Military Fraction” that made the news for hoarding a stockpile of weapons in its Brooklyn headquarters. Its clandestine operations have eased only slightly with the ascendancy of Margaret Ribar to chairmanship, because the Provisional Communist Party operates primarily through front organizations—like the Physicians Organizing Committee, California Homemakers Association and the National Labor Federation—which never acknowledge the existence, let alone the leadership of the CPUSA (Provisional Wing).

Finally, we come to the Revolutionary Communist Party. A Maoist relic of the battles both ideological and physical of the 1970s New Communist Movement, the RCP is proud of its personality cult around heir apparent to Mao and self-exiled chairman Bob Avakian, but not so open about its violent anti-homosexual history. Until 1988, the RCP defined homosexuality as counterrevolutionary, bourgeois and a product of capitalist decadence, after which date being gay was simply considered oppressive to women and narcissistic. Homosexuality was regarded by the RCP as acceptable only after 2001/02. Boastful of its participation in the 1992 LA Rodney King riots, the RCP runs the minuscule Revolution Books chain and wields control behind a series of front groups, from the now defunct punk-oriented No Business As Usual to Refuse and Resist, the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation, La Résistencia, Not in Our Name, and the World Can’t Wait. Its youth wing, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, is no more, replaced by youth-oriented Revolution Clubs.

Prior to 1975 and the RCP’s founding, when it was known as the Bay Area Revolutionary Union headquartered in Berkeley, these folks would beat down local Trotskyists with their steel-toed boots while loudly denouncing their victims as degenerates and fascists. With their youth auxiliary of the day, the Revolutionary Student Brigade, the RU initiated a campaign beginning in 1971 to take over several targeted mass organizations on the Left, the most notable being one I was involved in, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War/Winter Soldiers Organization (VVAW/WSO). The RU first initiated a joint study group with the National Office of the VVAW/WSO and then infiltrated RU/RSB cadre into the steering committee and VVAW/WSO chapters. VVAW/WSO had a healthy mix of liberals, socialists, Marxists, Leninists and anarchists at the time. My chapter in Santa Cruz actually had a preponderance of anarchists by the time of the organization’s annual convention in 1975. At the general plenary meeting, RU/RSB delegates denounced their opponents as “Trotskyite fascist scum” and “cocksucking faggot scum,” initiated fistfights before, during and after the convention, and took over the organization by force and rigged election. The RU declared itself the Revolutionary Communist Party in September of 1975 with the endorsement of the decimated remnants of the VVAW, along with other supporting organizations such as the RSB, Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee, National United Workers Organization and Wei Min She. VVAW eventually legally won back its name and organization, and the RCP formed VVAW/Anti-Imperialist.

These efforts to form a so-called mass-based revolutionary vanguard party, far from producing the desired effect, actually brought about a narrowing of the RU/RCP’s base and membership. A sizable minority faction calling itself the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters split off in opposition to the RCP’s support for the Gang of Four in China by 1977. After years of aging and attrition within the RCP, and despite its recommitment to militant activism, another more informal split occurred in 2008 critical of Bob Avakian’s overt cult of personality. A thinning of its ranks no doubt was interpreted as a “purification” of the RCP’s ideology, even as it marked a waning of this Maoist organization’s influence.

Such cultish behavior aside, the Left has always suffered from infighting and sectarianism, beginning with the battle between Marx and Bakunin over the First International Workingman’s Association and reaching a peak during the Spanish 1936-39 civil war. Liberals, socialists, Communists and anarchists allied together under the Spanish Republican government, only to suffer from mutual mistrust and recrimination, backstabbing and civil war within the civil war, all of which resulted in Franco’s defeat of the Republic. Marxism-Leninism under Stalin denounced Trotskyist Marxism-Leninism as “social fascism,” the Soviet Union repudiated Tito’s version of Communism in Yugoslavia, and Mao’s version of Marxism-Leninism excoriated the Soviet Union as revisionist and “social imperialist” while the Soviet Union accused Mao of being “a nationalist, an adventurist, and a deviationist.” Trotskyists are known to split at the drop of a hat, attacking each other more vociferously then they do other, non-Trotskyist Leninists, whose regimes they charitably call “deformed workers states.”

