This is an old forum post from October 2012. I sought it out recently as I needed the Cliff reference for something I am currently working on in relation to asymmetry as a basic anarchist strategic principle, alongside prefiguration. I repost it here for my own records and future reference convenience.
[in answer to the question: "What's the absolute minimum someone has to believe in order to be an anarchist]
If we look beyond the "patriotism of the label" - i.e. people are generally categorised as anarchists because they self-indentify as such, and make reference to the legacy, organisational and theoretic, of the historical anarchist movement - then I think it is possible to tease out a couple of distinctive principles. But they may not be the ones people would normally think of - e.g. solidarity, class struggle, mutual aid, direct action, communism as the abolition of wage labour (without indeterminately long "transitional periods") etc. All of the previous principles or ideas could be accepted by one or other post-Leninist tendencies of what we sometimes refer to as "authoritarian socialism", by shorthand (ok, except maybe the "transitional period" bit). Even the libertarian vs authoritarian socialism dichotomy doesn't hold up very well in this day and age, when every post-Stalinist is keen to express their "radical democratic" credentials - who now would accept or admit the label of "authoritarian socialist"? Certainly not the SWP, SPEW, etc. Hence their insistence on making strawman arguments about "the State", to draw the sting of the only remaining label that still sticks - "state socialist".
Centralism is necessary for obvious reasons. The ruling class is highly centralistic, and we can’t fight the enemy unless we have a symmetrical organisation to it, and every strike is centralistic. The worker goes to work as an individual. When he goes on strike he acts as a collective. Revolution is the most centralistic thing in the world
(from Tony Cliff, "Nothing so romantic: an interview with Nicholas Walter", 1970)
To overcome this sectionalism, this narrow experience, you need to centralise all the experience and division. Again you need the centralism because the ruling class is highly centralised. If you are not symmetrical to your enemy you can never win.
I was never a pacifist. If someone uses a stick on me I have to have a bigger stick! I don’t believe a quotation from Marx’s Capital will stop a mad dog attacking me. We have to be symmetrical to our enemies. That is why I cannot understand the anarchists when they come and say they don’t need a state. The capitalists have a state. How do you smash a state without an opposition state?
(from Tony Cliff, "Marxism at the Milleneum", chapter 2 "Why do we need a revolutionary party?", 2000)
Symmetrism is the basic urge to mimic the enemy. They have a stick? We need a stick too! They have hierarchy, cops and prisons? We need them too! Irish republicans are past masters at this. In their eternal quest to challenge British administration of capitalism in Ireland, they first mimc the Brits military forms, then their political forms and then, hey presto, they end up being in charge of administering capitalism in Ireland in the Brits stead, as their compradors. The excluded reps wail about betrayal, and begin the cycle afresh.
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