Anarchists and Trotskyists

[Trigger warning: mention of moral harassment]

Over the past 5 years, it has become harder and harder to be an anarchist. There are always more comrades in jail (or worse), governments start using the phrase ‘terrorist training camps’ in relation to anarchist journalists visiting Greece, in the UK, an anarchist got detained at a London airport by anti-terrorist cops when he came back from the St. Imier gathering. Dark times indeed. Oblivious of all this, Trotskyists get a bit jealous they are not treated as a threat. I remember when I was at uni and someone set fire to a banner which was hung outside our office and left a sticker from a right-wing group; a Trotskyist friend came round and was very supportive, but he mentioned his belief that the arsonist had got our office confused with his… A strange thing to be jealous of. Anyway, there is a regain of interest (whether sincere or tactical, misplaced or not) from trotskyists for anarchism (or what they identify as anarchism, but can be anything from squatting, to Occupy, to activism).

I have a general policy of avoiding Trotskyists. Last time I reached out to them, I ended up on a show-trial that examined my life and ruled that I was guilty of Zionism, among other things. The worst is that I am not even the real victim in that story, I only wanted to (re)join their union after some comrades (mostly female with mental health issues) complained about harassment. Being an arsehole is sometimes a character trait in anarchists, but for Trotskyists, it is a valid tactic.

Of course some Trotskyists are probably decent people for real, and not just when it serves their purpose, but enough of us have been hurt by their love of tactical political games for even those lucky enough to have never experienced it directly to be wary and shun any unnecessary contact.

The second problem about engaging with Trotskyists, is that you never know what you sign up for. What starts off as a friendly cross-ideological chat over coffee ends up taking more and more space in your life and your email inbox until it is simply unmanageable. Debate is good, and any sincere revolutionary should always be open to new inspection of their ideas, but this does not mean that people can simply use you as an always available punching-ball for testing their half-baked, often rather offensive ideas about what you believe, what they think you believe, and everything you or people you know have ever been directly or indirectly involved in.

Failure to reply in a couple of days to their never-ending requests obviously means you are wrong and they are right (sometimes just directing them to some reading on the subject means you have “no argument”, and quick replies outlining the general idea so they can do their own elaboration on it invariably spurs them to ask for the full development). We cannot think for them, we cannot be their librarians, and it is not “our responsibility” to educate them. Your duty is to examine your own political beliefs, not to rebut a young Trotskyist’s strange elucubrations about things which have little or no relevance to you. It does not trump your need for time and space to develop your own thoughts or do anything else, or just to keep your sanity and well-being by avoiding one-sided, sometimes almost harassing and abusive, relations.

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One of the worst examples of how someone can be wasting your time and abusing your good will is when the answer they are looking for is sometimes to be found simply in Marx or even Trotsky (or in extremely widely available anarchist texts, for some reason Christopher Hitchens puts Emma Goldman in an anthology, but referring to her is “sectarian” as you cannot possibly expect a non-anarchist to have read or heard of her). You can never be sure, however, if they are trying to trick you in some kind of maieutic way, or if they are simply very bad Trotskyists; but in both cases it is not a worthwhile honest discussion between equals.

I have quoted Marx and Trotsky at “Trotskyists” before, just to be ridiculed for what they thought was my deviant anarchist ideas. The party does not encourage debate, so they love the idea of ‘debating’ with you, rather than following the arid teachings of their party which they just skip and nod to whatever the party intellectuals say. I think that is why most of them are from the bottom of the intellectual food-chain of their organization. If they want the free space to develop their ideas they don’t get in their organisation, that is good; but mostly they tend to want someone they can treat as intellectually inferior and of less value to the revolution, just like they are treated by their “comrades”. As anarchists, we train ourselves to consider anyone’s ideas on their own merit and show no more deference to an elderly published author of our preferred political tradition than to a young girl we have never heard of from a political tradition we know little about, and we expect to be treated in the same way. Sadly enough, we sometimes fall short of that, and most political movements do not even recognise the leadership of ideas, formally or informally. Having had bad experiences with Trotskyists is an acceptable reason to not seek them out, but not to abuse them in response for some harm another has caused you. There is a thin line between caution, and sectarianism/prejudice.

All this talk of the Jesuits in the news made me think of Their Morals And Ours (the sum of my knowledge about this religious order comes from searching for “jesuitism” in the dictionary when I first read it), and what Trotsky says in it (after his rather valid, if lacking in nuance, condemnation of the betrayal of the CNT leadership of the Spanish Revolution): To base ends correspond base means. Anyway, all this to say, this is why I will soon review the AWL book on anarchism.

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Friendly-face PS: If I have not made a disclaimer saying that “some of my best friends are Trotskyists”, it is that it would be a lie, or at least a gross overstatement. I have an enduring fascination for Victor Serge, who was in some ways close to Trotsky, and I remember being quite admirative when I first met Gabriel Llesta, a former member of the Juventud Libertaria (Libertarian Youth) who became a Trotskyist, when I asked why, he claimed he was wowed by the transitional plan, I tried to follow in his footsteps but I must say it left me quite unconvinced. The kind of people depicted in the second part of this article are based on (the worst sides of) a handful of people met in real life, and a plethora of online people. To the best of our knowledge and memory, they are all male, but from different age-groups and countries.

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