The Situationist International in western Europe from 1957 to 1972 was known for many things, most notoriously their ultra-sectarianism. The SI split and split again, its members having broken with each other repeatedly until only two individuals remained in the SI by 1972. This divisive practice reached its absurd extreme in the “chain break,” in which Situationists denounced anyone who didn’t join them in denouncing their enemies. Thus they inverted Mao’s famous axiom into: “To be my friend, you must be an enemy of my enemy.”

This tendency to hate the people you’re closest to, that you share the most similarities with, is frequently the rule. Witness a history of world religions where the term sectarian originated. A much less prominent tendency is to unite divergent groups under a wider front alliance, if not a “big tent” organization. The Marxist-Leninist left has witnessed attempts at socialist regroupment (as when various Trotskyist groups such as Solidarity, Fourth Internationalist Tendency and Activists for Independent Socialist Politics fused, but then failed at broader unity attempts) or left refoundation (as when the post-Maoist Freedom Road Socialist Organization negotiated with and subsumed Fire By Night Organizing Committee, a split from the defunct Love and Rage Anarchist Federation). Left communists and anarchists cross-pollinated and contended by turns, ever since the POUM and the CNT/FAI joined forces for the 1937 Barcelona May Days uprising. Most recently, small circles of neo-Leninists, para-anarchists and post left communists are discussing and debating how to move past the wreckage that the Left has become by 1990.

In the late 1980s/early 1990s a number of continental anarchist gatherings were held around North America (Chicago 1986, Minneapolis 1987, Toronto 1988). I attended the Without Borders gathering in 1989 in San Francisco, where the whole panoply of anarchist groups, tendencies, currents and schools convened. The attitude here was not simply “can’t we all just get along,” but a quite aggressive, all-inclusive, catch-all, free-wheeling invocation. In addition to the classic anarchism of European origin (collectivism, mutualism, communism, syndicalism, individualism), there was green, primitivist, nihilist, pacifist, feminist, queer, and post-left anarchism, even Hakim Bey’s blend of mysticism, man-boy love, and temporary autonomous zones. Especially Hakim Bey’s loopy anarchy in 1989. The Black Bloc was a year or two from being introduced onto the American scene, so insurrectionary anarchism was still a ways away, but otherwise, the whole zoo was present and celebrated at these gatherings. I ran into a couple of actual anarchist capitalists at the Without Borders gathering, but no one explicitly distributed literature, put up a table, did a workshop, or presented a speaker advocating capitalism. Nothing was forbidden and all was permitted in this modern American anarchist milieu, except for explicit endorsement of capitalism.

Twenty-five years later, the anarchist milieu is much the same, if the Annual San Francisco Anarchist Book Fair is any indication. Anarchist capitalism still isn’t welcome. Despite the entrepreneurial nature of the event, free market anarchists have no license to set up shop there. And when members of the Bay Area National Anarchists showed up in 2009, they kept a low profile, for fear of being attacked. National anarchist groups have been openly refused access by anarchist bookfairs in other cities, and national anarchism has been roundly castigated by much of anarchism as crypto-fascist. In 2007, the one-day Saturday SF bookfair expanded to an entire weekend, and was promptly criticized for not being flexible in accommodating the concurrent 8-day BASTARD conference in East Bay. Push came to shove, and the BASTARD folks started sponsoring their own book fair in the Berkeley/Oakland area. There are two anarchist book fairs in the San Francisco Bay Area every year, camaraderie be damned. The reason that in 2014 the SF Anarchist Book Fair and the East Bay BASTARD conference were reduced to a day each and no longer overlapped had little to do with rapprochement so much as it did with their respective lack of time, energy and resources to carry out fuller agendas. To make my point, a series of confrontations between leftist, identity/decolonize anarchists and post-left anarchists occurred between the end of 2013 and April, 2014. These incidents culminated when members of the Qilombo Social Center surrounded, harassed and ultimately drove out members of Anarchy: a Journal of Desire Armed from the March 22, 2014 SF Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair. The purge of post-left AJODA members by decolonize QSC members was an internet controversy for a bit longer than its allotted 15-minutes-of-shame. No doubt, the split in anarchist ranks that this idiocy highlights is forever.

Thus, we can see why one divides into two.

