Dating tips for cis straight anarchist men

1. Don’t date fellow anarchists.

There are many reasons why this is a bad idea. But if you like strong, feminist women, there are a lot of them out there, they might be more career-oriented than revolution-oriented, but deal with it.

Most women have a very special set of experiences linked to becoming anarchists. You are a young teenage girl, and you discover anarchism. You become very excited with it: why didn’t people tell you about it before? It’s all you were thinking, but better expressed. You start talking about it to people around you passionately. That’s the age you discover that a lot of men don’t give a shit about what you’re saying, they just like that you are talking to them. If you were advocating fascism, their attention would be exactly the same. You get the same impression when you’re leafletting. People talk to you not because they care about your politics, but because it’s the first time in weeks they talk to a woman who is not at work serving them or part of their family. It is sad, but also little to do with you.

Now, being comrades is a bond of trust I place much value in. And when you find one comrade that seems to be interested in the same stuff you are, and that you like doing actions together and it’s all great fun, it is extremely disappointing to then discover that really your ‘comrade’ was feeling all this as a budding romance, and that if you had been into other actions and mocking what you did, he would have scorned the same stuff he did enjoy with you. It’s just not a comfortable place to be.

2. Don’t talk shop in your free time.

If you do date an anarchist woman (or to some extent any woman), you’ve got to understand it is not okay to use the fact that she allocates you a larger part of her time to drill your important views on an issue into her. It is intellectual intimidation. If a discussion on an issue is coming up, and you have differing views on the subject try discussing it as much as possible in a larger group. And only alone together as long as both people are enjoying discussing it. Don’t bring it up and keep it up until she caves in and decides that yeah, sure, she’ll support your position. This is not a healthy way of spreading the word. Also, don’t feel betrayed when she pretends to agree to shut you up, then persists with her heresy at broader meetings.

3. Talk about your man problems to other men.

“Men don’t talk about their feelings”? Yes, they do, at length, and it’s a pain. It’s not that your partner does not care about your man feelings: the way you worked in the mines since age 10, learnt all the stiff-upper-lip nonsense growing up on the estate, had to strangle your kitten because it peed on a picture of the Pope, and had to give up your dreams of being a professional harpist after two lessons because your neighbour once mocked you. Well, yes we care in as much as we care about you, but the whole dramatisation around it is just ridiculous. You know, the whole “o no, I never talk about my feelings” five drinks later, sobbing on your lap about his entire lifestory. Accept it, you’re as self-absorbed as the rest of us.

I take my examples out of the worst working class coming of age litterature to stress the fact the “pressure to really be working-class” which sometimes exists among some anarchists really does not help. You want to be pro-feminist? Talk about your daddy issues with your dad, your men issues with other men, etc. Don’t dump it all on your partner because she’s safe.

4. Talking about your feelings is not always great.

So, you love feminism, so you think men should be less manly and open up about their feelings. All the fucking time. Tip: women also find it really hard to express what they are feeling. And they don’t care about your feelings all that much. The good thing about having a partner that often asks you how you are feeling, it’s that if she doesn’t, you know it’s because she is not wondering. Women are not free shrinks. You are not being a wonderful deconstructed man, you’re invading her space and her time and taking all her emotional and mental energy for your own selfish ends.

Let women lead the conversation! Why do men say that they are too manly to discuss feelings when actually they really aren’t? Because they don’t want to discuss it right now. A lot of behaviours can be explained as a way of deciding what is discussed when. Men are terribly good at that. However, your partner might have a different emotional calendar, and she might just want drinks and sex the night you decide to reconnect with your inner child, and want to discuss feelings and relationships the day you want to be all macho. She might even want to discuss feelings: with other people present! Even other men! Because the couple is toxic.

5. Don’t lead the conversation, don’t lead the relationship either.

You like her and you want her to know it, because you’re in touch with your feelings. Good for you. But don’t suggest to meet: her time and her space are sacred. Don’t be like “can I come round with the cookies I just made”, be like “hypothetically, if I made cookies, when would be convenient if you wished to have some, and would you like to eat them with me around, and if so where would you like this eating of cookies to take place”. Don’t impose things, even if they are good things that she likes like cookies. When you tell her about a concert she would like, just tell her about it. If she decides to go, she might invite you to go with her. Don’t be like “I have given you this information that is relevant to your interests, therefore if you want to go you have to go on a date with me!”

