Anarchist myths

We share below a reflection by Ruymán Rodríguez of the Federación de Anarquistas Gran Canaria on the limits of an anarchism exclusively thought in terms of anti-statism and anti-capitalism.

Mitos anarquistas (11/07/2017)

There was a man who had a doctrine.  A doctrine that he kept in his heart … .  And the doctrine grew … and he had to take it to a very large house.  A temple was then born.  And the temple grew and devoured the man … .

León Felipe.

There persist a few myths in anarchism which the anarchists themselves prefer not to confront; hermetically sealed ideas with regards to which there is no desire to critically analyse.  One of those is to reduce the goal of anarchism merely to anti-statism and anti-capitalism.  I believe that our objectives must be much broader.  Yes, of course, both represent the two most sophisticated repressive forms of social, political and economic control.  It would be uselessly redundant if I were to enumerate here all of the atrocities that find there origin in one or the other.  However, we have to understand that they are not divine creations, nor artifacts devised by a race of evil giants that preceded us.  They are crudely and terribly human inventions, created by humans to control humans.

To dismantle them presupposes understanding their nature and seeing what sustains them, and what would survive in us if they disappeared.  Therefore, in a time when various anarchist tendencies assert their opposition to the State or the government, but not to authority or the leadership of some over others and in which the concept of “power” is claimed as something positive, I need to affirm my conception of anarchy, which far from limiting itself to the desire to overthrow the State and Capital, chains also to the pillory the very principle of authority.

It is not my custom to write theoretical texts except when forced to, but I believe that this matter has an eminently practical dimension, for it marks our objectives and our relationship with the world around us.  As anarchists, we have to accept that tomorrow State and Capital could disappear and yet we would still continue to live in a world of subjugation and misery.  How many times has one or the other fallen, proven itself incapable of imposing itself or remained in a vegetative state?  Many times, and something better has not always followed.

We have to understand, without traumas or dramatisations, that capitalism can disappear leaving intact a system of exploitation and renunciation.  How many times has capitalism failed, remaining suspended locally?  On how many occasions has it been more useful to warm oneself by burning money, rather than wood or coal?  On the other hand, what happened under the dictatorships, self-described as communist, in which private property was supposedly abandoned?  Without what is commonly understood as capitalism, was there anything in the life or the conditions of freedom of the people improved?  And we do not have to refer to the obvious examples that followed on the eruption of Marxist inspired States.  In the 17th century, the missionary Jesuits who were evangelising Paraguay imposed on various peoples a strict communist regime, without private property and with an apparent distribution of wealth.  Assessment of the experiment?  They were the only villages in which the wall palisades pointed inwards and not outwards, to prevent the Guarani from fleeing.  This shows that it is possible to very quickly establish absolute economic equality and continue to live as if in an insect colony, standarised, regulated and enslaved.  This is because at the root of the problem is something much more profound.  Capitalism and private property are the children of hierarchy, and not its parents.  I myself have participated in many community projects (aside from La Esperanza, there have been many more that it was thought better not to publicise) where economic equality and the satisfaction of basic necessities was in fact realised, and where hierarchy, violence and abuse, sadly, continued to produce themselves.

Is the problem then with the State?  But there have not been a few places or historical moments when the State disappeared or showed itself to be impotent and no better structure necessarily replaced it.  In Somalia, the State in fact disappeared and the situation of its inhabitants has not been an idyllic anarchy.  The war lords have controlled the country with violence and blood.  Without a State, the structure of authority has remained intact.  In some places, the most ferocious of capitalists have been able to successfully reduce the State to a scarecrow.  Almost all of the functions of that State have been privatised, not only those of education and health, but also repressive agents, like the police and prisons.  Have the supporters of “smaller States” improved the freedom or well being of their inhabitants, when even under a micro State authority, the whole system reduces one to a slave of the Market, of salaried labour, to live under the gun sights of the private police of your neighbour?  Evidently not.  Consider a large city like Detroit.  First, industrial capitalism fell, closing factories and provoking a migration that would empty the city.  Then the local government declared itself incompetent, without the means, even police means, to control the city.  A few interesting projects in self-management emerged, but by no means a rational, assembly based, libertarian city.  Gangs control whole neighbourhoods, looting houses and resources.  In the absence of a State, power does not disappear.

In all of these situations, the principle of authority, the law of the strongest, relations of superiority and inferiority, remained; simplified and bared naked, but still severe.  Without a viable libertarian alternative that could be a step forward and be capable of taking advantage of historical opportunities, without the capacity of anarchists to offer other horizontal and autonomous structures which unblock the situation, the crises and the systemic collapses have perpetuated what already exists, only reducing the complexity of the discourse of power.

As anarchists, we have for too long clung to encyclopedia and book versions, entrapped in an ascetic anti-statism and anti-capitalism as ends in themselves.  In not seeing that the problem is that both institutions perfect relations of domination, the subordination of some individuals to others, and that it is this very authority that we should question, we have been betrayed and have brought upon ourselves numerous problems.

From this myopia comes the infiltration of capitalists within anarchism, without then being able to argue why their neutral anti-statism (safeguarding all of the repressive structures in exclusively private hands) has nothing to do with a libertarian social project.  For the same reason, many declared male chauvinists and racists, reactionary subjects who should logically be close to fascism, believe that they can call themselves “anarchists” in their exclusive opposition to the binomial State/Capital.  And again, from the same source, the false “humanism” that proposes to sacrifice on the alter of its anthropo-idolatry any other form of life and which only understands the relationship with nature in the key of destruction and conquest.

The problem though does not come from outside.  And thus the consequent narrowness of our discourse, and that whatever the tendency […], we believe that only in working towards the dismantling of the State and Capital will an improbable paradise on earth be quickly established.  It may be hard to accept, but should we one day be able to make both structures tremble, we would not find ourselves at the end of the path, but at the starting line, only just at the beginning.  What is truly difficult, the really complicated labour, would only have just begun.

We thus have to interiorise that the problem is found in relations of power, in the dynamic of superiors and inferiors, of oppressors and oppressed, of dominant and dominated.  And to tend in our own projects to eliminate relations of subordination, the principle of authority itself.  I am not speaking of what is called “lifestyle anarchism”, but rather to understand that in our own popular projects, in our anti-eviction groups, in our expropriated gardens, that our aspiration, when we organise neighbourhood assemblies or speak of the direct management of neighbourhoods, is not just to substitute Capital and the State, but to take control of our lives in our own hands.

Ruymán Rodríguez

Published by Federación de Anarquistas Gran Canaria

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