Is Left Right And Right Wrong?

September 26th, 2013   Submitted by Gyorgy Furiosa

LeftRight

“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,
Crass

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.

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17 Responses to “Is Left Right And Right Wrong?”

  1. Victim77No Gravatar says:

    I’ve been trying to say this for a while but could never put it quite so eloquently. Hating the other side of the spectrum is counterproductive when there are so little of us. To get enough support to attain critical mass we must draw strength from leftist and right wing circles. It might even be smart to advertise our disregard of left and right. People have to realize that once this gets large enough most activists will never read Rothbard or Mises or Spooner for that matter.

    • Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

      I think a strong critique of left/right politics from an anarchist perspective will help more people to drop party-oriented organization in favour of a deepening individualist position. We can draw our strength for anyone who is oppressed in some way, regardless of background or wealth or comparative suffering.

  2. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    Hey, Gyorgy,

    For one, you’ve been on quite a roll lately – keep it up! I enjoy your work.

    As for the article at hand: I’m glad you wrote it, and it’s very sensible. However, I have an issue with it in that it actually promulgates the idea that there is a “left” and “right” to politics in the first place. You rightfully pointed out that the notion comes from late 18th century France, but went on to give it some sort of continuing credence. Let’s leave it where it belongs: in the 18th century.

    “Left” and “right” are as relevant to us today as … oh, hell, I wanted to put in some witty example of words that are no longer used, but none popped in my head…but let’s just say, they’re meaningless. That’s what I don’t get: anarchists are so ready to argue that so many mental concepts are just that: constructions of the human mind, nothing more – but yet they still hold dogmatically that there’s somehow a division of anarchy.

    I make it extremely simple: I want to be left alone, and I want to leave everyone else alone, excepting only when we each voluntarily desire each other’s contact. This could mean that we value each other as family or friend, I am buyer of your service or product, or you are a buyer of mine, or perhaps we are lovers. As long as the choice is up to us as individuals, then it is all good. Take that for left or right as you please. But it is from these individual relationships that greater societal interactions will come.

    As Davi Barker (one of the great contributors to this website) said: I don’t know what society *should* look like, but I do know what it *shouldn’t* look like, and that’s the one we have.

  3. ErvNo Gravatar says:

    Gyorgy,

    Nice work. I’ve tried to interject similar statements, albeit less successfully, into some of the discussion threads. Thanks for writing this.

  4. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    I think the fact that there is a split in the anarchist movement is healthy. It actually means there is LESS bickering.

    Cooperation happens when multiple people share a common vision. But when one or more persons see things differently, they have two choices. They can either try to convince the rest that they are “right” or they can split off and do their own things.

    That’s called competition. Cooperation and competition are inevitable and healthy.

    Let me give you an example. Take money. Before Bitcoin existed the libertarians were constantly bickering over trying to get rid of the fed and use gold and silver, etc. as money. But since Bitcoin, those same libertarians are no longer fighting over what the government/Fed should do, and instead are just doing their own thing. It’s so much better!

    So, because ancomms and ancaps can do their own thing, it leads to less bickering. If we all had to work under the same banner, it really would be mayhem.

    • Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

      I would push the split further and see the ‘movement’ as a million individuals (or whatever figure suits your imagination) constantly coming together and splitting apart … the definitions of ancom and ancap are shorthand for the negotiations between those individuals, and in fact i would hate any sort of flag flown over ‘anarchists’ … More and more I’m moving towards the ideas of self-sovereignty and complete dismissal of anything that has a ‘brand’ on it already, unless it furthers my own purposes in that moment … but perhaps that seems too cynical? Or too idealistic?

  5. EthanNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve never liked these kinds of articles, not because they’re wrong, but because they’re just a lot of “rah rah”. In-fighting has always served as a way to sharpen the knife so to speak and if it weren’t for it I wouldn’t have a quarter of the knowledge and debate capabilities I do now.

    If everyone were to listen to this and say, OK, no more fighting, aim for the state. How do you expect the kind of “coordination” you speak of to take place? Why doesn’t it happen now? …Well it does… despite the bickering. It happens to the greatest extent that is possible. Never forget that the state is large, overpowering and will always win in any kind of direct “battle”.

    Intellectuals who constantly refine their skills are found not by political campaigns and yelling into megaphones, but in their arguments and approaches of people who are doing just that. They are the ones who move and guide activism. (ex. authors and Mises Institute)

    I don’t think the problem is as big as you think it is. The arguments are natural, the “vitriol” will always be there and you can’t change that. If the state collapses it will do so by its own corruption. If it stays away it will do so by the hatred of authority and the fighting back that can only take place when the gov is much smaller.

    When the government falls and the anarcho-socialists try to tell me I can’t work for a company by my own will I will tell them to beat it. When I tell them their community management is government, I don’t expect them to shut it down.

