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.

 

On Anarchism, language, and power

To libcom, On Anarchism, Language and Power

If you want to look at why anarchist language is not the dominant language, looking at anarchist language and its peculiarities is of little value: you should look at dominant language and its authoritative instances. Who tells whom what is proper English, what are proper ideas. The very notion of a standardised language which would make communication/control easier is linked to the development of a centralised national state and was not entirely successful despite generous use of violence (look up linguistic change and standardization for more on this). A decentralised society will be unable to keep such standardised language. But that would be anarchy (the wrong kind)? Look at non-standard languages: dialects, slangs, community languages, technical jargons. Groups of human come together, create the language they need for the situation they are in.

So, what is dominant language? Read things like articles about Jamie Oliver’s next TV show (not anarchist ones, the rest of them). This is what frames possible views on the subject, the anarchist view is not within that frame. Writing our own things, fighting phrases and symbols like ‘benefit scroungers’ or ‘bedroom tax’ are all we can do. We are not scroungers and we are not burdened by tax, we can tell our story.

A large part of the working class actively and wholeheartedly supports capitalism and/or all kinds of oppression. If what we say was acceptable for everyone it wouldn’t be anarchist. It is quite sad, but let’s move on. No, we cannot speak like the mythical united working class, but we can speak more clearly, and listen better. And we can encourage everyone to feel confident using their own words, putting effort in understanding them, as they do to us, not to control what they are saying, but to do stuff together. This is not “building bridges” between anarchism and something else, this is anarchism, federal, decentralised.

Orwell, that text, and the unfortunately layered Crimethink pamphlet are all valuable contributions. But in the end, any guideline like this has a negative double effect: on the shy, self-reflexive people it makes them anxious about how many “mistakes” they have made; on the loudmouths, it gives them ammunition to silence people (same for “privilege checklists”). It is important to edit texts carefully, and to write clearly. As a translator, I do not like ambiguous or unclear passages. But when someone gloats about not bothering to ask what a word means, you start wondering what is the point of it all. If we don’t listen to people, why would people listen to us? If not knowing a word is something shameful, a feeling that can only be subverted by refusing to listen to and later ridiculing the person who said it, why use language at all? Let the loudest grunt win the argument.

That the person who made that silly claim wouldn’t apologise when called out, I can understand. Someone who has been taught not knowing a word is shameful has issues of their own, which probably include a lack of confidence when it comes to recognising they said something that could be called out.

But that people take their defense and basically state that anarchism is better off without the term cisgender is not acceptable. That someone says they are a gay man and therefore are the authority on the word cisgender is not acceptable. That upon being told they are not the voice of LGBT people he then attacks me with gay male stereotypes is not okay. I don’t even remember ever seeing a gay man attacking a bi woman with gay male stereotypes before. The only explanation I found for this is that:
– he had all the problems which come with being the one gay anarchist, which are very real, and all he got was this lousy “LGBT spokesperson” medal, and he intends to make the most of it;
– ageism among gay people is so rife that he would lash out like this.
Thankfully, not being a gay guy, I got more confused than hurt, despite his best intentions.

Personal attacks should not be tolerated, and given the guy’s reaction to being more polite (joking it all off), I doubt he sees anything wrong with his behaviour.

I have done all I could, I explained I didn’t know any words before I learnt them, that I have said transphobic things from ignorance and carelessness. I am neither better nor more intelligent than anyone here. He used that against me.

He used the “I have a trans friend” line, that is not acceptable. At some point, he basically turned the division between trans people on the issue into a sure argument that proved his point (the “they can’t even agree among them”/”tell my wife she needs liberated” argument). On a thread about language, it is fitting to have so many instances of domination through language.

My language, however, was under scrutiny by the PC police. I might have made a mistake. I used the term ‘to fuck’ to describe my intimate activities, the term I use with my partners. I was pointing out how ludicrous it was that a gay man say that he had “sexual relationships with” men and therefore could ban the word cisgender.

And I don’t see it as anything else, scary and pathetic as it is: a one-cis-man attempt to censor the word cisgender, by systematically insulting, ridiculing people who had the weird idea that it was just a word, that should be used where appropriate, questioned when problematic. It must be recognised that everyone claimed they wouldn’t be so harsh on me if only I was a trans person (I am cis). That is presuming that trans people would feel comfortable (are obliged to?) starting the conversation by saying they are trans in such an environment. But these people are apparently not evil, just stuck in an unhealthy medium.