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Anarchism and Fetishism

Fetishism is ascribing magical powers to an object. In Marx, it is used about money, commodities, work, etc. Money is the most common example: it only has power because we believe it has power, but we cannot free ourselves from it by refusing to believe in it in our society.

People often write about the Left being fetishistic, about having shied away from theory towards magical rituals. To name a few that you can read about: demonstration fetishism, picket line and union fetishism, Occupy, activism, class struggle fetishism, riots, fire and broken glass fetishism, fetishism in numbers, policy fetishism (and Safer space fetishism), Marx fetishism, standing in front of shops for full communism… Anything can be fetishised or be described as fetishism.

Opponents also ascribe such magical powers to the manifestations of the Left (belief that unions will bring about the collapse of the economy, that demonstrations will bring about the collapse of civilisation). However, Left fetishism can be more delusional than real. Whereas money can’t really be challenged, union authority can be ignored without much consequences in many cases. This leads to the label ‘fetishism’ being ascribed to anything which does not work, when it can actually stem from flawed theory, or bad execution.

Anarchism is supposed to keep away from fetishism through rational examination and the adequation of means and ends. We cannot fight alienation with alienated means, and all that. In practice, anarchists do subscribe to a lot of fetishistic attitudes. Sometimes they stem from Left fetishism: the idea that the Left will actually achieve something that we can somehow stir and make into our way to emancipation. Some anarchists think that fetishism can be empowering, or helpful, or at least completely inocuous.

If accusing someone of fetishism is seen as such an insult, it is very much because of the more usual term of sexual fetishism and the stigma related to it. Sexual metaphors are often used to describe fetishistic political attitudes “it makes them hard” “they have wet dreams about it” “they wank over it”. It is one of the rare occasion where sex negativity is wildly accepted by anarchists.

But, you didn’t speak about women?

I titled last article “More on Marx (and women) in anarchism” and then failed to mention women again. Not explicitly, but when you write about how to challenge Marx’s status as “heavyweight theory” and women have been predominantly told to stay away from heavyweight theory, you are doing some feminism.

This remark came from the “feminism” end of the anarchist spectrum, but it still feels like one of those “women should keep their place” kind of remarks. But yes, the last article was about my own experience with Marx, rather than “women’s experience with Marx”. Secret: I don’t know about women. I can’t generalise my own experience to all women or even to all anarchist women.

What are common experiences of Marx among women? I am genuinely interested, but here we find another problem: non-mixity never applies to anything remotely ‘interesting’. Men can only be excluded if we talk about things that would probably only gross them out and unsettle them (and gross us out and unsettle us). Women’s issues. Non-mixity on Marx? That would be unfair exclusion!

Non-mixity was not developed so we can talk about girl stuff. It was developed so that we  can gain some of the solidarity and networking opportunities that we are denied because we are oppressed and invisible. If there is one issue on which women lack people to network with, it is Marx, not accountability processes or rape culture (which are however top of the agenda of non-mixed meetings all around). Having non-mixed meetings is no victory at all if there are restrictions on their remit.

More on Marx (and women) in anarchism

Some people have pointed out that the last post was not as cheery as it could be, so I’ll try to be a bit more upbeat and constructive in this one. These remarks are valid to make generally more people apt in dealing with Marxist ideas and to solve that Marx-privilege problem.

1. De-mythifying Marx

Marx is really not that hard a writer to understand. People should not be as scared as they are to read him. But, further than that, we should move from a culture of reading to a culture of sharing. Quality debates and, generally, the oral tradition have been grossly overlooked. Accounts of how anarchism came to Spain in The Spanish Labyrinth should convince anyone that it is time to write less and speak more: an unreadable exchange of posts could be great theatre, as people tend to be a lot more interesting when the audience is present and is not something you can avoid by making the exchange troll out and never be read by anyone ever. That said, I personally am the worst orator, my heart almost explodes if I’m surrounded by more than two unknown faces, and I’m not alone in this case, so that is hardly a sufficient solution.