Anarchist purges anarchist, no news at 11: “What’s Left?” August 2014, MRR #375

It’s an infamous MRR cover. Number 130, March 1994. Tim Yo designed it, although I don’t remember who put it together. A slew of Marvel Comic style action figure characters surround the headline “Superheroes of the Underground??” A bald buff super skinhead labeled Hawdkaw Man, further marked with A.F. for Agnostic Front, growls: “I stomp da pussies wit an attitude as big as my 20 eyelet Docs!!” Str8 Edge Man, a caped Superman clone with Shelter on his chest, proclaims: “I convert the hostile flocks with a 1-2 punch of Religion & Republicanism!” Pop Man, aka Green Day, reveals: “I lull my opponents into complacency with dippy love songs!” And the snark continues with snide remarks from Metal Man (The Melvins), Emo Man (Still Life), Vegan Man (Profane Existence), Grunge Man (Nirvana), and Arty Farty Man (sporting an Alternative Tentacles logo).

Tim put this cover together for the issue in which he announced MRR’s Great Purge, in which Tim proclaimed that nothing but the most primitive, the most basic, the most raw rock and roll would be deemed punk. That’s how punk rock began in the mid-to-late 70s; two or at most three chords, distorted and undifferentiated, loud and fast. Ignoring the debate over whether punk first began in the UK or USA, and disregarding whether it was the Ramones or the Sex Pistols that started punk, punk did not remain primal or simple or crude for long. Musicians brought their histories and influences to the music, the music cross-pollinated and hybridized with other music, and both the music and the musicians got more sophisticated with time. By 1993, punk was a welter of styles, categories and scenes. And by the end of 1993, Tim had decided to purge punk rock down to its roots and to restrict the magazine he ran, MRR, to this limited musical content.

I’ve described when Tim Yo announced the firing of Jeff Bale at a year end General Meeting in December of 1993. I’ve called that the Great Purge when, in fact, the most contentious agenda item at that meeting for most of the shitworkers present was Tim’s decision to severely curtail the kind of music MRR considered reviewable as punk. And Tim’s Great Purge was indeed two-fold—firing Jeff Bale and purging punk music. Tim was by no means a raving Maoist when he ran MRR, but he’d had his political upbringing in the New Communist Movement of the 1970s. I remember Tim discussing afterwards his strategy going into the December 1993 meeting, and I’ll liberally paraphrase it from a previous column: “I combined an attack on the right with an attack on the left. I cut down the stuff we would review as punk, knowing that Jeff would be one hundred percent behind my decision. At the same meeting I took out Jeff. I played the right and the left against each other, just like Stalin did.”

That Tim Yo might have been involved with the RCP at one time, or admired Stalin, or even sometimes ran MRR as Mao might are such a small part of what the man was or what he did. But it does help me to segue into my broader subject. While it is hard to apologize for Tim’s overtly authoritarian tendencies, it isn’t hard to admire his appreciation for punk rock’s musical purity. The urge to purify, the impetus to purge an individual, organization, art form, culture, politics, or society of incorrectness, error, impurity, deviance, corruption, decadence, or evil; that’s what I’m talking about here. For a recent and particularly insidious example of this, lets turn to anarchist politics in the San Francisco Bay Area and the efforts of identity anarchists to purge post-left anarchists.

I have little sympathy for either of the two tendencies acting out this sordid drama. Post-left anarchism categorically rejects the Left, from the social democracy and Marxism-Leninism of the Old Left to the Maoism and Third Worldism of the New Communist Movement that devolved from the New Left, as well as any anarchism that is in the least bit influenced by the Left. This is not merely a refusal of the Left’s ideological content, but of its organizational forms as well, from meetings run by Robert’s Rules of Order to various kinds of party-building. But nothing unites post-left anarchism beyond this negation, leaving a disparate gaggle of personalities in Hakim Bey (ontological anarchy/TAZ), Bob Black (abolition of work), John Zerzan (primitivism), Wolfi Landstreicher (Stirnerite egoism), et al, to frivolously romp through post-left anarchism’s vacuous playground. In contrast, identity anarchism is all about a positive if problematic relationship with the Left, from its ideological borrowings from Marxism-Leninism (imperialism, colonialism, etc.) to its lineage on the Left (via the quasi-Maoist Black Panther Party). The lame debates within the heavily Maoist New Communist Movement regarding the staid National Question contributed to the formulation of a “white skin privilege” theory (by way of Sojourner Truth/Noel Ignatiev) which, when suitably tweaked by proponents of “male privilege,” conjugated a critique of patriarchal white supremacy fully embraced by identity anarchism. Thus, identity anarchism’s embrace of Panther anarchism (of Alston, Ervin, Balagoon, Barrow, Jackson, N’Zinga, White, Sostre, following the BPP’s demise) seems almost an afterthought, offering no serious counterweight to the Marxism, Leninism, Maoism and Third Worldism it enthusiastically embraces.