    I don’t care what others do, so long as they leave me out of it. Any communication with those who do not seek to control me is just communication and I don’t expect you to tell me I can’t participate in a certain kind.

    Conclusion/Take Away – Those who argue drive the movements.

    • Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

      “If the state collapses it will do so by its own corruption. If it stays away it will do so by the hatred of authority and the fighting back that can only take place when the gov is much smaller.”

      These two statements make it seem that you are happy to sit on your hands and wait for change. Passive rather than active.

      If the whole of your response appears to be disagreeing with me for the sake of it, is that in order to ‘further the movement’? In my opinion, your dismissal, though I like it, is so much ‘rah-rah’ and the above statements seem to serve only the status quo.

      Not all arguing is beneficial. I’ve sat in enough meetings to see how relentlessly tedious it becomes when people’s critique fails and their ego comes into play. I’m not accusing you of that. I just think some arguments are pointless, but most critique isn’t.

      The state will collapse when enough people kick the props out from under it, when enough people realise they are being conned.

  6. exzombieNo Gravatar says:

    I have been libertarian all my conscious life. Never have I read a more concise statement of what I believe. I am quite thankful that there are people who are able to put into understandable language what I think.

    • Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

      For a moment I wondered if this was very dry sarcastic humor on your side, but I now take it at face value. Thanks!

  7. state haterNo Gravatar says:

    “There must be grounds for solidarity between anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and all State-haters instead of this facile in-fighting and mud-slinging.”

    I think that I’m being referred to, ha ha.

    Seriously, anarchists on the left have some serious misunderstandings of reality. First, a “hierarchy” wherein Person A merely has more wealth than Person B because the former worked harder, or is more intelligent, etc., but did not in any way violate the NAP, in no way constitutes any sort of “authority”. I don’t understand why these jealous fools can’t get it through their thick skulls that differences in wealth need not have ANYTHING to do with one person dominating another. Second, the various left-wing anarchist schools of thought tend to revolve around economic philosophy that is intimately wrapped up with BIG GOVERNMENT. How can things in a given territory be something other than privately owned AND there be no state in that territory?

    • Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

      I like the point about hierarchy and agree there are some people who don’t see it like that.

      The left-anarchy big government point also seems valid … an anarcho-syndicalist society could end up looking like one big union, which would become one big ruling class, merely more direct in that the workers running the machines would control the wealth, and hypothetically would have no managing class .. it is difficult to picture how that would not end up the same as we have now, just with mechanics or union officials in charge … however I think there must be more succinct critique of anarcho-syndicalist ideas out there than, as I said, berating them as fools etc.

      Perhaps you could reference some other commentary on how left-anarchist ideas (though i cringe to call it that) are tied up with big government?

  8. RagnarNo Gravatar says:

    You’re welcome (as far as I’m concerned) to live any way you wish, and believe whatever you like. If you attempt, however, to take some of my stuff, with no justification other than “you need it” or “I have more of it than you do”, I will consider that aggression and treat it as such. My only issue with “the left” is that many of them seem to dispute my right to own property, and to increase that property through voluntary dealings with others. JMO.

  9. Ricardo FeralNo Gravatar says:

    Great piece. Gyorgy makes a lot of valid points. As to the comments of Ragnar and State Hater- I don’t disagree with your points, but I would encourage you to examine your own thought process on this. I’m afraid you may be creating your own “lefty anarchist straw man” here. I mean, who, specifically, are these jealous douchebags who have stated that they want take your personal stuff?
    Yes, there are plenty of lazy dicks out there, and I’ve met a few dreadlock wearing, dumpster-diving so-called anarchists who talk a good game while chiseling for your spare change, but I’ve met just as many deadbeat asshole libertarians.
    Also, don’t kid yourself about the nobility of the wealthy- the state has allowed many of the ultra-rich to establish family fortunes that have nothing to do with hard work or intelligence. And the Anarcho-syndicalists have a legitimate question when they ask how to address centuries of government-granted privilege in moving to a stateless society…

    • Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

      “dreadlock wearing, dumpster-diving so-called anarchists who talk a good game while chiseling for your spare change” … ah, Ricardo you’ve summed me up in a phrase!

  10. Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

    “anarchists are so ready to argue that so many mental concepts are just that: constructions of the human mind, nothing more – but yet they still hold dogmatically that there’s somehow a division of anarchy.”

    A division which is a construction of the human mind! Good point.

    I respect your dismissal of the origins of left/right. I thought it was an interesting bone to throw at anarcho-capitalists by insinuating they were siding with the aristocracy.

    I also respect the ‘you do yours and i’ll do mine’ idea … it just seems night on unworkable in social society to be completely isolated. There’s always contact at some point, and the clash of beliefs and desires is always thrilling.