Monday, December 31, 2012

Comments, Clarifications, and Expansion on My Piece in Queering Anarchism

One of the peculiarities of our current world is the drastic time differential between methods of publicizing our ideas - we can propagate the written word via the internet nearly instantaneously, and we can often get pretty wide audiences for it, whereas the printed word, through a publisher, takes a lot longer from the time of writing to the time when the reader sees it (as I write this, the book is printed, and has been available at a couple of book release parties, but I don't have my author copy yet, so I may go back and edit page numbers into this). This often leads to curious contradictions in the works of people who have written extensively and whose ideas have developed through struggle in the time between when a piece was written and when it is published. Another caveat is that I was, at the time the last few revisions of the piece were done, in an organization that will remain graciously unnamed, as a token queer who, in the view of some people in the organization, was meant to be seen and not heard. I have since left that organization, and there are things I would have said differently in my piece in the book had I not been forced to mince words and hide my actual thoughts on a few things.

The piece was also written at a transitional point in my life (it took its final form in late summer of 2010, with a major revision in early 2011, and was finalized (other than copy editing) prior to Occupy kicking off). Today, it is even more odd for me to be in an anarchist anthology as I have increasingly distanced myself from anarchism. The purposes of the piece I stand behind: to clarify between various things radicalized queers are doing to help them take themselves a step further into a revolutionary praxis; and to defend the autonomy of queer struggles from the patriarchal "revolutionary organizations" of the radical milieu.

I'm also writing this for anyone who reads my essay and says, "Gayge, I'm convinced. I think our struggles as working class queers are important, I think we should have our own autonomous organizations, I want to link up with other struggles, I think revolutionaries working together is important...but what are some things you think I can do?" On to the self-indulgent task of criticizing my own work!


  1. When I speak of "struggling against multiple systems of oppression[,]" I, of course, mean multiple aspects of the capitalist totality. Capitalist social relations have sublated all prior systems - it's correct to speak of patriarchy as a system, but also to talk about how the patriarchal system has become a part of capitalist social relations - in other words, there's no outside of capitalism, and all oppressive systems serve the purposes of capital.
  2. "Unlike Leninists, we neither want to seize the state nor even to replace it with a “proletarian” state; we know that if classes remain after the revolution, and there is the need for a hegemonic governing body separate from the people to maintain social relations, then the revolution has failed." This is of course a critique and rejection of orthodox Marxist-Leninist parties, the ideology of "socialism in one country", and the states they create (Trotskyism neither sees classes remaining after the completion of the revolution, nor a hegemonic governing body separate from the people to maintain social relations, for instance, and orthodox Marxist-Leninist parties are pretty far from Lenin's ideas late in his life), rather than being it read as a reflexive dismissal of any sort of critical examination or nuanced understanding of historical movements and thinkers. Toward a nuanced understanding of Lenin that recognizes both the positive, mixed, and negative currents that draw on elements of his work, rather than a knee jerk "Lenin is bad, Trotsky is bad!"
  3. A point that cannot be highlighted enough in the section "On 'Classism'" is the breaking down the separation between intellectual and other forms of labor, and the division between thinking and doing. Assisting in the negation of this division is one of the most critical tasks of the revolutionary, and is also at the core of our opposition to all vanguardist revolutionary organizations, whether they label themselves as Marxist or anarchist (more on this point later).
  4.  When I speak of the need to defend our organizations and struggles from bourgeois queers, I don't want to deny that bourgeois queers are punished for their queerness (not as severely as working class queers, particularly working class queers of color) - punishments that we rightly speak out against; rather, I want to point out the activity that has the potential to defend and liberate all queers must come from a working class perspective and be under working class control. The ultimate end to punishments meted out by capitalism to non-working class members of oppressed groups is working class self-emancipation (which of course includes working class queer liberation struggles, the struggle against white supremacy, the struggle against patriarchy, and so forth, but led by the strata of the working class directly affected). Struggles and organizations run by and for bourgeois queers will generally result in an improvement in their condition, and, at best, table scraps for working class queers. Equality with straights only makes sense if you think straight people are already liberated.
  5. The phrase "form both specific political organizations with a great deal of unity, and to advocate for our revolutionary ideas in mass organizations[,]" while incredibly non-specific, has unfortunate baggage. Of course, as I mention early in my section on the dead-end of anti-assimilation, the everyday struggle of working class queers already has revolutionary content. Our job is to clarify that content and teach the tools to analyze and think about those actions in new ways. This is another point I'll talk about later. The phrasing here is perhaps where my prior organizational affiliation causes the essay to suffer - I needed to make some very anti-platformist points (that working class self-activity already has revolutionary content, that autonomous organizations should be supported, not co-opted) palatable to platformists (who were obviously not the intended audience for the piece in the first place).  