I will use post-left anarchism and identity anarchism in the remainder of this column as convenient shorthand for generic categories, which means I will also overly simplify who belongs to what camp.

Post-left anarchism has a decent presence in the East Bay through Anarchy, a Journal of Desire Armed, the annual BASTARD conference, and the Anarchist Study Group. The Study Group has been meeting weekly at the Long Haul in Berkeley for over a decade. It is structured through reading and discussing agreed-upon texts, publicly advertises locally and online, and is open to anyone to attend. At the beginning of 2013, the Study Group embarked on several months of investigation into Maoism, focusing on the New Communist Movement, reading primary documents related to the RCP, MIM, the BPP, STORM, and a plethora of alphabet soup Maoist organizations. Needless to say, these post-left anarchists were highly critical of the NCM and Maoism. Aragorn! went so far as to publish a lengthy criticism on his self-titled blog based on their studies in mid-March.

A group of identity anarchists “intervened” during a regular Tuesday night Long Haul Anarchist Study Group meeting sometime after that blog post. Hannibal Shakur, an activist in Occupy Oakland’s Decolonization tendency who is fighting vandalism charges after participation in the Trayvon Martin riots, was prominent in the newly organized Qilombo Social Center in Oakland. He and his crew attended the Study Group meeting, it seems not merely to dispute their post-left anarchist critique of Maoism, the NCM and the BPP, but also to challenge their right to pursue such independent study at all. The identity anarchists harassed and harangued the post-left anarchists, and in the heat of the argument between the two sides, post-left anarchist Lawrence Jarach made a categorical statement so typical of orthodox anarchism. To paraphrase, Jarach contended that: “All churches must be burned to the ground.” An identity anarchist demanded: “But what about the black churches?” To which Jarach responded: “The black churches must be burned … all churches must be burned.” The disagreements only got nastier from there, with open acrimony escalating into implied threat.

At some point, passionate ideological disagreement turned into calculated sectarian purge. The annual San Francisco Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair set up operations at the Crucible in Oakland on May 22, 2014. The one-day bookfair gathered a multitude of anarchist tendencies, among them the AJODA/CAL Press vendor table and the Qilombo Center table. An “attack initiated by three people (and about ten supporters) from Qilombo began around 3:40pm when I was cornered near the restroom,” reported Lawrence Jarach, “and continued after I walked back to the CAL Press/Anarchy magazine vendor table, ending at around 4 when we decided to leave.” AJODA has since issued an Open Letter to Bay Area Anarchists protesting the Qilombo assault as well as the general anarchist apathy toward this successful purge. Those associated with the attack on Jarach in turn have communicated the following: “Qilombo was not involved in the altercation you mention that took place at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, and the space has no comment on the matter. Lawrence Jarach came by the Qilombo table and antagonized a few of our volunteers, so those volunteers took it upon themselves as autonomous individuals to call him out for something that occurred at an another venue, at another point in time, and requested that he leave the bookfair. If you would like more details, you will need to reach out to the actual parties involved.”

Tim Yo would have called this final evasion candy-assed.

Last column, I mentioned the feminist “intervention” at the May 9-11, 2014 Portland, Oregon Law & Disorder Conference and the increasingly acrimonious debate between Kristian Williams and the organizers of the event Patriarchy and the Movement, over the tactics of individuals and groups professing identity politics within larger leftist political circles. That the victims of patriarchal sexism and violence and their defenders are so outspoken in speech and print about the need to purge the perpetrators from The Movement only underscores the clarity of their actions. I suspect that, amongst themselves, Shakur and his identity anarchist/Qilombo brigade have summarily convicted Jarach of racism, exercising his white skin privilege, and supporting white supremacy in insisting purely on principle that all churches need to be burned down, even the black ones. Yet they won’t publicly cop to running him out of the anarchist bookfair for such reasons. That they haven’t openly taken responsibility for their thuggish behavior to, in effect, purge Jarach and AJODA from the Movement is low, even for Maoism masquerading as anarchism.

