Translation: The Difficulty of being an Anarchist (part 2), by Christian Lagant

[Trigger-warning: ableist and sexist language.]

Noir & Rouge n°18 (March/May 1961)

The Difficulty Of Being An Anarchist (part 2)

As I attack this second (and last) part of the article published in the last issue of “N&R”, I think I need to define or even redefine a few points, so that some comrades do not take what is only a series of observations and reflections for I don’t know what panacea, miraculous remedy to all the ails Anarchism and above all Anarchists are suffering from…

We must, decidedly, lose this bad habit of demanding an already chewed, even digested, work, and if the difficulty of being an Anarchist has multiple reasons, one of the main one is also (after a progressive “physical” numbness the effects of which we all feel) this kind of moral laziness to which we unconsciously got used: why figure it out for ourselves when some brilliant thinkers will raise (as we say) issues and solve them for us. This very important aspect of the question which preoccupies us will be detailed during this article, by the way, but we can already see a practical manifestation of it in the fact that several comrades, believing they were being nice to me, write or say this, more or less: “Your thing was very good! In the sequel, you’re going to give us “concrete” solutions, aren’t you? etc.” In no way do they discuss this or that argument, attack this other one, say why they agree or not, in a word, to help in the research of difficulties which are, after all, ours, and concern, in that sense, more than one individual, that is, the person who wrote the article, no! They say nothing, or, what is worse, they accept all with trust and wait for “the rest”, which would be the ideal solution for Anarchist organization, no less.

If that is what readers are hoping for with this article today, they strongly risk being disappointed, since the object of this article was clearly noted in the first part: a simple reminder of our principles, the value of which we learnt to appreciate by living as a militant, nothing more. What principles for action to follow? Up to the comrades to discuss among themselves an effective application, but we wanted, for now, only to raise the moral problem, the problem of Anarchist ethics, the determinant role of which we realized in our everyday actions…

On organization…

In trying to define a few things, I realize we have already started to talk about the big issue of “organization”. Well, let’s finish on this issue before going any further. If some comrades wait silently, others start up on the contrary at high-speed and send awesome projects of organizations, all (or almost all) is already planned in them, and we feel like crushed, vaguely worried, facing the grandiose process triggered by a few lines. Something a bit like being The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!

But then again, this reaction proves a misunderstanding of the first part of the article, which insisted on this idea, which was supposed to be, in the end, a tautology: “we can create the most perfect organization and call it Anarchist. No use: if the members of this organization do not really act as Anarchists, it will be all you want it to be, but not Anarchist“. Starting from this principle, to create an organization before creating the Anarchist man (sic) is like building a house by starting with the roof, the walls and foundations being an afterthought. This might lead to slightly awkward buildings.

We could object that this is insisting too much on simple obvious facts and that everyone understood this long ago, when time is running out and we would better build the powerful Anarchist movement that needs building!

At first sight, this argument is impressive and has this “concrete” style which makes so-called activists agree, the people who “do” things (sometimes even anything at all) and think later, once the mistake is made. Even then, if there only was a reflection after each mistake, this would not be too bad, but that is exactly what worries us: we are not at all sure that the as obvious as these observations are, they be truly understood by a large number of Anarchists, and that is serious! If they were understood, we would not so often see comrades go back to organization issues with some kind of impatience, they like to talk about structures but nearly always forget to talk about the quality of people and concentrate on quantity. Do I caricature? How many times have we heard, and will we hear again, a sentence of that kind: “Recruiting one or two guys every so often is good, but we would be more efficient to get 10 or 20 in one go!” said with the best of intentions in the world originally, yet the consequences of this can sometimes be dangerous for the Anarchist movement itself. We will see why later, each thing in its place. But I do not wish to end this paragraph without answering people who are in a hurry to “bring people in”, that each person led to Anarchism and strengthened in Anarchist ideas is already in itself an incomparable victory and gain, and that after all a single valuable Anarchist may be more useful to the progress of the libertarian ideal than a dozen individuals we gave an Anarchist make-over to, it depends how you see it…