You want feedback on Libcom. Well, people call it a “septic tank”, a “cesspool” (I don’t approve of metaphors which hide the power dynamics at play, I would call it a dick-measuring arena, etc.). I think editors are trying to keep the peace by flattering some loudmouths’ egos, and I understand. But ends equal means, and this calm for moderators is pushing away a lot of people. People’s stories are always the same: they were saying something, right or wrong, and then they got treated like shit by an abusive arsehole. No-one intervened. They feel like Libcom is great as a library, but shit as a forum. “Worse than reddit”, claimed one participant.

Of course, it is the internet. You ban someone, they create a new account. But someone like Serge having an account for 9 years? I am not the first person he lashes out at, surely. And you ask him to “be polite”. What a bitter understatement after two days of abuse. He mocks it and makes it look like he basically owns the joint. Here we have an anarchist on an ego trip.

Next time someone looks up ‘cisgender’ on Libcom, they will come across that thread. Way to look inclusive.

A friend has had bad experiences with some of his articles getting comments he deemed racist, this is not why our people want their stuff published. He now refuses stuff we work on together to be published there (Steven, that’s a different one: I stopped asking for consensus on putting stuff on Libcom as I never get it, and just do it myself). Anyway, he was researching autism, and what Libcom had to offer were passionate defences of the misuse of the word ‘autistic’. Apparently, ‘spastic’ is not a condition, so is offensive, but ‘autistic’ is a diagnostic, so can be used for everything we don’t like. Like, for an anarchist movement that is inadequate and does not attract people. Not offensive at all, you see… Why are people running away?

After the revolution, there will still be an internet. And on the internet, people are actual people. Common decency should apply. Sometimes, I try to show the frailty which often prevents real life situations from escalading into things so ugly. Maybe I wouldn’t find Libcom so hard if I had chosen a “female” screen name, whatever that means. Sometimes, I mention how bad my hands are trembling, whether or not I am crying. The answer is generally along the lines of “this is why I am doing this to you, so you get off my internet”, because our welfare is more important to us than access to any space. But why keep space at all that are not inclusive of anyone who is not ready to risk ritual abuse? Make Libcom a library, where readers can submit reviews and comments, and edit out all the ill-thought bits before publishing them.

I am not so much afraid of it as a place where I can be insulted, I avoid it because I know I could abuse someone in the same way, and no-one would bother to call me out, maybe they’d even side with me. It is pretty scary. When a comment I make gets some ‘likes’ I proof read it as much as I can, study it in the light of all I know about oppressions, and apologise if it mentioned a user specifically. Because Libcom is a space for mob rule and bullies, and I try not to be a bully.

Scrape the ups and downs system, scrape the best post and best user awards, delete people’s posts when they boast about things that sound like they are happy to throw trans liberation out of the revolutionary train of history, and ask them to rephrase/rethink their comment. Also, make it possible to block people. That would be an incentive for a lot of people who do not speak out on the forums to create an account anyway. Ban users who insult people and the more they are told to back off, the more they press on.

Maybe I wasn’t clear, maybe I “asked for it”: the last time I left Libcom, I had used the exact injunction “back off”. It had worked once, that time it was not enough. This time I only described my experience of Serge’s input as “an unstoppable wave of hatred”. Maybe that is why he thought it was totally okay to keep it going. I thought I was dealing with it reasonably well, but I got called a transphobe, who played the victim card and was ageist to older gay folks. That is probably a sign I fucked up.

What would I do in your situation? What can you do? Well, giving your hours away to save and collect this material is pretty amazing, no-one can demand more of you.

Make it so that everything is edited? That is a lot of work, and a lot of power. If someone decides that ‘cisgender’ must be edited out for the good of the proletariat, you’re in deep shit.

As it is, I would say nuke it from space (as someone suggested), because I would feel responsible for every instance of bullying, for every insult (not that I hold you responsible of anything, I do believe in individualist responsibility). After all, if you closed the forums, people might only migrate. But maybe they would join lefty forums which are not associated in any way with anarchism, and that would be one worry gone (yes, I do care about keeping anarchist spaces open to all more directly than making the whole world free from oppression, although there are problems with this view of an inside/outside).