The move from books and academic articles to blogs is also a step towards greater accessibility. Breaking down issues into independent blogs can make people read through the same number of words they would never ever attempt in a book.

Then, also there is the issue of moving back from academic language to “normal language”. There is no word count on the internet, you can afford to make sentences that you don’t have to re-read 5 times to interpret. I say ‘back to’ normal language, because Marx is really not that academic at all: when he does create a new phrase, it is because he has lead to it and explained it for a while. Marxists might like to drop them like authoritative bombs into their own arguments, but Marx starts from simple to complex in a very reassuring way.

Marxist concepts can be handled accurately and with ease in every day anarchist speech.

2. Education material

There are books about books for people who are still afraid of tackling the Great Beard. I have no pretense to know whether they help or not. I know I was never able to understand Debord until I came across Jappe’s book on him, which made the obscure simple, and I think some people have a knack for that.

On the larger issue of economics (and not only Marx), AK Press’s Disassembly Required is definitely another book I would recommend.

An interesting (if ambitious) work is the Critical Encyclopedia of Capitalism, which proposes articles on Marxist concept (so far, Fetishism, Praxis, Separation and Commodity) and I’m ot only saying that because I owe Mr. Hemmens much gratitude.

3. The problem with most Capital 101

When selecting secondary reading, the problem is that they all pretend to be neutral, when actually they give one possible reading of Marx, often quite oriented.

For example (and I apologise to him because I still haven’t written back to him because I’ve been busy explaining important things to people such as why Robin Thicke was rapey and cisgender was a word), I found Wayne Price’s pretention to deal with Marx’s political economy (all of Capital + Grundrisse) a bit underwhelming when his book was actually mostly about Capital volume 1, avoided value critique and took “libertarian communism” to its most uninteresting acception of “more democratic Trotskyism”. He does not agree with my view of his work, and I’m sure he’s got a point.

To some extent, even Disassembly Required which I was proposing earlier has some bits (about Gramsci’s hegemony) that I found random and uncalled for. Any reading will always have to be taken critically.

But that’s it, rather than teach people about the truth of Marx, we must give us all the keys to be comfortable with Marxist concepts and ideas (not currents and parties), especially the ones developped by Marxist currents which exist mostly in relation to anarchism (communisation and Wertkritik).

Incoherent thoughts on being an anarchist woman today

I have been reading a number of biographies of Marx, to get acquainted with the context of his works. What struck me as un-anarchist in Marx’s elaboration of theory was obviously the subservience of everyone to his needs. Marx’s great quest to develop theory justified endless sacrifices from his wife, family and friends. Marxist political economy was not a collaborative work, but a highly specialised task, in which Marx did not have all the power (in particular, he was dependent on people taking care of him and funding him) but had all the intellectual and ‘moral’ power (his task was his alone and somehow invaluable to all workers). The “shoulders of giants” he stood on were not only the economists that had come before him, but the friends and family he was crushing much less figuratively. At the same time, I was wondering about anarchism’s relative failure to have theoretical output of quality, and how the refusal of such ways of getting things done could explain part of it (you know, the gentle way you kick out the “comrades” who periodically decide that what they are writing or doing is of greater importance to the cause than what you might ever accomplish, and that therefore they are entitled to living on your sofa, getting fed by you and generally using your energy and resources). Thinking about this, I stumbled (dialectically, one could say) on a larger issue: a fraction dividing anarchism today, which I think hinders its development and needs to be addressed.

Anarchist thought can be seen as a spectrum going from two extreme positions that are mainly strawmen that almost no-one actually defends: from the grossest workerism and devotion to class struggle politics to the most liberal identity politics. Along this spectrum, anarchists balance a vision of capitalism as it exists, largely based on Marx, and an understanding of systems of oppression. Although, in their theoretical intellectual framework both of these coincide quite happily, when you get to the material level and see how individual anarchists spend their time and energy, something starts to appear: people are specialised. Even though they read Marx and are very much interested in explaining capitalism as a system, women tend to spend most of their intellectual energy (discussions, debates, reading, writing) being concerned with feminism as well as intersectional politics. Discussions about Marx and explanations of the economic crisis are overall led and directed by men. With the notable exception of Rosa Luxemburg (and yes, there have been more recent examples), developers of Marxist and revolutionary political economic theory are men. Marxist feminism has long been the diversion for female Marxist scholars, the input of which is not negligible, just as intersectional politics today are an essential component of anarchism.

