Episode Ten – Communism (con)
This will be a strange conversation because, at least in the Bay Area, the term communist is an open term that could mean a person obsessed with foreign policy with North Korea, Israel, and Russia. It could refer to a person involved in one or several alphabet groups and their intercine politics. It could refer to what is best described as a cult and the thinking of its leader (like the Larouchians or the RCP folk). It could mean the left communists who, while agreeable to many anarchists for their outsider, anti-leninist, and intelligent critiques, are also strong advocates for a dictatorship of the proletariat which is a troubled position (to put it gently). But for this discussion we’ll focus on the ways that a new tendency, or perhaps a broad tendency that in the past I would’ve called anti-state communism, but perhaps is now not even that. This tendency includes communization people, the ultra left, and whiffs of alphabet communists, and its latest incarnation is the new Commune magazine.
We pay attention to this magazine because it has a local pedigree and a lot of former anarchists on its staff. This makes it useful for the complicated conversation about the difference between an anarchist and communist position, using communists who insist on the term but still concern themselves with anarchists. That of course is the first point, the social milieu that Commune lives in contains anarchists and communists. Most of the people within the milieu use the terms flexibly or perhaps sloppily. They excuse behavior they actually disagree with because it is largely a social circle and not a rigorous radical space. What if it were? What would be an anarchist critique of the content of the best of current, 21st century, communist thinking?
Let’s begin. While we’ll talk about the essay selections mostly, let’s also talk about the editorial to the magazine itself and run it through its political paces, to compare and contrast with anarchist positions (https://communemag.com/introducing-commune/) and see what works and doesn’t within a strictly anarchist analysis–not about friends or good times we’ve had. Can an anarchist get behind Commune magazine and by extension the broad, not so broad, position it both implies and states outright. For starters Commune declares the end of liberalism, since Trumps ascendance, which they define in a peculiar way. The liberalism they are referring to “Keynesian,” or “progressive” social compacts is a feature of our age. Even the social democratic redoubt of Scandinavia now drifts and lurches rightward, ethnic and economic nationalisms calling like twin magnets. In the wealthy nations, the course is common enough. Without economic development, there are no possibilities for the social progress that we once found routine. The appeals to liberalisms left and right, to the norms and conventions of a century’s official politics, grow all the more desperate as the possibilities of such politics vanish.” They then go on to predict a Democratic president in 2020 who is “to the left of any in our lifetime”
Given that this was written prior to the election of 2018 there is no mention of AOC, Omar, or even Bernie Sanders, but it is still strange that the first thing this brand new communist magazine states declaratively is that liberalism is dead, while couching that analysis very much in the context of mainstream politics. Democrat, Republic, big fucking yawn. They refer to this as the “most rebellious era” since the sixties, as if anyone really believes that. Along what line does one measure such a preposterous statement? Because outside of their editorial room I think it is difficult to see. It sounds like it was read off an RCP placard seen on the way to UC Berkeley more than something measured. They go on to say that they are not social democrats, don’t want full employment, democratic socialism, or any of the compromised “hope(s) that reforms might be steps toward emancipation wrecks itself on the shoals of reality”. To give Commune their conclusion
“For now, we will not shake our fingers at these enthusiasts, burning with the righteous self-satisfaction of the solitary ultra-leftist. But neither will we entertain the fantasies of their thought leaders. The vision of permanently unfinished emancipation is grim, no doubt, but in some regard it is more important to grasp its logic: it is one of crisis management, carefully attuned to the end of capitalist dynamism from which it believes it can wring a few more decades for a few more people. We believe in a different society.”
And here we depart from Commune’s words and ask how an anarchist would respond? First we see anarchist politics as barely related to international, or domestic affairs type politics. We are (or should be) deeply ambivalent about the wishful thinking of AOC or Sanders. Those people and the work they do is safely called realpolitik, or even just politics, and is not the way anarchists see either our revolution, daily practice, or how we’d try to get new people involved in the anarchist project. Commune invites one to denounce or combat the crises management of the existing order. The anarchist would advocate the small acts of building a life one could live, in the here and now, together and in relationship to each other. I’m not saying anarchists are likely to succeed with our small impractical ideas, I’m saying that the approach against politics and the new communistic position of Commune are not the same and it is worth reflecting on what we like and don’t in both positions.
This week we will try to have an conversation about why anarchist are against communists, why we are not the same, and use Commune magazine as a contemporary example. This is not about Commune being bad, but about the practical consequences of communist politics, using Commune as an example. What would an anarchist Commune look like? Is it possible to imagine anarchist triumphalism today? How about is it possible to imagine an anarchist project drawing in $10,000 without being Crimethinc? [what are other ways of measuring success?]