On the Picket Line

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Well, I was on strike twice this week (over attempts to gut our pension scheme). Lots of leaflets and union membership forms were handed out. It did not seem that busy (good sign, but hard to tell as I normally don't hang around outside my work!). It did reinforce why management always seem to have enough money for contractors (they were more than happy to cross our picket line). One member of another union refused to cross, which was nice.

There was one member of the SWP there who was not on strike but rather showing solidarity (i.e., trying to sell papers). He asked me whether I wanted a copy of "Socialist Worker" and I declined, stating I did not wish to read a paper whose articles I knew for a fact were factually wrong. He obviously objected to that, so I pointed him to the various articles on anarchism which I had read. He actually said that we had been knocking each other about for over 100 years (I corrected him by saying it was 144 years, which was a mistake -- it is 164 years since the terrible The Poverty of Philosophy).

I concentrated on Pat Stack's one from about ten years ago (mostly because it was SO bad) and I said that to proclaim, as Stack had, that anarchists were opposed to collective class struggle was false -- in fact demonstrably false. And that I had documented it in some detail. He argued that lots of "young" people were into anarchist and autonomist politics and it was necessary to debate. I then replied, well these are facts (and easily provable facts at that!) and you do not "debate" facts. To claim that Bakunin or Kropotkin opposed collective class struggle was not a contribution to "a debate" but rather to make a completely false claim.

So there were two options:

  • Stack did not know anything about anarchism -- and in that case how could he write an article refuting it? And why would the SWP publish such an uninformed article? That implies no-one in the SWP editorial teams or leadership knows anything about anarchism but they are more than happy to expose that ignorance in print.
  • Stack was deliberately distorting anarchist ideas.

Neither option presented the SWP in a favourable light -- and I also noted that this was not an isolated occurance. It was sadly typical.

He then pointed to Marxism where they were having debates on anarchism and that I should go along and join the debate. I said that I had already done so, when the SWP were trying to recruit "young" people after the anti-globalisation protests ten years previously. The "debate" was a joke -- Stack distorted anarchism for 45 minutes you get 3 minutes to "reply" (where to start?). I did so, and by amazing co-incidence I was followed by 2 SWP members pushing the party-line.

So to call that a "debate" was a joke. He then suggested I write letters to their papers. I said that I did that too, one reply was published and a SWPer replied to that but my reply to his letter did not see the light of day. Again, not much of a debate. To which he said it was difficult to have debates in weekly newspapers! That this contradicted his previous comment did not seem to sink home (doublethink in action?).

He suggested then that we should concentrate on what we had in common, namely the current struggle. I knew it was only a matter of time before he proclaimed the need to concentrate on our "common" positions (given this is the usual response when anarchists point out the weaknesses of the SWP's sectarian attacks on us!). I then noted that according to their papers, we did NOT have much in common... After all, according to the articles in SWP publications we anarchists reject collective class struggle, are just against the state (and so ignore the inequalities and hierarchies of capital), petty-bourgeois individualists who wish to "turn-back-the-clock", and so on and so forth...

I then was going to discuss my experiences of going to a SWSS (Socialist Worker Student Society) meeting on anarchism way back in the day (something like 20 plus years ago!). I was going to explain how I went in feeling comradely disagreement but came out hating them because of the distortions and lies they expounded (they did something similar with "the Greens" as well). Unfortunately, this was going on when I was handing out leaflets and asking people to not cross the picket line. So I had to stop and do this and when I turned back he had gone.

Now, I learned two things. First, SWP members seem happy to stop people actually picketing in order to sell them papers and/or get them to come to Marxism. It is hard to discuss things while you are looking for people crossing picket lines so you can try to convince them not to. Second, that they have an amazing ability not to actually answer your comments. This guy moved from topic to topic whenever I made a point, going from "go to Marxism" to "write a letter to debate the issues" to "you cannot expect to have debates in weekly newspapers" with ease (these are not direct quotes obviously, but paraphrases).

I have to wonder what was going through his head when we were having this (somewhat disjointed) discussion. I mean, here I am a union militant discussing how his party had put out demonstrably false comments about anarchism. I also had done all the things he had suggested I do (go to Marxism, write letters) and had been unimpressed by the results. Just water off a duck's back? Felt like it...