It has been years since I have confidently directed anyone to anarchism, and I wish that I worried that they would encounter anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-nationalists or vanguadist bomb-makers. The truth is that, unless I know the group, I cannot direct anyone to it because I don’t know what kind of horribly bigoted attitude to warn them about.

Anarchism is full of people who find it hard enough to be accepted themselves by their colleagues without having to do anything about trans people. How can they be accepted by the “working-class” when people give them newspapers to give out with articles about trans people’s rights? My problem is not that far off: I cannot direct working-class people to anarchism when they might be too trans, too foreign, too feminist, too queer for the comrades.

We seem to have a consensus that we are all post-modern, both perspectives are equal, we can coexist with constant struggle for influence in every group, publication, and forum.

Some people seem to think it’s a historically necessary tide: non-inclusive organisations will die out. I don’t think so. I think, over the past few years, there has been a real counter-attack, which on the surface is about “the excesses” of “academic theory”, but materialises by the anarchist movement getting a lot less diverse, because there are among us a large number of people who simply do not believe that the working class is as diverse as we say it is. And maybe we can’t hide our position on immigration for historical reason, but are you really saying that you won’t sign up someone who has all the right ideas, but refuses to understand how they are not acting in an acceptable way towards a small oppressed group or other? That’s why the anarchist movement will never grow. And so on, signing up their mates as anarchists despite the fact they do not fight for freedom for all, because it’s “convenient”, because they might learn about feminism later…

I have been more concerned about what anarchist movement deserves growing. And, imho, it requires examining the one aspect of our theory which most resembles a Latin mass, both by its sacred character and its obscurantism: the link between class struggle and revolution.

In that endeavour, I work almost exclusively with Marxists. There is no divide between non-party Marxists and Anarchists, there is one between people who honestly want to find ways out of commodity-based society and people who want to feed their Molochs, be they their own egos, an organisation or an idea, ever more followers. Of course, I wish that as many as possible would join such an endeavour, because little is possible without them, but if people are hostile to losing their joy of dominating a forum thread, I can’t see how to invite them to question all interpersonal relations. My comrades are not the ones branded “anarchists”, but the people who live by ethics I admire, it might sound foolish, but I hope they might one day coincide.

Edit: among the bits I crossed out from this post which was originally even longer, was my insistence that Victor Klemperer was important. He was a philologist of Jewish origins who lived through the Third Reich and wrote about what nazism did to language, in both official discourses and every day conversations. His diaries have been published as well as his book LTI: The language of the Third Reich. There’s also apparently a documentary about him, titled “Language does not lie”, but I don’t know where to get it. I originally did not credit him, because my mention of his work first was perceived as a Godwin point. Sadly, his work on language is interesting for people interested in language, power and society, and I feel bad to have crossed it out, it is valuable work that should be remembered and studied.

Rage at Clément Méric’s death

“Wednesday, June 15 2013, leaving a clothes shop, near Gare St Lazare, Clément Méric, a young 18 year old trade unionist and antifascist militant was beaten to death by members of the radical extreme right. He had come from Brest to study in Sciences Po, he was a victim of the context of extreme right violence which developed over the past few months. He died from his injuries in the night at the Hospital Pitié-Salpétrière. All our thoughts are with his family and his loved ones to whom we express all our solidarity. His friends and comrades.”

After this murder, information was carried over the internet and social media, and sometimes transformed. This is a bit of rumour control/further info about what appeared in English on twitter, facebook and all, and that Clément’s comrades deny. Obviously, I can only do so much for checking the reliability of sources, some of this could be inacurate, but this is what can be read or heard in the French-speaking media (bourgeois and/or revolutionary). On top of only being human, I am tired and upset, and I guess many comrades whose words are repeated here are too.

1. He was not a member of an extreme left party.

He was a member of a trade union (SUD/Solidaires Sciences Po), and joined Action Antifasciste Paris Banlieue. His comrades say he had “libertarian” tendencies.