On the other hand, if we had all well understood (or remembered) the basic ideas of our doctrine, we would not see this strange distaste which many Anarchists manifest in learning from past mistakes, not to pour ashes over our heads in any kind of masochism, but to consider them with lucidity, these mistakes, almost coldly I would say. Of course, the same historical situations do not always repeat themselves and what was valid in 1936 might not still be in 1961, but I maintain there are a minimum number of elementary mistakes we should not make again (as I have suffered their ill-effects!) if we want to be taken seriously, or, what is more important, not to be taken for people driving almost knowingly new comrades into failures that we knew were inscribed in certain behaviours or methods. We do not have, we no longer have, the right to disgust young people from Anarchism (and the policy of “closed eyes” leads directly to this) to help our own little self-image! The undeterred quest for this truth should lead all comrades with any experience of the libertarian struggle, having seen both its good and bad sides, to help with a task which we could call demystification within the Anarchist movement itself. I realize that talking of demystification to qualify the mistakes and weaknesses of Anarchist “self-critique” can seem harsh, but I cannot see any other word!

As far as we are concerned, that was the aim we had set ourselves when we created Noir et Rouge, and we follow it and will follow it (rest assured) with all our strength, even if our means are more restricted than we would wish for. The pursuit of such an aim, both modest and huge, demands that we always speak clearly to comrades, without concessions, not to play any moralizing role, but to precisely draw conclusions together. We know that this will force us to face once again some unpalatable truths, the ones we do not speak about and it is easier that way, realities that a form of Anarchist shyness have made “taboo” (for example, let’s remind us how we were driven to dedicate a whole special issue of our journal (1) to an issue on which too many libertarians kept, according to us, a prudent silence: free-masonry), but we think that acting that way is necessary in order to move forward. And we will come back, as many times as we see fit, on what seems to us worthy of being examined, meditated on and learned from, something that is not always easy to bring to the common experience.

Let’s finish on this issue (that is, that the two articles on the “difficulty of being an Anarchist” will not lead to an organization system but to ethical elements without which it seems vain to build any Anarchist organization at all) by making the precision that the “technical” organization part is not in our opinion to be ignored, we have already seen several aspects of this issue in past issues of “N&R” (minorities/majorities, problem of the party, as well as some “classic” texts such as the opinion of Maria Körn on organization, etc.) and we will certainly have the occasion to go back to it in the future. But this quest depends as much on the effort of our reader-comrades as on ourselves since such works are to be made collectively.

To study is not to condemn

We have seen, in the first part of this article, that the greatest difficulty of being an Anarchist does not come from a fault in our ideal (although some Anarchists believe that, and ask false-problems about this) but from a fault in our conviction, which is often resolved in a more or less pronounced abandonment of libertarian ethics. Following this observation, a question remains: Are Anarchists worthy of Anarchism? A question to which I personally answer: No, many of them are not.

Of course, our permanent struggle against a gangrenous society makes for a lot of weaknesses (see on this issue the letter from a comrade from Brittany which we publish in the “readers’ mail” of this issue), and we never had the pretentiousness of being perfect or even “good” (we do not fight against something “evil” or “mean” because we are any better or have been touched by grace…) because we do not believe in the original evil or goodness of mankind, because first of all we do not give a fuck, but also because humans are dependent on other humans, therefore on a group and on psycho-economic conditions which equally determine their lives. Okay, but alongside the social factors mentioned, revolutionaries in general (Anarchists or not) still have a line they follow, which can be called by example a sense of justice (or injustice) and will have, whatever we say or do, a direct relation with moral behaviour. Since Anarchists place a special value on the individual, and Communist Anarchists and other libertarian communists are no exception in the matter (yes!), it is normal to look into and fight any deviation of our behaviour, which is not condemnation or intolerance but a task just as necessary as selling the newspaper, organize a talk, put a poster up. The progress of our ideas is made from the sum of all these little tasks.

