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Reply to Critics of Anarchism Essay


Albert Replies to
Critics of His
Anarchism Essay





We have attempted to incorporate all the materials that have come our way, and to organize it in a flow more or less from origin to conclusion. Some of the critics are more substantive than others. We have not included the names of participant critics, of which there were quite a few, but we have tried to break the flow with dividers (===) where the critic raising points changes.

If anyone has any additional materials that were missed in our efforts to gather them — please send to [email protected]

The material is arranged, as best we could, in order of appearance, oldest first to appear) at the top. Newest at the bottom…

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Critic: Fucking moron. I’ll write a critique when I get a chance, unless someone else beats me to it. What rock has he been living under?

Albert: Looking up, I can never remember seeing the underside of a rock…other than in some demonstrations, at rare moments, when friendly fire happened to accidentally get over my head, that is — so I can’t be the one to answer, I am afraid…

 

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Critic:  This actually read like parody, didn’t it? With his "good anarchism" and "not so good anarchism," the envy that his side wasn’t getting the most media attention, and all the rest.

Albert: I think you missed the point of the comment about "attention" — which was that Primitivism, usually in the persona of John Zerzan, is given attention by the mainstream as compared to other strands of anarchism whose better substance is literally ignored, precisely in the same way Stalinism’s vile aspects were given attention as compared to other strands of anti-capitalist organization in the past whose better substance was ignored — to discredit everyone with the attributes highlighted.

 

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Critic:  In another thread, we were discussing what individuals/social theories might deserve some indepth critique. We might just have found a candidate.

Albert: I’ll look forward to that…but don’t you think having not yet done it, already knowing the conclusion is just a little bit off base?

Most anarchists in history call that kind of pre-judgment without evidence sectarianism…I wonder why you aren’t concerned about that…

Critic: What’s interesting is that while the Zmag-type libertarian socialists, like Chomsky and Cockburn, have criticized us in the past, they really haven’t gone out of their way to do so. This initiative by Albert might mark something of a turning point in that regard.

Albert: By the by, Chomsky is an anarchist and Cockburn is probably more aptly described as leninist, though arguably with libertarian inclinations.

As to a turning point, I doubt it. I think I am probably one of the very very few people who isn’t within primitivism who would be willing to interact with primitivists on matters of substance, at least to a point, given your dismissive style of interactions and the general content level they involve. And I am not sure how long my own willingness will persist. Life is short, after all, and as you know, there are many priorities for our time…

 

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Critic: It is quite a gagfest, Albert claims anarchism is not popular because of those bad anti-tech, anti-org. anarchists.

Albert: Actually, I claimed that those themes are both wrong and counterproductive — and noted other themes that are far more promising …

Critic: So according to him if we all became liberals we’d be much more popular.

Albert: It would be interesting to see which words of mine convey this message to you, or whether it is simply a canned response referring to none of my words at all. Certainly the word liberal is never used in the essay…so I wonder what it is in the essay that you take to be advocating liberalism…

Critic: He has the same old tired knee-jerk responses to primitivism and a smug know-it-all persona.

Albert: What makes something knee jerk is that it is undertaken reflexively, without regard to its applicability, without evidence, argument, and so on…usually to defend a persona, to defend an identity, rather than in serious pursuit of knowledge. I don’t think it is my essay that has that character. As to being know it all — I can’t comment. But I will say that I do I think I know some things — yes, I am guilty of that.

Critic: Albert says anarchism is against illegitamite authority but he favors reformism, work and technology.

Albert: Looking at the essay would reveal that in fact I explicitly reject reformism — but not all reforms. I wonder, during the Gulf War did you oppose it? If the U.S. were to invade Colombia, would you demand an end to that? Suppose a campaign grew up for a thirty hour week with forty hour pay — or better. Mass rallies, demos, civil disobedience, etc. break out on its behalf. Would you partake, hoping to win the change? Have you demonstrated against the IMF and World Bank, say? These are all reforms, in fact. My point is, to disavow fighting for reforms is to disavow fighting for change in the present, to ignore the plight of suffering people in the present, to jettison all demands and struggles, and so on. On the other hand, one can fight for reforms and do it in ways aiming for a continuing trajectory of change, leading beyond them to systemic change, which is what I advocate. My guess is, you would too, if you thought about it rather than just intoning catchwords as if that sufficed for argument.

Moving on…work is part of the expression of human capacity…and, as well, is a precondition for consuming human products. You may think disavowing it is constructive. and starving or living short brutish lives is desirable. I instead think conceiving how to carry work out in non-authoritarian ways that not only meet material needs and expand options, but also further values we hold dear, is a better mindset. You might want to go back and read, say, Kropotkin on the subject, and then decide who you think is more in accord with the heritage of anarchism, on these matters.

