Why I think anarchists should not abandon all left-wing mass movements


There exists a way of defining left vs. right as a spectrum of political philosophies in which anarchism happens to be on the far-left.

I think it would be good to use and promote this definition because… if having one more opportunity to advertise our elemental philosophical similarities with political philosophies on the left would help clarify a clear road map for encouraging people to the far-left, as well as towards anti-authoritarianism, then doing so will likely help bring about an anarchist world faster.

I don’t find any solace or warm fuzzy feelings about identifying with the left, I just value a cold hard calculation of the benefits of being open about existing under a big tent of philosophies that if at strategically important times all pull together stand a better chance of achieving an incrementally less bad status quo, in the same way I would hold my nose and vote or pull the lever in the trolley problem.


The term anarchist often evokes ridicule today

Most people hold a ton of misconceptions about what being an anarchist entails, whether it be that we’re naive about human nature, or that we all just want chaos and disorder.

If we came up with an entirely new word to call ourselves tomorrow, like ‘benows’, the media would simply again make the word synonymous with chaos, such that more people would be using ‘benows’ in conversation to refer to a state of chaos than the amount of people who even knew about anarchism.

So, either we acknowledge that fact and make a point of explicitly relating elements of our philosophy to leftist remedies which are less extreme, or we define ourselves as being outside the left vs. right paradigm and stand a far greater chance of people never shaking off the idea that we hold to some ridiculously irrational ideas.

In order to have any hope of upping our success rate at persuading more people over to our philosophy, we have to make the pragmatic optics decision in explicitly making clear that we’re both leftists and anarchists, that way for now, anchoring the term anarchist explicitly to a mainstream struggle of left vs. right economic & egalitarian politics.

The same way many socialists make the optics decision to tag on democratic to the word socialist.

That’s not to say we have to support or even be happy about every leftist tactic. Nor does it mean we can’t still be loud about our unique position on the radical fringe.

It’s simply about establishing one reference point for people to latch onto about our comparative elemental similarities, before we can then go on to distance ourselves in other elemental ways.

The most important thing about the Overton window, however, is that it can be shifted to the left or the right, with the once merely “acceptable” becoming “popular” or even imminent policy, and formerly “unthinkable” positions becoming the open position of a partisan base. The challenge for activists and advocates is to move the window in the direction of their preferred outcomes, so their desired outcome moves closer and closer to “common sense.”

There are two ways to do this: the long, hard way and the short, easy way. The long, hard way is to continue making your actual case persistently and persuasively until your position becomes more politically mainstream, whether it be due to the strength of your rhetoric or a long-term shift in societal values. By contrast, the short, easy way is to amplify and echo the voices of those who take a position a few notches more radical than what you really want.

For example, if what you actually want is a public health care option in the United States, coordinate with and promote those pushing for single-payer, universal health care. If the single-payer approach constitutes the “acceptable left” flank of the discourse, then the public option looks, by comparison, like the conservative option it was once considered back when it was first proposed by Orrin Hatch in 1994.

This is Negotiating 101.


Why can we not just only be friendly with vaguely anti-authoritarian people who are easier to win over to anarchism?

I think we should be open to comparing elemental similarities with any person we hope to advocate over to our philosophy and strategies. So with centrists we should be open to arguing that we hold some positions they can relate to that are near to them on the left, and to liberals that we hold some positions which are near to them on the far-left, and to the far-left that we hold some positions that are near to them on the anti-authoritarian far-left to leave every avenue open.

In terms of appealing to socially conservative people who are skeptical of authority, the fact that we’re anti-authoritarian is clear in identifying with anarchism. I’m just not willing to give up the best optics chance we have of achieving our goals incrementally by being in common cause with big-tent leftism, because being colloquially left or right entails an important defining difference over ones economic and egalitarian values.

Also, to the extent we’re working on campaigns that have less ambitious goals than transitioning a piece of land or workplace to an entirely anarchist run project, I think it’s important for that campaign to have at least some big-tent leftist goals. Even if what the campaign is fighting for is the government to be less involved in some aspect of social life, because what we should want is to hold onto as much funding for social institutions like hospitals as we can until we can take over management.