On the one hand, we have “heavyweight” “theory” which is commonly seen as dusty, old-fashioned, intellectually legitimate but too complicated for most people, useless, solely axed on class politics. On the other hand “liberal” “identity politics” which is new, fun, inclusive, post-modern, intellectually illegitimate, class-collaborationist. A lot of pointless conflict goes to show that one of these two caricature is good, and the other one evil and a lot of affect and emotion is invested in these supposed “sides” by anarchist, despite the fact that it is obvious that neither sides are anything close to anarchism. Our own gender construction pushes anarchist women to spend their intellectual energy on intersectional issues. Our comrades’ reinforcement also edges us that way: positive feedback on anarchafeminist articles, little or no feedback on contributions to discussions on capital. There is a perverse way in which men feel they are not “legitimate” to spend energy on feminism. That is, that they end up feeling more legitimate (than women), spending more energy on discussing capital. Also, as much as it is nice to feel that your input on a discussion on feminism is being valued, the contrast when you start talking about the economy is all the more striking and feels all the more violent.

In the privacy of my own intellectual musings, I am much more confident discussing Marx than discussing feminism. I completely share what men describe as their own fears about feminism and intersectional politics (fear of saying something stupid, not being legitimate, being oppressive without meaning to). Ironically, these are the fears that made me want to address those issues, to become a much better person, and although I was starting pretty low, I think it did a bit of good. But getting so much pressure to stick to this, and contrasting how people accept any unsubstantiated claim I make about something to do with women or minorities to the usual terribly oppressive “who are you to even dare speak of Marx” attitude I was brought up with, and accustomed to, makes me dizzy.

There is no doubt that Marx’s love of polemics, ad hominems and vicious fighting has been tolerated among Marxists for way too long. There is no doubt that organising talks like “in room A: a man will explain to you current theories on the economic crisis, while in room B: a woman will talk to you about intersectionality” has nothing feminist about it. We need to challenged the oppression of women has it materially takes place, every time a woman is cut short, humiliated or not given credit in our discussions of capital. Not by giving in in exchange for some spaces of peace and quiet where we can be listened to and valued, but never trespass on “real” politics. Anarchism has made some tremendous efforts in its inclusion of women, but the economy (as a system, not as it impacts on people’s everyday lives), capital and Marx are the last bastion of the dominant male discourse. Only by going against the flow and our own internalised misogyny, our judgement that some things are ‘too complicated’ or ‘too theoretical’ for us can we challenge that. As for men: many have learned to shut up and listen when oppressed people talk about their oppression. This socialisation as shy, unconfident, etc. is even worse when a woman talks about Great Things. But men’s effort to listen and shut up is much lesser (because of the discussion not being about the oppression of women, therefore men not having any feeling of lack of legitimacy). A lot of men, even great comrades that I value immensely, have two debating styles with me: on the issue of feminism, despite sometimes the weakness of my arguments, they are polite and engaging, on the issue of capital, despite sometimes (okay, rarely) the strength of my argument, they are dismissive and condescending. This will not do.

[This was written before I checked the 2013 Anarchist Bookfair programme, so no ill-intent was meant by “There is no doubt that organising talks like “in room A: a man will explain to you current theories on the economic crisis, while in room B: a woman will talk to you about intersectionality” has nothing feminist about it.” However, yes, there is a problem when you systematically “balance” one Marx meeting with an anarchafem meeting, namely: “class struggle and class consciousness” vs. “anarchafem conference”; “anarchism and marxism” vs. “stuff your sexist comrade”; “Marx and Harvey” vs. another “Anarchafeminism”]

Godwin’s law is totally as bad as Hitler (not)

Godwin’s law is a political, positive and useful idea: the idea that we should not tolerate hyperbolic comparisons to the Nazi regime. They do not help, and they show a lack of thought about the atrocities of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust (Porajmos/Samudaripen).