These concerted efforts to purge people from The Movement based on their ideology, or their behavior, are the self-righteous acts of those who would be judge, jury, and executioner. When Tim Yo made his futile attempt in MRR to purge punk rock back to its basics, the results were predictable. The magazines Punk Planet, Heart attaCk and Shredding Paper started publishing circa 1994 to challenge MRR’s definition of punk and hegemony over the scene, followed shortly thereafter by Hit List. However, I doubt that Qilombo’s attempt to purge Lawrence Jarach and fellow AJODA members will have similarly salutary effects.

The RCP is all wet: “What’s Left?” May 2009, MRR #312

I hadn’t planned to write a column this month.

I like to lie low in March. This is anarchy time in the Bay Area, with the Anarchist Book Fair and BASTARD Conference both happening in the middle of the month. I’ve called the latter masturbatory self-indulgence, and the former an ineffectual lifestyle zoo. Other remarks I’ve made in conjunction with these criticisms have elicited long-winded letters from the circle A pro-snitch brigade that took up way too much space in this magazine awhile back. These days, I feel it’s the better part of valor not to stir things up.

That said, I must wholeheartedly praise the actions of the Modesto Anarcho Crew who physically drove out the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party from the March 14-15, 2009 Anarchist Book Fair. They’ve also laid down a class-based challenge to the anarchist movement that’s simply brilliant. To quote Crudo of MAC:

I also fail to see how calling ourselves a crew is alienating to other people. Realistically at this point, many of us have no interest in trying to justify our actions to a movement that continues to disappoint and alienate us from it. Our homes become foreclosed on and you fix bikes. We lose hours and jobs and you try and get us to read zines about steampunk. We try and articulate our ideas and break out of activism and are called out for “alienating” people. We take action and are scolded.

It seems that the unwanted children of capital just can’t win under anarchism’s rules. That’s fine, we play by our own.

“the left has labeled us hooligans – we intend to be much worse.”

It’s column deadline, too late for my usual lengthy exposition, so I might have more to say about these things in the future. For now, let me just tell MAC, the next time you all are in San Francisco (and provided you aren’t straightedge), I’ll buy your drinks at the bar. I suggest the Toronado for the brews, but it’s your choice.

Now, if only local anarchists would step it up with regard to Bay Area’s National Anarchists…

25th Anniversary: “What’s Left?” September 2007, MRR #292

I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.

-George M. Cohan

The 25th anniversary issue of Maximum Rocknroll slipped right past me.

Mykel Board often laments that he doesn’t get any hate mail anymore. No hate mail, no love letters, no real responses to his columns no matter how over the top they might be. There was a time when a good Mykel Board April Fools column would keep the letters pouring in for months. No more.

That’s not Mykel’s fault. He’s as outrageous and controversial as ever. But when you write a monthly column for twenty-five years, your readership becomes inured to all your provocations. Plus, it’s different times.

I haven’t written my column for nearly as long. Only fifteen years. Nor have I been nearly as successful at stirring up shit. Though that’s what Tim Yo intended. I’d written a couple of guest columns for MRR in 1991, anonymously under the pseudonym “Lefty” Hooligan, when Tim recruited me to write a regular three dot journalism feature for his resurrected news section. The news section tanked. My column didn’t.

That’s because my column raised enough shit-in the form of letters to the editor, even denunciations at MRR general meetings-to warrant Tim Yo keeping me on. To this day, I can remember Jeff Bale accusing Tim-at a general meeting when I was still anonymous-of recruiting an RCP hack to write my columns, just because I was openly Marxist. That was the general meeting Tim Yo cancelled Jeff’s columnist ticket.

I also enjoyed being a troublemaker. I was bummed, if not a little bored, when my column settled into that no comment limbo that familiarity, and regular publishing, breeds. So, I was thrilled to get, not one, but two letters recently taking me to task for what I’d written about the whole anarchist book fair/BASTARD to-do. I’m a tad disappointed at the caliber of the responses. If that’s the best that post-left anarchism has to offer in terms of critical thinking, that tendency might as well call it quits. Still, I’m happy once again to engage in a little political sparring over what I write.

If you like any of MRR‘s columnists, I suggest that you write them some hate mail. Or a love note, or some comment on what they had to say. It’s sure to make their day, if not give them a renewed interest in writing their columns. It will certainly liven up the letters section, and may even help revitalize this venerable punk rock zine, which is older than many of the punks who read it.