Anyways, I did a couple of pieces after Marxism 2001. There is a report (Through the looking glass: Anarchist Adventures at Marxism 2001) and I hope a humorous sketch inspired by a comment said at one of the meetings (yes, a SWPer DID proclaim that "we are all individuals") entitled The Dead Dogma Sketch.

I've decided, inspired by this exchange, to publish the letters in question on this site (plus an article which contrasts Stack's claims with what Bakunin and Kropotkin actually advocated). I was tempted to write up this letter as part of the appendix on Marxism in AFAQ but decided against it (time considerations, I think). However, section H.2 of AFAQ uses Stack's epically bad article in various sections (namely, section H.2.2 on class struggle; section H.2.3 on looking backwards; section H.2.4 on the state; section H.2.6 on mutual aid; (this is also in my new pamphlet on that subject); section H.2.8 on anarchism and syndicalism (see also Syndicalism, Anarchism and Marxism); section H.2.14 on anarchist organisations; section I.3.8 on "small scale" production; and, finally, section I.8.11 on the Spanish Revolution and the Friends of Durruti). His article includes almost every stupidity uttered by a Marxist against anarchism, with the added bonus of not even spelling Durruti correctly!

But as I said, he has stiff competition for incompetence/distortion from others in the SWP. Here are some articles I have written in reply to SWP/ISO distortions on anarchism: Marxism and Anarchism: A reply to the SWP; Will the Real bakunin Please Stand Up?; Bakunin: Ignorance or Lies? (they seem to really hate Bakunin); Authoritarians , Vanguards and Anti-capitalist Movements; On the Bolshevik Myth (on the Makhnovists); Red Emma and the Reds (a particularly dishonest attack by the ISO on Emma Goldman); The Irresistable Correctness of Anarchism (rewriting Italian anarchist history); The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism; Repeating History when not rewriting it. There are probably more! And it would remiss of me not to mention these two particularly terrible examples of SWP selective quoting about the Russian Revolution: In Defence of the Truth and How The Revolution was Lost?

It would help to do a modicum of research before writing articles on anarchism (at the very least, read anarchists rather than marxists on anarchism!). I sometimes think this is deliberate as it very effectively shuts down debate as anarchists have to spend most of their replies correcting the mistakes. I'm sure that it just a coincidence that it also has the effect of sexing-up Leninism, at least in comparision to the distorted account of anarchism being presented... but, ultimately, it suggests the huge weakness in Leninist ideology if they cannot debate with anarchists without inflicting huge distortions upon the reader. If Leninism is so correct, they would not been to lie about anarchism!

So as you can see, it happens alot.... and it dates back 164 years, to Marx's terrible (as documented in Property is Theft!) The Poverty of Philosophy where the now sadly typical invention, distortion, selective (indeed, tampered!) quoting, implying that Marx held the correct, opposite, view to Proudhon while, in reality, he was just repeating Proudhon's (unquoted) arguments, and so on. Much the same can be said of Lenin's State and Revolution which as I discuss in AFAQ, completely distorts the anarchist position will, at the same time, proclaiming the joys of workers' councils and the Paris Commune -- as if Bakunin had not advocated the former while the later was heavily influenced by Proudhon's ideas!

Finally, I should quickly comment on the new articles I've posted. First is Anarchism and the Big Society, a critique of a suggestion that David Cameron's silly "Big Society" notion has something to do with anarchism (it was published in Freedom. Second is Workplace Occupations and Anarchism (something I sent to Freedom which they did not use and based on an old blog. Third is “governing the people will always be swindling the people”, a generous use of Proudhon quotes to argue the case for self-management rather than representative democracy (again sent to Freedom for the issue for the 26th of March demo but not used). This I've wanted to do for a while, as the activities of the Lib-Dems betraying all their promises once in office just confirms anarchist theory (we are used to the Tories and Labour doing it, but the Lib-Dems presented themselves as being an alternative to such "old" politics). I thought that stressing the libertarian alternative needed to be done, particularly as we have been right for so long! Then, finally, there are my comments/letters on Pat Stack's rubbish article on anarchism: The SWP versus Anarchism.

anyways, off doing the lefty paper-seller thing on tomorrow's anti-cuts march... wish me luck!

until I blog again, be seeing you...

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