Further Thoughts

  I promised that I would clarify things, and then give some actual concrete suggestions for budding queer revolutionaries. A position paper I wrote last summer, on this blog and also available on libcom here, gives some ideas, but leaves some open questions, and also is much more internal to a few sub-milieus. I think, very often, the people we meet and become close to in the process of participating in struggles and larger organizations are our "revolutionary organizations". We need to quit trying to solve the problems of Russia in 1917 or Spain in 1936, and recognize just how much the working class and the world has changed. Part of that change is that it is a great deal easier to communicate and connect with people in informal ways. Given both the course of history and technology, it is hard to see what point there is to creating large, over-arching formal organizations - just by networking, informally or semi-formally, the collectives we already work in (grouped by location and/or narrow interest), to allow for some communication, we can share information and ideas in productive ways.

The point of revolutionary organizations are most emphatically NOT to lead, or to see themselves as the most advanced elements of a struggle, but rather to propagate their analysis of the struggles they are clarifying to others, and give those others the tools they need to come to intellectual understandings of their own. To quote No Condescending Saviorsan old pamphlet still well-worth reading, "Workers do very revolutionary things, but they think of them in old ways[.]" Our task, as revolutionaries, is not to get people to do very revolutionary things (capitalism brings those circumstances into being where people who do not yet think about things in a revolutionary way do revolutionary things), or to tell them what to think about them, but, by recognizing and recording their revolutionary activity, clarifying the things we see, and helping them to develop the tools to think about things in their own new way, help along the process of revolutionary actions leading to a working class consciousness overcoming a bourgeois consciousness.

No Condescending Saviors goes on to eloquently state "So long as the only models of social action articulated to the workers are either continued subordination to the bourgeoisie — the line of social democracy — or reliance on the all-knowing vanguard party to lead them to socialism in its own good time, they will be unable to arrive at the new consciousness of themselves as a potential ruling class, and thus all their movements will inevitably be contained within the framework of capitalism." The first part is the obvious critique of organizations that channel the power away from the working class, the second part is a critique of all revolutionary organizations that see themselves as vanguards - whether they are Marxist or anarchist. When an organization sees itself as the "leadership of ideas" and sees itself as bringing anarchism (or socialism, or what have you) to masses that are incapable of being revolutionary on their own, that organization is an active obstacle to true social revolution when it does manage to be relevant.

From Hungary in '56 and France in '68 to the Arab Spring, the working class has done very revolutionary things without or against vanguard parties - and when vanguard parties do get involved, they either put a lid on the struggle or co-opt it for one capitalist faction or another.

My Advice to Young Queer Revolutionaries

Never join an organization just because they say they're where the real revolutionaries are. In fact, an organization that says or implies the real revolutionaries are in it and not elsewhere is a warning sign. Find the revolutionary content in the day-to-day struggles you're involved in, and work with the other revolutionaries forged by that struggle. Be patient, and learn as much as you teach (this is my advice to older revolutionaries, queer and straight, too). Remember that your ideas are important, but no matter how good they are, they're not the singular set of revolutionary ideas - revolution comes not out of the intellects of a few, but the practical and intellectual activity of the many. Make abolishing the distinctions between your activity and the activity of the people in struggle around you a primary goal.

Value the self-organization of working class women, queers, people of color, and so forth - whether that self-organization is of larger groupings in that locale or just of the already radicalized or even solely of revolutionaries. Recognizing that the time of the vanguard party has long past also means that starting from a group of people in a subcultural milieu with the "right ideas" and then trying to recruit to get it to look like the class is approaching the problem backwards. We don't start solely from "right ideas". Theory arises out of struggle and theory shapes struggle - ideas coming from entirely outside a struggle will inevitably be drastically reshaped when they engage in a dialogue with struggle.

You should strongly consider organizing your workplace into independent workplace committees that have the potential to include all non-managerial workers. You should also strongly consider organizing outside your workplace, against repression, into communities of solidarity and care, doing the things you and your community think are relevant. Neither fall into a crass shop-floorism nor think that the point of production has somehow become irrelevant. Approach the issues relevant to you and the people you care about and live, work, and play with from the perspective of "how do we take control of the means of production and reproduction and create a new commons for all?" Always raise the question of "how can we, in this struggle, challenge major contradictions within the working class - those created by white supremacy and patriarchy?"

Above all, don't let anyone tell you how or what to fight for from an argument from authority, particularly a bunch of self-important straight white men. And don't give up on your views, but be intransigent in arguing for them, until (and only if!) you yourself are logically convinced you are incorrect. And even then, readjust your analysis based on the new information, don't accept someone else's ideas. To quote Raya Dunayevskaya, "[t]he first act of liberation is to demand back our own heads." Far too often, the history of the participation of women and queers in struggle that includes men and straight people has been a history of silencing and subordination. Let's change that.