Not worthy of Anarchism? I reminded people, in the first part, that a brilliant speech, if it can have some use, is not always worth the simple lives of less “gifted” comrades and that the latter often give us a better example and more comfort than the prettiest theories, the kind we only apply on special occasions. Lastly, rigour was mentioned, a rigour towards ourselves and which can only lead towards a serenity (no excitement but no excessive disillusions either) needed for good Anarchist work. The last few lines announced other aspects of the moral issue posed by Anarchism and its everyday application. We will examine one of these aspects, one of the most important but also most subtle ones.

The issue of the “leader”

Leader: The most visible person in a political party or a competition.

Normally, there should not be an issue of “leaders” among Anarchists, at most some comrades who take more initiatives, who are more dynamic or hard-working, without taking themselves seriously for that. It is unfortunately because this serious deviation also exists among us, a deviation which is directly related to ethics, that we think it is useful to spend a long time on it today.

I mentioned at the start of my article this “moral laziness”, let’s imagine that I am being over-dramatic and use the word “resignation”, yes, it is rather that: way too many comrades “resign” in front of others more gifted for speech or writing, in the sense that they dare not speak a word or write a line for fear of ridicule, of being “basic” faced with the “intellectuals”, or those who think themselves so. Has it ever happened to everyone of us to hear, after an assembly, a meeting or a discussion, a comrade confess: “I would have liked to say this, I did not agree on that, but what do you want, so-and-so is too “strong” for me, they would have countered me all too easily!” And the companion left without a word, when their intervention might have been very interesting for all…

But resignation from speech or writing, if it is already a serious issue for an Anarchist, is nothing compared to the moral resignation which can take over some comrades faced with an elite “thinker”! And one of the greatest dangers for the libertarian movement and idea is, in my opinion, this facility that we can have over time to let comrades, as intelligent or educated as they might be, think for others. And please do not come back at me with the silly argument, as a very famous comrade from the libertarian movement once more or less wrote to me: “You despise elites, it is the triumph of dilettantism and youthful self-congratulation over academic knowledge and the experience of the long-term militant!” I cannot guarantee those were his exact words, but we can easily see what our outraged opponent was leading to, in his heavy boots… As we say, no one is more deaf (sic) than when they do not want to hear, and here we have more: a half-deaf person who only hears what they want to hear, even if it is the opposite of what we said! We have for our part had our ears too often assaulted with such arguments, and they have already made too much damage within our milieu for us not to immediately respond, clearly, once and for all: it has never been for us about denying the real value of this or that comrade, we are the first to study and value the heritage from the great theorists of anarchism, a comrade is for us an “elite” (if you love this word) insofar as their life and knowledge (and the way he (sic) makes other share them, a way which is conditioned by a spirit) teach us something, but they are not an “elite” because they claimed to be, sorry for them! We will never be impressed by the fact that so-and-so has hundreds of theory books at home, or even that they read them, if they cannot tolerate that a more obscure or younger comrade thinks differently than them and above all dare to tell them so!

We can see that going against the invasion of the “leader” does not mean denying abilities or knowledge, it is actually exactly the opposite, and those who pretend not to understand it nevertheless still know it well…

The fact remains that relying blindly, or more simply with excessive trust, on a better-trained comrade is in itself a dangerous behaviour and anti-libertarian to an extent, as it is delegating our thinking faculty (our ability to gain consciousness) to someone else and unconsciously it is to choose a boss. We will admit that as Anarchists, we should be following other paths!

But, the “leader” is then? Yes, it is then the comrade faced with an audience that is too respectful or passive and which will give him a feeling of power, and who will do nothing to fight this state of affairs, of course, it is so nice! He is, let’s say, the potential “petty chief” and essentially different in that regard from the experienced comrade simply sharing what they know with others. Because we can object that not everyone can have the same abilities or more simply the same experience of the movement and of Anarchist ideas, that there will always be people who are more easily influenced, and others with stronger personalities, and that older militants need to take care of younger ones, that’s a fact. But that is where some elementary mistakes are made that should no longer be made.

