“Left wing violence, right wing violence, all seems much the same,
Bully boys out fighting, it’s just the same old game.
Boring fucking politics that’ll get us all shot,
Left wing, right wing, you can stuff the lot.
Keep your petty prejudice, I don’t see the point,
ANARCHY AND FREEDOM IS WHAT I WANT.”
– White Punks On Hope,
The other day I glanced over the forum here at the Daily Anarchist and found a torrent of vitriol, flecked with chunks of genuinely thoughtful critique, being spewed in one direction: from the right to the left. The bitter bickering between groups that supposedly desires the same end – that is, to live without rulers, domination or oppression – serves only one purpose: the perpetuation of the State.
The ‘dialogue’ between purported anarchists that focuses on a left/right spectrum is allowing the State to set the terms and the boundaries of the debate and successfully dividing the anti-authoritarian movement against itself. So long as the State exists, it is a program, a fictional fairy tale or academic game we play with ourselves whilst we await ‘the revolution’. There are good points and criticizable arguments from both sides of the spectrum, valuable lessons and information from anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists, and I would urge members of both ‘teams’ to take the time to look objectively at the fantasies of the other, and practice to apply what they find valuable in the here-and-now as an anarchist critique. There must be grounds for solidarity between anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and all State-haters instead of this facile in-fighting and mud-slinging.
Let’s look at the origin of the terms themselves. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary “left wing” is defined as “the liberal, socialist, or radical section of a political party or system.” “Left” or “the left” is similarly defined as “a group or party favoring liberal, socialist, or radical views.” “Right wing”, from the same source, is defined as “the conservative or reactionary section of a political party or system.
The references for these terms date back to the National Assembly in France between 1789-91, a transitional governing body where the nobles sat to the president’s right and the commoners to the left. The National Assembly drafted and instituted the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”. The legislation proclaimed: “Man is born and remains free and equal in rights” – an egalitarian declaration that remains a major PR stunt to this day.
Within these terms, we can immediately see their application to our favourite anarcho-prefixes: the anarcho-communists and syndicalists are lefties, proposing a radical and socialist reorganization of society – most specifically and radically, anti-capitalist. The anarcho-capitalists then would be on the right, wishing to conserve the current capitalist system, albeit with the removal of government interference and its’ existence. Tracing this back historically, those on the right-wing are traditionally on the side of the nobility, the controllers of capital and power, and in opposition to the equality of the commoners, represented by the left. Comparing this situation to the prattling tit-for-tat between left/right anarchists, the State can stand in for King Louis XVI, and anarchists on both sides can agree he has to go.
For Noberto Bobbio, in his book Left & Right: The Significance Of A Political Distinction, “the essence of ‘the left’ is a commitment to treating all people as equals in a social and political sense, while recognizing that this commitment to equality does not mean that everyone is the same; that of ‘the right,’ an acceptance of a natural hierarchy among human beings which justifies unequal treatment.”
Anarchism, as is my basic understanding, is an anti-authoritarian, anti-hierarchical system of organization, and indeed world-view. If we accept Bobbio’s distinction, then surely any right-wing anarchist would then accept a natural hierarchy in society, and therefore a system of domination, of inequality, as being innate and even natural in humanity. And the lefties would pretend to live and act under the delusion that everyone is born with equal opportunity and ability, or worse, homogenizing people in their treatment. These worldviews are not antithetical, and only become so when their practitioners become dogmatic in their approach.
Can we, as anarchists, imagine a world where what I call fatuously “the nobility and the commons” support the idea Bobbio proposes? He suggests attempting an equilibrium of equality and freedom, gauging one with the other. Using this balancing we can potentially recognize that left/right can be a useful short-hand tool for expressing political leanings or a divisive and damaging distinction. Perhaps we can agree that in right-wing circles it is common to atomize the individual, and ignore the fact that humanity is a cooperative and social animal and cannot exist in a vacuum, and that on the left it is often the case that a person’s individuality is subsumed into the mass, and his liberty impeded by the tyranny of the mob. These acknowledgements of fault can only strengthen our anarchist critique, and allow a more effective praxis for the achievement of our common goals.
What is most upsetting is the petty, chauvinistic drum-beating between left and right, like two groups of children hurling abuse at each other over the playground while the teacher smiles benevolently and taps the cane waiting for one to step out of line, instead of both groups swarming the teacher and snatching his power away. It is a situation which keeps King Louis’ head on his shoulders and the State in perpetua. Can we not find the common ground and face our common enemy? Can we admit that in the course of a day our actions could be perceived as ‘Leftist’ or ‘Right-wing’ depending on who is examining them? That we are able to consciously interchange from one end of the spectrum to the other with all the skill and flexibility innate in freely desiring human beings? Can we not become ambidextrous anarchists, swapping and changing tactics to fit the strategy members of both ‘sides’ profess to share?
As Peter Gelderloos explains in the closing chapter of How Non-Violence Protects The State:
“a culture of liberation must favor pluralism over monopoly. In terms of struggle, this means we must abandon the idea that there is only one right way, that we must get everyone to sign on to the same platform or join the same organization. On the contrary, the struggle will benefit from a plurality of strategies attacking the State from different angles. This does not mean that everyone should work alone or at cross-purposes. We need to coordinate and unify as much as possible to increase our collective strength, but we should also reconsider how much uniformity is actually possible. It is impossible to get everyone to agree that one strategy for struggle is the best, and indeed this contention is probably wrong. After all, different people have different strengths and experiences and face different aspects of oppression: it only makes sense that there should be different paths of struggle on which we fight simultaneously toward liberation. The authoritarian monotheism inherent in Western civilization would lead us to view these other paths as unintelligent detours, as competition — we might even try to repress these other tendencies within the movement. Anti-authoritarianism requires that we abandon this mindset, recognize the inevitability of differences, and think of people who deviate from us as allies. After all, we are not trying to impose one new, utopian society on everybody after the revolution; the goal is to destroy centralized power structures so each community has the autonomy to organize itself in the way that all its members collectively decide will best enable them to meet their needs, while also joining or leaving free associations of mutual aid with communities around them.”
Even as I write this, I can feel the hackles raising of the libertarians and commies out there, gleefully polishing their keyboards, ready to storm in with three centuries of reinforced propaganda. Keep the nobles and the commons at each other throat, keep people split along an imaginary and dogmatic spectrum, ignore the fact that people change and grow, are influenced and brainwashed, broken and trained by their environments. Keep them under control and let the State continue. Left or right, whichever fist you’re raising, point it at the policeman, the taxman, the Governor, the symbols we can agree to hate, rather than at the anarchist with a different coloured half star on their jacket.