Anarchists and the Left

Modern political and social views are generally broken down into the broad categories of right and left, and most people who interest themselves in social or political ideas identify themselves with one of these categories or their various sub-categories. The right consists of people who view themselves as conservatives, republicans, fascists, moral majoritarians, puritans, racists, KKKers, etc. The left comprises communists, social democrats, liberals, socialists, populists, progressives, feminists, pacifists, gay/lesbian liberationists, etc. Because these definitions are so widely accepted and so often used in political discussion, many anarchists have a tendency to adopt one of these labels and identify with one of these general groups.

Although there are some anarchists or libertarians who identify with the right, most seem to feel they have much more in common with the traditional left. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that many of us who are now anarchists first became involved in social or political action and ideas through left-identified movements, i.e., anti-war, anti-draft, anti-racist, feminist, gay/lesbian. And despite the fact that we ex-leftists now reject the state and political action, many still hold some of the leftist positions and views which led to their initial radicalization. But in order to build a new society based on individual freedom and equal freedom for all, the anarchist movement and anarchist individuals need to break with the left and leave behind this leftist baggage.

The primary problem with most leftist positions is that they promote group interests over individual interests and further isolate people from each other. An example of this is feminism, with which a number of anarchists are currently infatuated. Feminism historically has embraced temperance, voting, and conservative sexual practices, as well as equality for women within the bounds of statist society. Many modern-day feminists support voting, women government officials, censorship of sexual literature, and social actions from which men are excluded, i.e. Greenham Common, Seneca, Take Back the Night marches, as well as equality for women, again within the bounds of statist society. Yet some anarchists still describe themselves as feminists.

The problem with feminist philosophy, as with the philosophies of lesbian/gay liberation, black nationalism, and support for nationalist movements in other parts of the world, is that they define the issues in the context of groups and group interests. For instance, rape and murder of women is defined as a special class of violence, violence against women, not simply violence against an innocent person. Although this may not seem to be more than a minor semantics difference, this method of describing the problem leads to specific social and political actions. It leads to the formation of groups such as Women Against Violence Against Women, women-only Take Back the Night Marches (men are specifically not invited), and the current pro-censorship anti-pornography movement. And all of these efforts lead to a further division between men and women. This may be a desirable and consistent goal for feminists, but it has nothing in common with anarchy.

We live in a violent society. Women and men are both subject to random, unprovoked violence by others and it’s also true that more women than men are subject to this violence, and far more women than men are raped. But what is gained by organizing against violence against women instead of violence against all innocent people? Nothing but more polarization between the sexes. Most men oppose violence against both women and men, as do most women. The anti-violence/anti-rape movement, if framed in terms of the inviolability of all individuals and their right to defend themselves against any coercion and violence by any means necessary, could promote individual freedom much more effectively than women-only anti-violence marches ever will. After all there are a lot of men who are afraid to walk the streets alone at night, as well. Reaching out to these people in this way would broaden the anti-violence movement, and hopefully also build support for other efforts to increase individual freedom and autonomy.

Besides leading to separatism and further isolating people from each other, leftist positions supported by some anarchists promote continuing oppression for many people. This is clearest in leftist/anarchist support for national liberation movements. Many anarchists are hesitant to criticize the murderous actions of the PLO, IRA, INLA, Red Brigades, etc., while they are more than willing to denounce the terror committed by the zionists, british imperialists, or german authoritarians. But nationalist movements, once in power, have been anything but libertarian. The vietnamese statists drive out the ethnic chinese, the sandinistas censor La Prensa and institute a military draft, and the Khmer Rouge are butchers. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Anarchists should have learned this lesson from the experience of the Russian revolution, when anarchists from around the world went to Russia to support the revolution and were killed or deported for their trouble.

Certainly, foreign imperialism is often more brutal and murderous than the local statists that replace it, but it is certainly not anarchistic to support one group over the other. I don’t think that the irish nationalists will be any more tolerant of individual rights, anarchists, abortion rights, or lesbian/gay sex after they seize power than the bigots who currently rule ulster. And the nationalists’ current practice of bombing pubs where soldiers hang out, even though this results in the murder of innocents, should not endear them to anarchists.

Nationalism, like feminism, is based on the primacy of groups over individuals. Nationalists believe that “nations” oppress other “nations.” Anarchists, on the other hand, contend that some people oppress other people. That is why we should be supporting the liberation of people, not the liberation of nations, as national liberation always means the liberation of local tyrants from the interference of foreign tyrants, not the liberation of individuals from authority of any sort.

The world is an oppressive and brutal place for most people. Some people, however, because of some physical characteristic or behavior, are oppressed in different or more vicious ways than others. Black people in the united states are denied access to jobs, entertainment facilities, housing, etc., because of their skin color much more often than white people; women are more often subject to violence and rape than men; gay men and lesbians are more likely to be fired from their jobs because of their sexual practices than are straight people. Despite this general trend, however, all of the specific victims of these oppressive practices are individuals. And we should fight bigotry and rape because it injures individual people, not because it hurts black people, or female people, or homosexual people, or any other specific group. To borrow a phrase from the left, an injury to one is an injury to all. I am a man, I’m gay, and my skin is white. But none of these characteristics defines me or my social views. Only by emphasizing the fact that the differences between any two individuals are more profound (and interesting) than the differences between groups, and by remembering that the similarities between individuals are more important than any of the differences, will we be able to build a world of equal freedom for all.

Building movements around shared superficial characteristics such as skin color, sex organs, or sexual tastes will only lead to more divisions between us, with a subsequent reduction of freedom for us all. Straight white women and gay black men can both oppose rape, fight united states intervention around the world, support abortion rights, and fight censorship. We need to assert our individuality and emphasize what makes us unique, while at the same time associating with other autonomous individuals to further our common desires and goals. Movements centered around our shared opposition to the state and authority, and any intervention in our lives, will bring about more libertarian results than any exclusive special-interest campaign will ever result in.

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