As to technology — you oppose it all. I oppose the conditions that make much technology a vehicle of oppression, while seeing clear to understand that, again, technology itself (as work itself, or reforms themselves) is not the problem.

But mostly, notice that you address not a single argument that is raised in the essay. You simply repeat your position — sort of — as if in pronouncing disagreement a case is made. You use the word knee-jerk, earlier…this is an example of it…I am afraid.

Critic: Obviously he feels these are legitimate. Fuck him and his lame liberal magazine. I remember a couple of years ago when Z almost went out of buisness, I was thrilled, but then it appeared again, thanking all the "big donors" who kept it afloat.

Albert: Your take on the world is interesting…if among the most sectarian I have encountered in many years…but is not going to advance justice, I fear. But, for accuracy which you don’t seem to care about — we have no "big donors."

 

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Critic: Just how long as Albert been an anarchist anyway?

Albert: I became politicized in 1966 — so that would be about 35 years. From virtually day one — this was not so common, then — I learned from but was also highly critical of marxism and especially leninism, which were quite a bit more prominent in many respects, then. I wrote a book called What Is To Be Undone — my first — about thirty years ago. From the title you may garner its gist. The chapter on anarchism might even appeal to you should you be interested in "getting to know the enemy" say…

Critic: I coudn’t believe a recent issue of 5th Estate which featured articles by Albert and Roxanne Dunbar, two long time Marxist bullshit artists.

Albert: I am unaware of this…I have very little in common with Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, however.

By the by, I doubt there is a Marxist in the U.S. who would claim me as one of theirs, so to speak — since I have put forth over the years a steady critique of marxism on various grounds.

I write these words only to let you know that you are shooting from the hip — again — having no idea what the reality is…something you might want to think about as most often serious anarchists are admirably quite hostile to such an approach.

Critic: Post-Seattle all the leftoids have been trying to steer a moving train in their direction. Christian Parenti is another "new anarchist" and I myself have heard him say, "Stalin wasn’t all bad." These people are pitiful, walking corpses of theory. Let’s put them up against the wall of our much more cogent critique.

Albert: I don’t know of Christian saying such a thing — but not me. On the other hand, I have to say if these messages indicate anything about your views, I’d be hard pressed to call them cogent.

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Critic: Michael Albert is no anarchist; he never refers to himself as one, and his grasp on the fundamentals of anarcist theory is too flimsy for there to be much of a basis for serious critique, at least from that angle.

Albert: Actually, I often refer to myself as anarchist regarding the political dimensions of society, and have done so for about thirty five years… I call myself feminist, also, and intercommunalist or multi-culturalist, and regarding economics I have called myself socialist, in the past — but now call myself pareconist.

Critic: His perspective is hostile precisely because he doesn’t think that anarchism per se is a good thing.

Albert: I have to wonder whether any of you have even bothered reading the essay in question, much less anything else I have written. It says, in fact, that I think anarchism could become the central perspective of all activism in coming years, to everyone’s advantage. That is hardly hostile, obviously…unless — well, there are two ways the claim I am hostile to anarchism, could still make sense for you, I guess. (1) You didn’t read the piece and this is just more reflex with no intent to convey actual reality, but only to flail. Then it makes sense, but not logical sense. (2) You feel that primitivism is anarchism, and that everything else is not…so that in being critical of primitivism, I am critical of anarchism per se — and I am simply confused when I think I am praising anarchism because, actually, I am praising some deviant mindset. That’s at least consistent, if it is your take on things. Of course, it also would mean that bakunin, kropotkin, malestesta, rocker, goldman, berkman, and so on and so forth, were also, also, hostile to anarchism, a deviant mindset, and so on.

Critic: He only appreciates the energy and enthusiasm of anarchists who are involved in struggles and campaigns in which he and his allies are involved. In that respect he is no different from liberals, social democrats, leninists, and all other species of leftist; anarchists are tolerable as long as they can be controlled. That goes for actions as well as theory.

Albert: This is the first interesting comment — at least to me. One way to read it is Albert only appreciates what he appreciates — which wouldn’t be too instructive, obviously. More subtly, one could read it as saying Albert only appreciates what is literally in accord with what he already believes, having no capacity to trust that others could go beyond his beliefs and teach him something. That would be a very fair criticism. On the other hand, what if I am very eager for others to go beyond my beliefs — as in when I ask anarchists to produce new vision I can learn from and support — but don’t think that a particular group is very likely to come up with much. Then the criticism would be misplaced. I guess you have to just read the piece and see for yourself if that picture is apt.

Critic: Albert wrote a shorter version of that essay for the conference last summer in LA, and I responded briefly to it in my report on that stunning event in Anarchy magazine #49 (I think). I will see if I have any of it on a disc somewhere to post here if people express any interest.