But although it did have an effect on people being more careful about using comparisons to Nazis in appropriate contexts, it also had some unexpected fallout:

  • It has been extended to cases where a hyperbolic comparison is not being drawn. In the intent to ban any mention of the Third Reich ever.
  • It has been extended to cases where no-one has mentioned anything about Nazi Germany at all.
  • It has been used to delegitimise the whole antifascist movement in one fell swoop.

The first case, the case of people invoking Godwin’s law in the absence of a hyperbolic comparison, is well documented. In the worst case, it can be people hiding their negationist discourse behind it. Yes, it is worrying, but it happens: “you cannot say the Holocaust happened because: Godwin’s law”. I don’t write for negationists, however, but I thought it was necessary to mention. In better cases, it attacks people making “valid” comparisons. I am not a fan of “fair” comparisons to Nazi Germany, and I am not sure that such a thing exists, but such disputable cases should probably be granted more than a simple line on Godwin’s law. Last (and least), you have the case I was involved in last week: A discussion originally about “anarchism and language” got heated when I mentioned that “cisgender” was just a word (and not an intellectual bourgeois construct created to divise and confuse the working class), at the end of this discussion, I went back to the main thread, and mentioned that if people are interested about how language shapes society, they might be interested in Klemperer’s LTI (Klemperer was a philologist of Jewish origins who lived through the Third Reich and wrote about the changes in the language used in both the political discourses and everyday conversations). It was a side remark, to give one reference that is not Orwell on the matter of language and ideology, as no other had been suggested until then. Despite the fact the debate on the word cisgender was closed (I did mention in my post that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of cisgender being a word or not), it was apparently a sign that I had lost that previous argument, because: Godwin’s law. When reading about Nazi Germany is against Godwin’s law, an essential part of its reason to exist has been lost.

Today, I have seen this casual abuse of Godwin’s law taken a step further: a genuine case of self-fulfilling Godwin’s law, where people invoke it without anyone having mentioned the Third Reich in any way: a Scottish independentist blogger has tweeted transphobic things and refused to apologise. Some other Scottish independentist bloggers have talked about it. Some people have taken the defence of the first blogger, saying that yes he is wrong, but he is also useful to the cause, influential, etc. so should be cut some slack. I argued that it was better, and in the end more benefitial, to deal with these issues rather than let them fester “for the greater good” and defend people who you fully know are wrong. At the same time, another friend was sharing this article, and I saw some parallels. I did not want to imply the blogger who said some transphobic shit was an FBI informant, I just wanted to say that he was the one being divisive, and that people losing their time trying to cover him because he writes for independence were losing their energy and hurting their movement, in the same way that people who defended that guy until he admitted himself to have been an FBI informant had been losing their time and hurting their movement. This argument was taking place in a non-anarchist setting, where police informants are not the big bad monsters under the bed that they are among anarchists for understandable reasons. So I was not prepared to be accused of: Godwin’s law. Okay, the comparison did not hold in every aspect of the two stories, by far, maybe it was far-fetched, the simultaneity of me reading one article while getting notifications about that argument might have made me drawn more similarity than it should. But this was reverse Godwin’s law: by invoking it, this guy was basically saying that FBI informants are as bad as the Nazis. They are not, even if that is one of the very few good things that can be said about them.

Last, but not least this time, I have witnessed on French TV an attempt to use Godwin’s law to dismiss the entire antifascist movement. Antifascists were strawmanned by someone saying that they should not call themselves antifascists, as the extreme right groups and the state’s racist policies that they oppose are not Nazi Germany. Well that is true, but as the antifascists clearly explained: they oppose fascism ideologically, and that is why they fight things in our society which can unlock society’s resistance to fascism (extreme right groups, and, more importantly, the state’s racist policies and discourses).(Most) Antifascists (I’m sure you can find one) are not saying that modern society is the same/just as bad as Nazi Germany, they are saying they want to make sure nothing can ever be as bad as Nazi Germany ever again.

Well these were my thoughts about Godwin’s law, why it’s important, why it shouldn’t be abused. Please get upset at the title of this article, I’m afraid it is intended to be that bad.