2. It was not an accident during a fight.

His comrades have described him both as “not a warrior” and “not a fighter”, saying he weighed about 60 kg, and that he had apparently recently been treated for leukemia. The neo-nazi recognized the group of Clément and his friends, either from demonstrations or from stalking on social media. They gathered more people and weapons, waited outside the shop, and killed him, laughed, started running, realised no-one was after them, stopped and congratulated each other, according to witnesses. The neo-nazis’ defence is to paint it as a fight, possibly provoked by the victim, which led to a ‘tragic necessity’. It was not, his comrades insist that it was a political attack which ended in political murder. The police also briefly said they were treating it as “a fight between the extreme right and the extreme left”.

3. Who are JNR/Serge Ayoub?

Jeunesse Nationale Révolutionnaire is a group of neo-nazis led by Serge “Batskin” Ayoub, which has a shopfront in Paris. In the past few years he tried to unite the extreme right, but seems to have once again alienated all other groups. The most recent videos of him on YouTube are from the extreme right MayDay parade and the march in support of the Syrian governement. He has been a bonehead [apologies for the earlier use of “skinhead”] leader since the 1980s and declared in interviews that a physical confrontation to immigration was necessary and that his group was ready to do it. Serge Ayoub says he somehow had the accused on the phone before they were arrested, but denies knowing their names or that they are members of his organisation. Politicians are calling for the dissolution of this group, a number of antifa groups are reminding people that such groups have been banned in the past and it never prevented their resurrection, it seems more like politicians trying to be seen as doing something than any form of “solution”.

4. Clément and Breton nationalism?

No-one among his Paris comrades mentions anything about that afaik. They say he arrived from Brest (in Brittany) in September. His last name is apparently from the South West of France, and people say his family lives in the Gers (Occitania). Some Irish comrades have emphasised he was Breton and mentioned that his parents were into the defence of the Breton language. That may or may not be true.

5. Was he a member of the CNT?

Le Monde says he used to do some militantism with the CNT when he was in highschool in Brest, Brittany. However he does not seem to have been a current member of that organisation since he moved to Paris last September. 800 people were commemorating his death in Brest, where CNT members accused the Socialist mayor of political recuperation. The articles gave no indication on which CNT.

6. Are the JNR and JN the same organisation?

No, Jeunesse Nationaliste is a different organisation, a re-creation of Jeunesse Identitaire after some political infighting and the arrest of some of their members (who are at present still free) related to the attack in Toulouse on a Chilean post-grad student who was left in a coma, then was hemiplegic and thankfully seems to be recovering. I’ve been posting about them because Jeunesse Nationaliste had planned to hold a demonstration on Saturday in Toulouse before Clément’s death. Local authorities are trying to ban it in some way. An anti-fascist counter-protest was and is also planned.

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Nothing can or should appease our rage as long as fascism has not been definitely made something of the past. This anger must fuel our fight against fascism, and in that spirit commemorative marches against fascism have been promptly organised in around 27 cities in France, as well as in Montreal, Madrid, and this list will no doubt get longer. The picture is from the one in Toulouse on Thursday, another one is called on Saturday. Also, many people will comemorate him during the various Pride marches this month. That’s all I can do to try and end on a “positive” note…. Never forget, never forgive.

A review of Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism, and early New Zealand Anarchism, by Jared Davidson

When I picked up that book at first, I was nonplussed. “Great. Another biography of an anarchist great man,” I thought. But I was wrong. It is a very different book. It is remarkable by its unpretentiousness. The life of Philip Josephs is a narrative line, but the point of the book is to show how anarchism is not a story of Great Men and Great National Movements, it is a story of a constellation of obscure individuals, many of them entirely forgotten, across borders.

I particularly recommend the passage on early 20th century revolutionary and Jewish Glasgow. Also, it made me discover Lola Ridge, a New Zealand poet who emigrated to the US. I re-published some of her stuff here.

Sewing Freedom is also very modest in size, so it is a quick read, and beautifully illustrated, so it’s a pleasure.

A Review of Utopia (TV series)

[Trigger warning: sexism, pregnancy, sterility, violence, child abuse]

So, Utopia is a comic-book inspired, refreshing series of 6 episodes. There would be much to say about it, for example about the style of it, with endless static shots and extremely edited colours (it’s like a comic book, get it?) which could be seen as… a bit pedantic, to be honest, but it’s really only just annoying in the first couple of episodes, the later ones are much less over-stylized, thank fuck.

