Reflections on the split in the Anarchist Federation

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Reflections on the split in the Anarchist Federation
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Reflections on the split in the Anarchist Federation. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Interesting developments. If

Interesting developments. If anything embodies the "centrifugal tendencies" of identity politics as Lilla describes them it has to be the "clash" between radical trans critical feminists (TERFS) and trans activists. Calling it a "debate" would likely be denounced by one or both sides in the dispute as legitimizing the questioning of one or the other group's right to exist. This raises another problem related to the rise of identity politics--the emergence of an increasingly "illiberal" left (supposedly rooted in an illiberal millennial generation) for which "debate" is not a first order value in an intellectual environment in which more and more topics are removed from the province of discussion and become a kind of "taboo," the transgression of which is met with emotive denunciation and moral outrage rather than a reasoned critique which judges ideas on their merits.

Even though I imagine some participants in this exchange would likely attempt to couch their positions in some kind of reconstructed Marxist verbiage, it is not clear if there is even a Marxist position on this clash to be had? Or if there is even any strategic value to be had in attempting to take one? But how does this square with Marx's injunction to engage in a radical critique of everything existing or put another way his "critical critique of critical criticism"? Does avoiding the issue so as not to take sides for strategic reasons not reproduce the taboo in another way?

In terms of the anarchists retreat into a kind of "workerist" panacea as a way of dealing with these issues, could the same not be said about the idea that in the course of its class struggle to defend its living and working conditions the proletariat will inevitably have to undermine these kinds of identity divisions in order to achieve its class goals (this seemed a problem in the Workers' Offensive article). Is there any logical connection between the proletarian class terrain and personal feelings about gender and sexual identity or which bathroom various people can use? (I prefer the single use unisex stall, myself ).

Finally, on the increasing use of the concept of "working class identity": what are we trying to accomplish with this concept? It has already come under some fire previously as a kind of nostalgic reconstruction of Fordist working class identity (or the reformist period dominated by the mass social democratic party.) These are precisely the historical periods many proponents of identity politics would denounce as dominated by white male "privilege" (In the labor movement as much as in bourgeois society in general) So, is this concept contaminated by "white privilege" in some way? How exactly do we want to use it? Is there not a little irony in the new reliance on a concept of class identity to explain the problems of class consciousness, just as we denounce other uses of identity? Is there a kind of zero sum contest between different constructions of identity going on here, both of which are in effect a kind of "identity politics"? (Is this what is meant by "Idpol"?) Or is class identity something that has a fundamentally different character--a way station on the road to its own abolition--not an affirmation of an identity so much as an heuristic for its own eventual negation?



I live a sheltered life. I'd

I live a sheltered life. I'd just got over the shock of learning that sexual predation was going on in Hollywood and other major capitalist enterprises, when I found out that a female foreign correspondent for the BBC on over a hundred grand a year, plus very generous expenses, was getting less than her male collegues who were spouting similar strains of Foreign Office-based propaganda. The Suffragettes, Theresa May as the champion of women, equal pay: like race the female/male gender card of division is one that the bourgeoisie will play and play. They are potent weapons against the working class and in the absence of an overt response from the latter then these sorts of bourgeois campaigns about the "rights of women" and "equal pay" will continue while male and female workers suffer worsening daily indignities and misery. I think that the text in response to the break-up of the AF from the ICC is clear on the particular oppression of women and black and Asian (for example) groups and the backwardness that's often been shown in the workers' movement in this respect.

The text has provoked - I didn't think it provocative, unsurprisingly just a bit confused on specifics (lack of discussion?) - a mini-storm on libcom with one of its administrators, a trade union representative who extols the virtues of parliamentary democracy on gender legislation, calling for the text to be taken down after admitting that he's only read part of it. The argument from libcom against the ICC text rest on the actions at an "anarchist" bookfair where some people with a certain gender orientation objected to other people with a certain gender-based orientation from invading their space. With reference to jk's toilet preferences above, I'm all for people having a shit in peace but this was more than that. I'd seen these two groups confronting each other on the TV weeks before thebookfair on Channel 4 news where (at a Gay Pride march I think) their confrontation was turning very ugly and very nasty. At the bookfair apparantly the police were called by one faction and both factions were involved in mobbing and scapegoating, a situation that showed nothing positive from a working class perspective and was entirely in line with certain populist developments arising from capitalism's decomposition.