I think that a comrade asked to make a speech in front of a group of militants, even more so if they are young militants or even sympathizers, must always keep in mind that if what they say is interesting, it is a hundred times more interesting if the audience takes part and, for this, they can always say: “did you like what I said? Thanks a lot, but do not believe you’re out of trouble yet! You won’t always have a conference-person handy, and you will have to share what you learnt with other comrades, if you have learnt anything this evening, for example. There must be blind-spots, defaults in what we have just seen together, do not hesitate to question and criticize me. Do not form the habit of relying on a single person, that is how we form militants without consistency on one hand, and authoritarian individuals on the other…”

Of course, this is not about giving fail-proof recipes, but we can in any case try to do, if not better, at least less worse, even if humans have a few weaknesses, as we know! And we will never say enough times that the leader, and the special state of mind that comes with them are born from the adulation towards those who speak “too well”, from which we can see that authoritarianism and weakness are closely related, one stemming from the other and vice versa. It is wrong to pretend (let’s take a “historical” example!) that the young leader of the first AF, who became then the quasi-boss of the Libertarian Communist Federation, deviated in such a way because he was “authoritarian”: he also become such because the young militants that we were were not careful enough and because militants, who were full of experience however, “pushed” him too much when he started, turning a blind eye for “intellectual comfort” to some of his faults, even if it meant they played Pontius Pilate or the saviours of the situation afterwards! That is a fine way of taking our responsibilities!

When I say at some point that there are a number of mistakes not to make again, I think especially of the issue of the “leader” since we witnessed, imperceptibly, comrades who had to speak in front of larger and larger audiences get caught in the game of their own oratory talent… They were the kind who thinks that talking to a few comrades, it is all well and good, but to be “efficient” we need to speak to many more people and, of course, they ended up very well accustomed to have a customary following (or flock) around them, instead of worrying about knowing whether those who listened to them were gaining consciousness and not becoming, more simply, good robots, with a minimal Anarchist training, only good to put posters up or sell newspapers while the “masters” make speeches…

Imaginary portraits

If the leader can have different “styles”, one thing is unchangeable: the ownership instinct. And isn’t it sweet to hear with what paternal pride he speaks of “his” group! He would almost say “his” militants, but yet, he dares not. One detail: we can be sure that he will turn the spotlight on him in every occasion, exalt the heroic acts of a wonderful past… to which he is the only witness. When he is conscious of having been too far in his lack of modesty (damn! consciousness!) he will always find a good “companion”, expert in shoe-polishing, who will make his merits shine stronger. The leader knows how to manage his advertising.

The “styles” of leaders are however very different and can go from the majestic serious of Mr. Homais-Anarcho [Mr. Homais is the pharmacist in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary] to the frenzy of the agitator, through congress-rats, versed in subtle and discrete manoeuvring. But whatever he looks like, the leader hates one thing: to be thought of as “basic”, anything but that! If he has read a lot, made notes and revised them in his life, he has some knowledge and that can be good for all of us. The problem is that his knowledge leaks out of everywhere, like the tumultuous waters of a broken dam, and the Latin quotes that he absent-mindedly but abundantly decorates his letters or articles with end up annoying even the best of souls. An amusing case: the case of the agitator (a labourer by trade and therefore unable to make long studies), very jealous of the opposite leader, self-taught and suddenly inebriated by the books he digested in one forced gulp and only dreams of one thing: to play the erudite; he will be seen judging everything and nothing, ravel in literature, destroy this or that philosopher in one sentence, “chat” about cinema or sculpture. The leader wants to pass for an educated gentleman and wants people to know it.

