On Libcom: Crowdsourcing political trials

So, first disclaimer is that libcom.org offers probably the greatest library for Anarchist (and anti-authoritarian Marxist) resources in English. Secondly, its moderation system seems to work very efficiently, so its forums could potentially be a very interesting place for debate. I joined recently, since I no longer have an organization, and as such was looking for substitutes, I guess, and contributed very little, as I mainly have little to contribute. However, yesterday, I attracted the attention of a Temple Warden.

What is a Temple Warden?

As far as I know, a comrade chose the use of that phrase, I just extended this phrase to outside our own wee Anarchist group. All Anarchists are (potential) Wardens. They come in all shapes and forms, although, as it is related to obnoxiousness, I would say they have a propensity to be White, male, cis, able-bodied, middle-aged and teachers. They are not evil, faulty individuals needing blamed and ostracized, they are a role to criticize, challenge and hopefully eradicate. I certainly acted as one at times and probably will again, even though I am sorry about it. Temple Wardens, if they are conscious at all of what they are doing, think they are protecting their group, organization, or simply the whole Anarchist movement from ideological deviance. This is a noble cause, and, like Maria Isidine, I believe that careless recruitment is a source of most problems of organization, and, with ideologies such as Anarcho-Capitalism or Anarcho-Nationalism around, the danger of “ideological deviance” does exist. However, there is a world of difference between what Wardens think they are doing, and what they are actually doing.

What do Temple Wardens do?

They act as the dominant wolf of the pack, and when a young wolf comes along, they lock their jaw on its nape until it submits to their feudal authority. Their mistrust of the newcomer is not based on legitimate assumptions formed from what a person says, but on their personal experience of newcomers, either in the general sense, or in a more precise way. Some Wardens specialize in the ritual humiliation/initiation only of students, people who have a “posher” accent, the queers and women who would potentially be identity-politic-liberal types. This dimension is obviously problematic in itself, but is not the core of the problem with Wardens, most of which are strictly equal-oppurtunity Wardens, although, as we will see, the people who are intimidated/driven away by Wardens have a tendency to be people who have both experience and distaste of personal power politics, therefore more often than not from oppressed groups. Suspects are almost always newcomers to Anarchism altogether, as Wardens are something we get used to pretty quickly; or old-timers who have shed their rough skin because of a new experience of harassment, especially harassment caused by their political beliefs.

Shall we have an example?

At first, I did not realise it, as he approached me saying “I think I agree with you, but why do you say X”, which I think is libcom slang for “I think you do not deserve to be an Anarchist, and I would like you to confess it”. I was enthusiastic about talking about an issue I have been worried about (see past posts!) for quite some time. However, it soon turned out that what I thought was a slightly free-wheeling, quick exchange of ideas around this issue was actually the political trial of everything I am, think and do, without any insight for me to gain from it apart from angry exasperated swears at the fact that everything I am, think and do is suspicious, wrong, or even counter-revolutionary.

Self-Defence Tips against Wardens (in no way an exhaustive list):

  • -Do not fight. You do not have to justify yourself. If you do, you will be tripped up and caught, and denounced as a fake Anarchist and a traitor to the revolution. Even if you are careful only to phrase your ideas in the form of the ideological manual of whatever organization the Warden is from, it will not be enough to prove your innocence, as it is not about ideas, but about initiatory humiliation and submission to random displays of authority. You will be pushed, and pushed, and pushed again to the tiniest use of punctuation or misunderstanding of a Marx quote, until you break.
  • -Express how you feel. Many Wardens do not realize what they are doing, so you should point out how you feel (harassed, put on trial, etc.)
  • -Replace the debate on the terrain of ideas. Assure the Warden that you are interested to discuss, as two equals discussing of an issue.
  • -Seek outside views. The role of Warden is, more accurately, a relationship between the Warden and the suspect. Outsiders are good to take the Warden’s line of questioning and turn them into acceptable, answerable questions, a well as generally defusing the situation
  • Concede defeat. It would be nice, if no Anarchist place demanded acceptance through ritual submission, however this is not the case. There is always the possibility to either nod, smile and take one for the team, if you really want to be included. People who do this have a tendency to then become Wardens themselves, so remember this episode, even if not glorious. Temple Wardens often become the most loyal and fervent defenders of people who accept whatever weird ritual acceptance they come up with as initiation, so you should be fine afterwards. Or you can also tell them to fuck off, and go on your merry way, pretending you are not sad at being de facto excluded from their silly Anarchists’ club. It really is all that simple and childish, and your welfare is not worth the effort.

How not to be a Warden?

The problem we have as Anarchists however, is how to prevent such relationships to emerge in the first place, for the welfare of all. And, as always, the answer is try not to be a dick, but more precisely:

  • -Be conscious of the problem and constantly ask yourself about whether you are genuinely curious of someone’s view on something and their reaction to your argument, or just trying to assert the authority of your superior views on someone;
  • -If you have a doubt about someone’s politics, express your question clearly, without making it personal. Do not go fishing;
  • -Offer something in return: an insight, an argument, even if you are strawmanning a bit, it is more conducive to someone expressing their actual view than leaving them to guess what your accusation is (not having a clear accusation being the definition of a political trial);
  • -Express your own status as an imperfect being, there is not someone who has the truth and does not have to share their view, and someone who has to comply to all and any request, there are only two people who are legitimate Anarchists and revolutionaries, with not only diverging views, but also a lot of doubts, uncertainties and errors. We are all unsure about most things and sharing your own incertitudes will help you not become a judging figure of authority.
  • If someone expresses the feeling that they are being cornered, questioned (as in, by the police, not in an okay way), harassed or put on trial, do not judge their feelings or tell them how to feel: ‘You are unreasonable’, “You are blowing this out of proportion”, “Calm down (dear)”. Yes, they are being “unreasonable” because they are put in a situation where the only “reasonable” possibility you give them is to agree on your authority. Do not concentrate on whether they are “mad” or not, concentrate on how you are driving them that way. Apologize for making them feel that way (it does not cost you anything), ask them what in your attitude makes them feel that way and listen to their answer so that you can both recentre the debate on a constructive basis.

I hope these considerations help people who read them. I was here concerned about Anarchism, but it is certain that Temple Wardens, if they have special traits in their Anarchist form, are the manifestation of a much broader role which pops up in human relations in almost all contexts. As Anarchists, we are all well-equipped to know why such a role is not beneficial in the long-term to our objectives. In order to eradicate these relations though, we need to discuss them. Anyway, these recurring situations are a pain, and I was defeated by a Temple Warden and shall not set foot on Libcom for a wee while at least.