However, I wanted to consider only the representation of women in it. At first sight, we should be delighted: so many female characters! Utopia is really symptomatic of the numerical view of fair representation. But when you see a bit more about who these characters are… Well, maybe 6 episodes is just not enough to really develop that many characters.

One woman, is pregnant. Her sole role in the series is being pregnant. Then it turns out she was a liar and gets killed.

One woman is sterile. Her sole role is to be sterile, and (obviously) reallly really to want a kid. At any cost.

One woman is diseased. Genetically. All her actions are imputable to the fact she is diseased: her interest in the conspiracy, her betrayal, her not wanting to date the male hero. She is that bisexual girl from House, basically.

One woman is Leeloo from the Fifth Element. This dawned on me mid-series (unhuman-likeness, improbable haircut) but you’re supposed only to realize it at the end, when she learns that what they were looking all along (it’s not called the Fifth Element, so let’s say the genetic disease thingummy which will change life on Earth forever) was IN HER. The actual words she is told is something incredibly tasteless and disturbing, like “You were looking for answers, for proof of your father’s love, he loved you so much he put it inside you”.

So, we have: the pregnant, the sterile with a will to mother, the diseased and the miraculous walking pharmaceutical. The four main female characters are therefore pure expressions of their biology. The only one that seems like a real character in the end is one we never get to know anything about, as she is a spy whose alllegiancies or real story are uncertain til the very end. But she is a powerful strong-willed woman who seems not to have everything about her dictated by her biology, so yay.

All this to say, fair representation is not about numbers, and forcing a higher number of women can mean just using more set female stereotypes, which Utopia chose to do.

The monstrosity of class-struggle anarchism

The monstrosity of class-struggle anarchism

As the title may suggest, this article is going to discuss the concept of “class-struggle anarchism”, as put forward by the UK Anarchist Federation in their self-definition as “an organisation of revolutionary class struggle anarchists.” Discussing such an issue will no doubt be seen by some as an attack. We have little time for political infighting and allegiances. We are writing for those of our comrades who can understand, reply and not be sectarian: anarchism’s future lies in truth. We have the utmost respect for many comrades who use this label, but we wish, first, to study the reasons for this facade of “class-struggle”, then, its actual effect as it circumvents discussions on the function of class-struggle, and we will conclude that instead of filling this void in our theory with half-digested Marxism and reassuring mantras, we might want to look towards anti-authoritarian readings of Marx.

A tautology and many bogeymen

What is arresting about this phrase is how obvious it seems. Anarchism is a revolutionary movement born from the class-struggle. In anarchism, workers theorized their practices and aspirations against class society.

So why the precision? The conscious explanation is a list of bogeymen, the most “out there” types of anarchism, whether these are actually antithetical to class-struggle or not. It was written because people did not want to spend time arguing against anarcho-capitalism, lifestylism, utopianism, individualism… and this seems natural.

However, using a positive, if vague, term instead of refuting once and for all these deviations poses a few problems. The less serious one is probably that it acknowledges that there would be the possibility of anarchism which would somehow be “outside” of the class struggle. The most serious ones are that, far from encouraging it, in practice it stifles debates and ideas about class-struggle, its emancipatory possibilities and its limits.

The underpants gnome path to revolution

This silencing leads to a very awkward position in which some people may think they know what the Anarchist Federation is doing, but, from what we have seen, the most accurate and complete plan for action on which there is a consensus is:

1. Class struggle

2. ???

3. Anarchist communism

This is obviously insufficient, but the only way to develop it would be to discuss the limits of class-struggle, and think a classless society, neither of which is allowed by the Aims and Principles.

Members then try to fill this blank space in their theory in different ways. In the best case, they turn to anarcho-syndicalism’s conception of the expropriating general strike, and add their concerns at work alienation as a vague concomitant “community mass movement”. In the worst case, they turn to a form of Marxism they try to make more “libertarian”, or “democratic”.

With Marx against Marxism

In both cases, however, they fail at communism. They replace it instead by the dictatorship of the proletariat, the access to political and economic power of the proletariat. Although they might pay lip service to the critique of capitalist categories such as work and value, they rely on the capitalist mechanisms to overthrow it. However necessary to our survival it might be, class-struggle remains indeed a mechanism of (re)production of capitalism.