BASTARDized Anarchy: “What’s Left?” March 2007, MRR #286

What’s the latest, earth-shattering controversy in the Bay Area anarchist milieu? Is it a profound disagreement over an analysis of state power or a viable revolutionary strategy? Is it a weighty difference over what is appropriate day-to-day anarchist practice? Is it an intense dispute over how anarchists should respond to the war in Iraq or the erosion of civil liberties or police brutality in minority communities?

In your dreams!

The thing that’s got the knickers of local anarchos in a twist is that the Anarchist Bookfair Committee (ABC/BT), an autonomous part of the Bound Together bookstore, expanded the 2007 book fair from one Saturday in March to two days, the weekend of March 17th and 18th. Those who put on the BASTARD (Bay Area Students of Theory and Research & Development) Conference the Sunday after the usual Saturday book fair cried foul. The BASTARDs wrote an open letter charging that the ABC/BT had made the change without first consulting Bay Area anarchists who schedule their events around the book fair date, and the far-flung vendors who set up merchandise tables at the book fair. The BASTARD letter ended with “requests” that ABC/BT make their decision-making more transparent, consult with other local anarchists before changing the book fair, and allow vendors the option of signing up for one day instead of two.

Folks to the left of the Left here really are trying to keep a straight face.

After putting on the immensely successful Without Borders anarchist continental gathering in 1989, individuals from Bound Together decided to turn their newly acquired expertise into organizing an event in 1996 that became the annual Anarchist Bookfair. The book fair did so well, and attracted so many people to the Bay Area to attend, that other local anarchists jumped on the book fair’s coattails. For a while, there were Anarchist Coffee Houses, and about seven years ago the BASTARDs started doing their conferences. Presently, there’s a week’s worth of events scheduled around the book fair, and a few things need to be said about them.

First, none of the individuals or groups behind the non-book fair events ever asked or consulted with the book fair about scheduling or organizing their events. Second, while the ABC/BT folks were happy to see other anarchist-type events happen around their book fair, they neither officially endorsed nor worked on nor coordinated with any of those events. Finally, without exception, the other anarchist events never drew more than a fraction of the attendance of the book fair.

As for the organization of the book fair, the Anarchist Bookfair Committee has always been affiliated with the Bound Together bookstore, but never subject to it. The ABC is completely autonomous, which means it makes its own decisions independent of the bookstore. In fact, individuals can be members of the ABC and work on the book fair without being members of BT. That said, the ABC/BT never actively solicited outside participation or input. This self-containment and disinterest in matters outside the book fair raised the ire of non-anarchists when, in 2006, plans for the book fair coincided with the mass antiwar demonstrations scheduled by ANSWER in San Francisco on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Efforts to have ABC/BT move the book fair so as not to conflict with the demo fell on deaf ears, and the book fair organizers were accused of divisiveness, sectarianism, and a desire to stick it to the Leninist asswipes behind ANSWER. Those criticisms have resurfaced this year because the book fair once again overlaps with ANSWER’s plans to sponsor their antiwar events on the exact same weekend in March.

To rephrase, those who regularly attend ABC/BT meetings work on the book fair. In turn, the ABC/BT adheres to the idea of workers’ control, that those who work on organizing the book fair have the right to make all the decisions concerning the book fair. At first blush, the BASTARD letter would seem to raise an equally valid, and frequently conflicting anarchist principle of workers’ control, that of community control. The ABC/BT anarchists are part of a larger Bay Area anarchist community, so the argument goes, and therefore should consult with and defer to that community in making decisions about the book fair.

Invoking some mythic, feel-good anarchist community does not make that community a reality however. Indeed, BASTARD’s own actions belie the existence of any community among Bay Area anarchists. Quick to insist that ABC/BT consult other anarchist “comrades” when BASTARD’s conference ox was gored by the decision to run the book fair for two days, BASTARD completely ignored the outrage of many in the anarchist “community” when they scheduled police snitch Bob Black to speak at their conference last year. Thus, BASTARD’s talk of anarchist comradeship and community is utter bullshit.