More delicate issues

But let’s leave behind what can only be ridiculous to go back to the more serious aspects of the difficulty of being an Anarchist. The first article started from the fact that beyond any organizational issue, it is a lot more difficult to be first of all an Anarchist in everyday life and it insisted on ethics, the moral attitude without which all the pretty speeches are just hot air. We will finish as we started, because ethics are in everything: it is not enough to know our “classics” perfectly and then forget to apply the simplest of rules in the simplest circumstance. What would we say for example of an Anarchist who would write a work on Authority while he himself was authoritarian? His writings might be very interesting, but the readers who knew him could not help see him as a joke. What would we say of an Anarchist that would be a boss and would exploit, even “fraternally”, a comrade who worked with him? And, talking about fraternity, how can we not be surprised at seeing even now Free-mason Anarchists, who meet up in lodges with exploiters and other representatives of the establishment: are these comrades “brothers” before they are libertarians or inversely? But we already studied this issue and I am only mentioning it as another example…

Another aspect, at first sight surprising, of libertarian ethics, can be raised here (although it would deserve a specific study, given its complexity): can an Anarchist be friends with a Fascist? I can see the reader jump up, what is that question? Where does it come from? Yes! If in Spain our comrades have amply proved that between us and Fascism there was a deadly fight, we have however left a doubt, which will have to be lifted one day.

I am not the only one to be outraged by the monstrous link that some newspapers sometimes make between Anarchists and Fascists (and let’s not talk about Stalinists, obviously!) without raising too much protest from the comrades mentioned. What then? So-and-so is a Fascist but it’s such a “bright guy” and so “unlike any other”! Still, to hear Mr. Loiselet have, as a guest in his “so Anarchistic” Monday show, Pierre Dominique and ask him politely (same politeness for both Anarchist and Fascist guests, it seems like both “extremists” are put in the same bag) what he “did in his life” is hard for me to digest! I know that Dominique is a “guy”, as were Paraz, and others, but all these lovely people wrote or are writing in a Fascist newspaper “Rivarol”. I know that my outrage will make me be accused by some of being “limited” and “sectarian” but I wonder, candidly, how an Anarchist can only socialize with people who practice racism (let’s focus on this example, putting aside the cult of the leader, of force, etc.) and turn it into a doctrine? But it is true that there are even some Anarchists who are racist themselves, I have met some, so what? I maintain that these revolted may have a small dose of unknowing Fascism in them and that nothing much would be needed probably for this disease to take them over one day (but I do not want to get too much into what is the subject of my comrade’s article in this issue).

And, since we are talking about our enemies (Fascists) we must not forget that Anarchist ethics can also be greatly damaged if, to be efficient, we start copying some methods. There is for example a complete incompatibility between most methods of the Communist Party, since these methods are based on a doctrine, and ours. And we would be wrong to argue the “successes” of so-called Soviet Russia. Let’s remind us simply what neo-leninist methods had turned the dead FCL into! I insist on this point, because it arises often during the life of a militant and when we get into the trap of “the end justifies the means”, no-one knows how far it can go…

* * *

Starting from a couple of observations on the difficulties of our fight, we went a little further… I do not think there is any particular conclusion to draw, as each chapter gives its own conclusions, as far as I am concerned. The fact remains that we will draw some much larger and more valuable conclusions if comrades send us their views, favorable or otherwise. Let’s say it one last time: the important thing is not that So-and-so wrote something, the important thing is to know whether he was derailing or not, and we can know that through the fraternal support of the readers. We say this with every article, our works are only viewpoints, only aimed at launching discussions, other articles which, we hope, will go beyond our own studies…

One thing is certain: the task of the libertarian militant is not easy! But examining the difficulties to overcome must not make us lose hope but must strengthen our resolve. I am thinking of something comrade Lorulot once said, advertising our journal in “L’Idée Libre” in March, that the difficulty of being an Anarchist might be much greater than I suppose it to be. It may well be true. Another reason not to relent our efforts.

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