On Anarchist Sectarianism

“We are anarcho-syndicalists on the shop floor, green anarchists in the woods, social anarchists in our communities, individualists when you catch us alone, anarcho-communists when there’s something to share, insurrectionists when we strike a blow.”

By Bobby Whittenberg-James

It truly is troubling, though I see it all the time, anarchists dividing up against one another based upon means of organizing or economic dogma. Many times this results in anarchists taking up sides with either the political left or right, authoritarian statists, with social anarchists tending towards the left and market anarchists tending towards the libertarian right.

Rather than dividing ourselves up along sectarian lines, we should find common cause with other anti-authoritarians in our fight for anarchy. Certainly we all have very different ideas and tactics and those should be scrutinized, critiqued, and added to our toolbox or totally abandoned as necessary on a “take what you like, leave the rest” basis. We mimic the statists and the authoritarians, even the religious, however, when we pick a dogma, join a sect, and dig our heels in. We should always be open to the idea that someone else might have a better idea or a way of looking at or doing something that builds on our own or that we missed altogether. As conditions are constantly changing, so must our ideas and tactics. To bicker over adherence to prefabricated doctrines, none of which are totally applicable to our current situation is onanistic and counter productive. There is no need in making enemies where they don’t exist.

Sectarian Anarchists

Anarchists over the years have had a vast and varied array of ideas, approaches, tactics, techniques, and rhetoric. Sectarians anarchists would have us to believe that THEIR particular brand of anarchism is the only true sect, that they are the only real anarchist. Despite these authoritarian attempts to codify anarchy, it simply does not make sense that there would be only one brand of anarchy that is applied universally to all people, all communities, all places, all land bases, all bio-regions.

“Only communists are anarchists!” some will declare authoritatively. “Market anarchists are the only real anarchists” another will say. Such self righteous nonsense has no place in a revolution. Certainly ideas or tactics should be critiqued, and even harshly at times, but it has proven fatal over and over again to divide ourselves, particularly when that ends up in us splitting between the political left and right. There is nothing revolutionary about bickering over who the “real” anarchists are and we waste far too much time doing so. This is not to say there are no boundaries to what can be considered anarchy or that some purported anarchists don’t place themselves outside of those boundaries on a consistent basis, but playing the role of “anarchist police” and going around declaring ones’ self an anarchist and declaring anyone who disagrees with your dogma to be false is no more revolutionary than high school drama.

Remember, we don’t all have to like each other, or even get along, but we all seek anarchy, and there is no one anarcho-dogma that can be applied universally. We are all anarchists with different ideas about what anarchy might look like and might entail. We don’t have time to bicker amongst one another while helping the left or right achieve their goals and desires at the expense of our own.

Reliance on prefabricated ideologies, particularly ones formulated from vastly different circumstances is antithetical to anarchist practice. As anarchists, we should seek to continually analyze our ideas and practice, taking care to make sure that they are pertinent and applicable to our current situation so as not to fall into marxist irrelevance and anachronism..

Rather than dividing up and pitting ourselves one against another in fruitless arguments, we can get rid of anarcho-dogma and examine the conditions that face us where we are right now, not Russian in 1917 or Spain in 1936, and find ways to face them that are relevant to combatting not only capitalism/socialism and the state, but neo-liberalism and the eco-crisis as well as a vast array of challenges that our fore-bearers could not have foreseen and that can’t be solved by anarcho-sectarianism.

Authoritarian Alliances

Some say “I am an anarchist, but I have more in common with the socialist than with the anarcho-primitivist.” Others reveal “I am an anarchist, but I find more affinity in the Libertarian Party crowd than with anarcho-communists.”

Dividing ourselves for arbitrary reasons is bad enough, but to be co-opted by the political left or right increases the impact. Authoritarians on the left and right will no doubt attempt to appeal to anarchists and other anti-authoritarians. Statists have always co-opted the language of liberty and incorporated it into their propaganda. The US and French revolutions of the 18ths century paid lip service to freedom, the USSR spoke of worker control and liberation, and all any of these governments had to offer was more slavery. Anarchists should not be fooled by hollow slogans and lofty rhetoric.

Some anarchists seem to forget that we are anti-authoritarians. As anti-authoritarians, we render ourselves useless and irrelevant by capitulation to capitalist and socialist movements. Neither the political left or the political right is interested in helping us to abolish capitalism or the state, because they don’t seek to destroy power and the State. They seek to gain power and control the State.