Therefore I think big-tent leftist goals mostly overlap with seeking the kind of incremental positive liberties that would make for an easier shift towards anarchism.


Wouldn’t that mean sometimes walking shoulder to shoulder with left-authoritarians?

Sometimes yes, like for instance if we wanted to be most effective at preventing a group of fascists from marching through an immigrant neighborhood and potentially hurting innocent people. I think we should accept our tactical allies in that circumstance.

Philosophy and history places us on a philosophical spectrum close to ML’s in some ways, like our similar desires to maximally meet everyone’s basic needs. In the same way that anyone right of us have elements of their philosophy which is more similar to fascism and weird anarcho-feudalists/capitalists.

But obviously the nearer we get to a far-left world, the more the differences between anarchists and tankies will be highlighted. So, I think that, in trying to reject that categorization by taking a hostile approach to leftists, when they’re trying to achieve incremental improvements, you actually doom us to being associated for longer.

Being overly concerned with this association, like the egoists who call social-anarchists ‘Lenin-light’ reminds me of anti-civs who accept the liberal critique of anarchism in believing that industrial society would be too difficult to maintain co-operatively, so requires force and coercion to be upheld.

Maybe you think you’re preserving a purer anarchism with a clearer focus, but you do so at the expense of tactical unity with people whose incremental remedies would help you, thereby weakening your resistance to the status quo.

So, yes if we were to naively imagine we could be allies to the very end and walk off into the sunset together we would likely be walking blindly into a backstabbing again. But I doubt history would call 1 anarchist and 1 ML working together against an entirely fascist world a death sentence. To the extent we ever look to have moved the Overton window even close to the far-left, we can begin to diverge on insisting our mass movement organizations focus on libsoc issues, then purely anarchist issues.


The importance of voting

It’s often obvious which party is the lesser evil long-term and I think it’s virtuous to vote that way as more people will have a qualitatively less bad experience than the few who do. So it’s the trolley problem. We wouldn’t desire to put in the electoral system ourselves, but some of us engage with it for a few hours every 4 years and use the discourse surrounding it to rally people to the far-left.

I think we need to get well educated on how even the baby step policies toward the left would be an improvement on where we are now, we need to learn the internal politicking of government and get good at having friendly and persuasive arguments to appeal to friends and acquaintances basic intuitions.

The goal being that we can talk the latest news and (1) Win over conservatives to obvious empirically better policies on the left, and (2) Win over liberals when center-left parties are in power to feel dismayed at the slow pace of change, and so acknowledge how much better it would be if there was a market socialist in the position willing to rally people to demonstrate and strike to push through bills.

This still must entail a cynical clarity about how many swing voters you meet will be responding to the see saw effect in politics of blaming the last person in power for everything wrong, so knowing how much time to invest and picking your battles.


Having solely anarchist organizations that use solely anarchist tactics is important too

Here is some advice that entails a mix of both pursuing big tent leftist goals and solely anarchist goals:

Mutual aid – We should put the time into helping our neighbors and volunteering, for example on a food not bombs stall, to both manifest and get enjoy the positive benefits of a communalist caring society.

Direct action – We should try to mostly choose targets which the largest amount of people can sympathize with most, for instance the sabotaging of a fox hunt in order to highlight the direction we’d like to move in with legal animal rights, going from mostly ending blood sports, to mostly ending animal captivity, to mostly ending hunting for taste pleasure.

Education – We should be educating ourselves and helping others know what work and rent union to join, what to keep a record of at work, how to defend yourself from rapists and fascists, how to crack a squat and how to write a press release, etc. Anarchist bookfairs and social centres can be great places to dip your toe in.

Campaigning – We should look for the easiest squeeze points to rack up small wins, like the picketing of a cafe to reclaim lost wages, so that word spreads and it creates a domino effect. Organisations like the International of Anarchist Federations can be useful for finding collaborators, but obviously don’t feel bad about forming your own allied organising group if the larger groups stop feeling useful to you.


Further Reading


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