The other issue raised in the BASTARD letter, that ABC/BT failed to consult with vendors who set up tables at the book fair, is also equally bogus. It was the book fair vendors themselves, many of whom travel long distances to set up for a one-day event, who suggested making the book fair two days. Out of fifty-odd vendors, only two approached ABC/BT directly to voice concerns that a two-day book fair would cause them problems, and ABC/BT immediately accommodated their concerns. Oddly enough, even though the BASTARDs decry “uncritically embrac[ing] the development of anarchist shop keepers at the expense of other aspects of anarchist activity,” they go on to admit that their main conflict with a two-day book fair is that many members of the BASTARD organizing group are vendors at the book fair, as are many of the presenters at the conference. Were Marx witness to this bit of hypocrisy, he would correctly label the BASTARD mentality petit bourgeois in the extreme.

Finally, there’s the way in which BASTARD chose to address their differences with ABC/BT. A BASTARD representative attended a Bound Together bookstore collective meeting, instead of going directly to the Anarchist Bookfair Committee meeting. Then the representative BASTARD said that he would read their open letter out loud, but that he would only allow “clarifying questions” afterwards. This numbnuts insisted that, because BASTARD as a group was entirely ad hoc, it didn’t really exist, and that he was not really a representative of BASTARD, so he couldn’t talk to Bound Together, but only read the open letter written by a group that didn’t really exist. That went over as well as you might expect, and anarchists being anarchists, the Bound Together folks proceeded to rip the BASTARD rep a new asshole, after letting him read his letter, of course.

Not getting the response they’d hoped for from BT, the BASTARDs then posted their open letter all around the internet, thinking to elicit sympathetic outrage over ABC/BT’s book fair process and decision. That also didn’t work out quite as planned. By my admittedly subjective count, comments defending ABC/BT and attacking BASTARD have predominated in a rather feeble debate. A disturbing sideshow to the BASTARD internet campaign has been the expression of the usual conspiracy idiocy based on the charge that ABC/BT’s actions represent the triumph of shopkeeper anarchism.

According to the anarcho-conspiracy buffs in question, it was actually AK Press’s idea to extend the book fair to two days because AK Press has the most tables, merchandise and sales at the book fair. And, “as everyone knows,” AK Press secretly controls the BT book fair committee or the BT bookstore or both. AK Press is further derided as the Nike of anarchism whose monopolistic marketing practices drive other anarchist distributors like Left Bank out of business, and whose success depends on paying its collective members shit wages while not paying its authors at all.

These very well might be legitimate criticisms of AK Press’s business practices. Yet, in this context, they are used to bolster the idea that an ultra-capitalistic AK Press is manipulating its sock puppet Bound Together in a sinister conspiracy to maximize profits at the book fair at the expense of the much nobler pursuit of knowledge and discourse as epitomized by the BASTARD conference. Complete nonsense.

For their part, the BASTARDs insist that they won’t give in to this anarchist shopkeeper mentality and so will hold their conference on Sunday, March 18, come what may. Of course, that means that now the BASTARD conference is also in direct conflict with the ANSWER-sponsored antiwar demo, scheduled for Sunday in San Francisco. True to my hooligan tendencies, I do delight in seeing how well BASTARD’s idyllic anarchist community functions. I also gloat that the anarcho-dilettante who called my columns sectarian at last year’s book fair, and who I took to task a few columns ago, is one of the main BASTARDs denouncing “the rise of the age of the anarchist merchant” and conducting internet jihad against ABC/BT. A sterling example of the pot calling the kettle sectarian.

My greatest pleasure, though, comes from seeing how weak the controversy is, despite all of BASTARD’s efforts to the contrary. There’s not a whole lot of flaming outrage going on in various anarcho forums or IndyMedia or InfoShop about BASTARD’s po’ widdow conference getting trampled by that evil Bound Together/AK Press capitalist cabal. It’s truly a tempest in a teacup, perhaps because everybody else realizes that a two-day Anarchist Book Fair will neither conflict with ANSWER’s antiwar demo nor hurt the BASTARD conference. If anything, a two-day book fair will bring more people to town for the weekend, more people who can then participate in all three events at their leisure.

This should be a no-brainer.

Not that my former haunt, the ultraleft, doesn’t have its share of incredible assholes. Remind me sometime to talk about left communism’s drunken, venomous one-man-sect I affectionately call K-Squared. I attended two different years of the BASTARD conference. It’s a glorified, pseudo-academic circle-jerk in my estimation. I might get roped in to tabling for comrades at the Anarchist Bookfair again this year. There’s a lot more entertainment value at the book fair, but I don’t think I could handle more than a day of that lifestyle zoo. What the whole book fair brouhaha unfortunately points up is the oh-so-sad state of anarchism in this country.

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