Affinity

We can find affinity with people who do not call themselves anarchists: autonomists, horizontalists, anti-authoritarians, egalitarian indigenous groups, hunter/gatherers, and many others. Some people don’t call their aims or desires to take control of their own lives anything at all, but they are our allies as well and we shouldn’t hesitate to work together for common goals. It really doesn’t matter if people call themselves anarchists and carry black flags or not, if we are fighting for the same things (the abolition of capitalism/socialism, the state, authority, etc) then names and symbols are unimportant. For us, affinity is found in others seeking anti-statist, anti-authoritarian ends, rather than those seeking explicitly non-anarchistic ends (socialists, liberals, conservatives, minarchists.) We aren’t all going to agree, and we don’t have to, but we can still find common cause in combatting the state, authority, hierarchy, capitalism/socialism…

Coming Into Our Own

Anarchist creativity did not die with Stirner, and Bakunin and Kropotkin. As they thought for their day and their situation with the knowledge they had, so should we, as we seek to build our own anarchy from what we know, and what we’ve learned, and what we have. Too many just pick a dogma and try to fit their reality into that. Instead we should assess our reality and find a way to wage anarchy in that reality. Chances are that if we do that, it will look nothing like anarcho-syndicalism or anarcho-communism or mutualism or any other anarcho-dogma.

We need to abandon the “anarcho-” prefixes and the anarcho-prefab ideologies. Anarchy can not be limited to one ideology or one method. Rather than dividing ourselves along sectarian lines, we need to cooperate as anarchists. Certainly ineffective and harmful tendencies need to be critiqued, examined, and corrected, and if we are earnest in our desire for anarchy, we should not be too proud to see our own errors or too timid in pointing out errors that we observe.

We should not see anarchy as one particular end state, with one particular model, but we should see it as many different, vast, and varied associations of people that each represent the needs, wills, and desires of the individuals involved. Anarchy would not look exactly the same in Austin, Texas or Stockholm, Sweden, or The Cherokee Nation or Johannesburg, South Africa or Al Qa’im, Iraq. There is not one way to bring this about, one dogma to follow, one program to emulate. Anarchist revolution can only be achieved by people themselves and should be organic and self instigated.

For too long we have shyly existed on the coat tails of social movements and political ideologies. We have compromised and compromised and compromised time and time again, and still wonder why we keep failing. We fail because we give in. We fail because we concede to people who seek only power and authority and know that we stand in their way. We fail because we seek to ride the coat tails of failed ideologies. It is time for anarchists to fight for anarchy; not socialism, not capitalism, not social democracy, liberalism, rightism, or leftism, but anarchy.

Leave socialism to the socialists and leave markets to the capitalists. It is far past time for anarchists to start thinking of themselves as anarchists as opposed to libertarian socialists or mutualists or anarcho-communists, etc… anarchists… fighting for anarchy; not yet another means of social control with an anarcho-prefix.

We can never expect to achieve anarchy by pointing fingers at fellow anarchists and then running off to do the bidding of either the liberal/socialist alliance or the right wing propertarians. Continued sectarianism only feeds into the hands of the socialist/capitalist counter revolution. Anarchy is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It is truly tragic to try to limit it to a dogma or a means of social control, be it economics, organization, or anything else. The world has seen the colossal failures of capitalism, fascism, and socialism. Now is truly the time for anarchy to take hold, but it can’t if we continue to tarnish it, and hold it back with sectarianism.

We must rely, not on just lessons from the past, but on ourselves in the here and now to develop and wage a revolutionary anarchy that is relevant to our current circumstances. We can’t rely on founding documents and theoreticians and economic models. Certainly we can learn from these things, and take from them what is helpful and useful, but when real life happens, we realize those things can only serve as learning tools and not road maps. There is no theoretician, no document, no sect, no ideology that contains all the answers. The answers can only come from us and our land bases. It’s time for us to stop compromising, to stop serving the authoritarian counter revolution, and start waging anarchy. This is our time, the time for anarchy.

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Guerrilla News contributor Bobby Whittenberg-James is an Iraq war veteran turned Post-Left Eco-Anarchist. He offers a unique veteran’s perspective combined with an anarchist critique. He can be found online at his blog, Veter(A)narchy!

One Response to “On Anarchist Sectarianism”

  1. This I think is an excellent article and hits the nail on the head with regards to the current problem within the Anarchist movement.

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