The outrage from the anarchists to the above text and the pathetic idea that it's none of the ICC's business, is part of the attempted censorship of discussion that organically develops from a fixation on identity politics and the defence of the "rights" of this or that individual and group that nowhere exist in capitalism (though, with good bourgeois measure, they can point to the advances of parliamentary reform through the Gender Protection Act). And they actually put forward the argument that these sorts of Big Tent policies and actions enhances the class struggle overall. One of its main arguments is the old-fashioned view that the ICC has of class struggle. With no shame about his dishonesty, one poster lumps the ICC in with a sort of right-wing/Stalinist view of class struggle developed recently by some intellectuals on the left and right and which these libcom elements tail-end with the idea that to be against the traps of identity politics (class indentity is a much broader and deeper question) is to be some sort of supporter of a "white working class" of the past

I don't think that the issue can or should be avoided jk. This problem was confronted (but obviously not solved) by the ICC decades ago under the heading of "partial struggles" putting these sorts of fragmentary struggles, which can initially exist in the overall class struggle, in the overall context. It's something that we should look at again. In the meantime, along with splits in it elsewhere, anarchism is showing its historical weakness as an expression of the proletariat. None of the significant questions raised by the ICC text are remotely addressed by any of the libcom posters

Partial Struggles?

baboon wrote:

I don't think that the issue can or should be avoided jk. This problem was confronted (but obviously not solved) by the ICC decades ago under the heading of "partial struggles" putting these sorts of fragmentary struggles, which can initially exist in the overall class struggle, in the overall context. It's something that we should look at again. In the meantime, along with splits in it elsewhere, anarchism is showing its historical weakness as an expression of the proletariat. None of the significant questions raised by the ICC text are remotely addressed by any of the libcom posters


Ah yes, the "partial struggles" issue. But I wonder if the situation today is something different. Can we even say that all of these proliferating identity issues are legitimate "partial struggles" for some kind of emancipation? Or are some of them really the result of a kind of centrifugal process of sectarian fracture whereby it is no longer possible from the standpoint of universal emancipation to determine which claims, out of a constantly multiplying set of claims that can even tend to contradict one another, are radical and which ones aren't? Is there even a coherent reason to prefer radical feminism to trans activism or the other way around--particularly when each group posits its claims in a zero sum way whereby they are offensive to other identity groups? (I am reminded here of a story an ICC militant tells of approaching a Trotskyist table at a leftist festival, looking at the vast collection of Third World guerilla movements that this organization supported and educating the clueless sap behind the table that some of the groups were currently at war with one another!)

At root here is a broader question about modernity itself and the universalist inheritance of the Enlightenment. I am not sure it is even possible anymore to conceptualize all of these claims as constituent parts of some kind of "progressive" emancipatory project that can only be realized through the proletarian revolution. Some of them may be the project of a different logic that actually frustrates emancipatory goals, but what is the criteria by which we make this judgment in particular cases? These concerns are currently the subject of a kind of self-critique in liberal circles at the moment, but--as the consternation of the anarchist bookfair shows--these same issues are no less salient for the proletarian movement itself.

I don't think that the fight

I don't think that the fight between radical feminists and trans activists has any possible advantage for the proletariat or in any way assists the pressing needs of the class. I think that it works very much against it and while the "partial" struggles that we talked about in an earlier period, i.e. a limited struggle with some potential to expand or assist the growth of class consciousness, this particular example seems to me to have nothing of value to the proletariat at all. On the contary it expresses, if in a small way, the general decomposition of society and behaviours that go in the opposite direction to the present needs of the proletariat. The main point of the article to me (among others) is the historical weakness of anarchism in tail-ending such dead-end "gender struggles". On libcom, the anarchists can't deal with the latter problem because it affects their abiility to "do something",to "defend the rights" of this or that, so they have to concentrate on the first part of the article,pick holes in that, and then they don't have to read anymore nor undertake the uncomfortable task of confronting the main questions in the last two-thirds of the article. The correct references to the "swamp" in the article are only confirmed by the responses of the anarchists and or leftists to the earlier part of the article.

To clarify my point above about the poster who said that the reasons for the split in AF was none of the ICC's business: what he actually castigated the ICC for was "rushing to judgement". By this he meant providing an article with a historical position based on marxism. This particular post tail-ends the popular anarchist line of "why don't you left communists just shut-up and keep your nose out" from someone who is the living embodiment of a gutless opportunist centrism towards anarchism. To be fair, he also castigated the SPGB for its interference and this from someone who has made dozens of posts on the thread about the split in AF. The inference is that as a "mate" one is allowed to intervene but the split in one of the biggest anarchist groups in Britain (?) is of no concern elsewhere in the workers' movement.

"Open, honest, straightforward and fair"

A bit of a diversion here in order to make a necessary clarification on the protests of the BBC's  female China correspondent that I mentioned above in regard to equal pay.. I believed her when she said that she wasn't motivated by money. In fact she was offered a substantial bribe by the BBC in order to keep quiet, which she refused. Her point was that the BBC was supposed to stand for "truth"; how then she asked, could anyone believe the fundamental veracity of the BBC's coverage when its senior managers were lying and duplicitous to their staff?.Massively naive perhaps, not greedy (as she was presented by the BBC) and right about the BBC's relationship to the "truth".