In truth, what many anarchists oppose in the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dirty word of “dictatorship”. However, when they realize what it actually means, their critique of it seems to dwindle to almost nothing. That is because, increasingly over the years, anarchists have imported Trotskyist and Marxist ideas without much debate or realization under the banner of their interest for “class-struggle”, and out of fear of these bogeymen which Marxists like to accuse us to be (anarcho-capitalists, lifestylists, utopianists, individualists).

It is high time we read Marx and analyze capitalism from an anarchist perspective, which means developing a project of emancipation that goes beyond what Wayne Price calls “democratic libertarian communism”: anarchism. We have no time for the producers versus parasite rhetorics of regressive anti-capitalism, as we have enough examples in our history and arguments in our classics to show their inadequacy many times over. We must truly make ours the critique of labour defended by the Wertkritik and communisation currents, among others.

Class-struggle is the origin of anarchism, it is its “natural habitat”, but it is not its end. Anarchism’s end is a classless, stateless society free of oppression. This is not obtained by a victory over the bourgeoisie, but the abolition of capitalism, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. These ideas have been circulating in anarchist circles for a while, in a sense, they are the basic principles of “real” anarchism. However, the stress on the label “class-struggle anarchism” created a climate of confusion and duplicity which made many comrades lose these bearings.

A response to the AWL on SWP and “no-platform”

So, the AWL recently published an article about why, although the SWP did indeed do something bad, no-platforming them is out-of-order. Here is my response, which you can find in the Mayday issue of their magazine.

The people who are effectively “no-platformed” now are people who cannot be around the SWP. The no-platform policy is not a magic wand we can wave, even at fascists. Organisations and individuals must be held accountable, by everyone, everywhere, for everything. There is no difference between “politically confronting” someone and what people are doing when they shout them down (as on the Glasgow bedroom tax demonstration).

This is different from wanting to no-platform the SWP for chanting “we are all Hezbollah” (even though such chants already make people like me feel essentially excluded from demonstrations in solidarity with people in Palestinian territories). There is a mass movement within the SWP and the wider left contesting them around the issue of women’s rights, but not around the Hezbollah chants. All companies exploit their workers, but we only target specific ones when there is a live struggle against them.

Also, you can ignore the Palestinian issue when marching alongside the SWP about something else, but when you’re a woman you can’t ignore the issue of women when you see them around – be it on a bedroom tax demo or on a May Day march. It’s just another slap in the face from the patriarchy, and either you fight back, end up beaten up (I’ve never won a fight in my entire life) or in jail, or you submit, go away, and drown your humiliation in alcohol and other distractions.

It is obvious that the acts of protest taken up by many different individuals and semi-formal groups, be it the attempts by part of the SWP to challenge its constitution, or people challenging them when they see them in public spaces, must be supported, but also open to criticism, like any other acts, on the basis of whether they are politically sound and as efficient as they can be. The anger at the current SWP’s policy of ignoring that there is an issue at all is not going to go away. Making the organisation acknowledge there is something wrong with its behaviour is a clear first step, and a difficult one at that. We do not have to use the term “no platform” (which it is not, by the way. We would argue the tactic used by Glasgow comrades takes root in the gay liberation direct action practice known as zap, and makes much more sense in its proper context), as it has strong connotations, but if we are to have any effect at all on an organisation that has managed to be so dismissive and rigid up to now, shock-and-awe tactics making it impossible for them to function are in order, as long as they refuse to acknowledge any problem.

We might have different views on the issue of organisation, different ends and methods as well, some might be against all hierarchies and centralism, some might think this case is just the matter of a bad apple. But none of us want, anywhere in the social movement, a structure which allows and condones the structural oppression of anyone. Despite all the horror, disgust and self-doubt this case caused, it is a chance to build real unity, between people as disparate as the original SWP dissenters, queer and feminist activists, Marxists who are boycotting the Sidney Historical Materialism which allows Solidarity, a local group who supports whole-heartedly their sister organization, the SWP, to give talks, and of course, the ever-ready anarchists. These events were hard on us all, they made us question what we stand for and what we might be allowing to happen around us, we now need to think about healing, and take collective responsibility in a feminist and revolutionary way.