Albert: I did do a piece on request, yes…though I didn’t consult it when preparing this one and honestly don’t remember its content.

Critic: Albert’s calls for institutionalized decisionmaking, legislation, adjudication, etc. are calls to recreate the state.

Albert: This is substance — and we disagree. You conflate certain functions — legislation, adjudication, etc. — with having a state in the oppressive sense of an authoritarian agency imposing on most of the population from above. As a result, admirably wanting to get rid of such oppressive agencies, you say we also have to get rid of the functions themselves. But you provide no argument whatever to back the claim that the functions cannot be accomplished by means other than an authoritarian state — which is my claim — or to rebut the claim that getting rid of the functions would be calamitous, which i also claim.

Critic: As such, anarchists who know anything about anarchism will reject them out of hand.

Albert: This indicates, as earlier, that while you are an anarchist by your definition — kropotkin, bakunin, berkman, goldman, and so on, are not….

I suppose you can choose to use the words that way…but if you do, I hope you will understand that a great many other folks will find your choice extremely odd, to be courteous about it.

Critic:  If that makes Albert sad, too fucking bad. He wants anarchists to remake themselves in his image.

Albert: This is such a strange formulation…if someone proposes something one can dismiss it on these grounds whatever it may be. So, if you propose eliminating technology — thereby suggesting that you think 90% or so of the planet’s population should die and the rest live as you ordain…someone could say the above about you. Of course, it would be irrelevant — the real issue being the substance of your proposal, not the truism that you are proposing it. Thus the real issue lurking in the above is whether anarchists developing social vision, enlarging the conceptual framework beneath their efforts to encompass all dimensions of social life, and working hard on non-reformist stuggles to improve peoples lives in the present while building means of winning systemic change in the future — would be good. Issues you of course ignore.

Critic: Many anarchists may decide to do just that;

Albert: If you mean generate vision, enlarge focus, and struggle for the oppressed in non-reformist ways, well, as I noted, many are already doing it, and doing it very well.

Critic: we then have to wonder how strong their attachment to anarchist ideas were in the first place (but that’s another subject).

Albert: Actually, I have a feeling that is the only subject for you — a kind of identity politics, a kind of clubism, in which loyalty (measurable in some odd currency that I don’t understand) is the measure of all things. Or so it seems…\\

 

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Critic: I suppose a point by point response to Albert may be necessary, but my god it’s so tedious trying to explain to someone who’s so completely clueless about the basics that he’s clueless. Mikus, if you decide to give it a try, I’d be happy to read it first and give you comments before you publish it and send it to Z Mazine.

Albert: I can empathize with this feeling…

 

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Critic: Here is an earlier piece of yours (another critic, one of those above) that covered the antics of Michael Albert regarding the conference:

Critic: I am writing to express my considerable concern about the participation of Michael Albert in the conference. Mr Albert is a social democrat who has denounced the committed anarchists who were in Seattle because some of them engaged in "trashing" of property, daring to deviate from "accepted norms" of protest, i.e. those froms which he had under his and his allies’ control.

Albert: Two points made — both ridiculous. In fact, I criticized a particular confrontationist choice in a particular context — actually not even the confrontationist choice per se, which I advocate in some contexts. And, of course, I am not a social democrat.

Regarding that, with thirty years of writing to choose from — probably 2.5 million words or so — it ought to be trivially easy to actually back up claims like this. You ought to be able to quote me saying capitalism is forever and our only real option is to amelioriate its ills, for example. Perhaps you would like to try and find such a formulation to back up your claim? Even something that remotely intimates that? Of course, to be honest about it, you’d also have to look to see if anti-capitalist sentiments, analyses, demands, visions, are present. Otherwise, it is just sectarian stone throwing without substance.

But there is a more important point. Suppose you are arguing a point and it is with a social democrat. So what? You don’t win the argument, or even sensibly pursue it, by saying hey, you are a social democrat, therefore you must be wrong — any more than he would win the argument or even sensibly pursue it, by saying hey, you are an anarchist, therefore you must be wrong. That is called sectarianism, on the one hand, and is logically flawed, on the other. The point is to discuss or argue or debate substance at stake, not broader allegiance.

Critic: His invitation to speak to his enemies (anarchists) is appalling and a provocation.

Albert: That is, you found the fact that the conference invited me appalling, I guess…

Critic: I am certain that there would be disruptions at his speech, creating unnecessary internal strife at the conference; such disruptions are a distraction from the tasks at hand.

Albert: Gee, I wish I had been able to attend in person — I believe the speech I was invited to send was merely read out at the event, instead, since I couldn’t go….

Critic: At each of the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fairs, there have been speakers who have not been anarchists; we can learn from anyone. But none of the non-anarchist speakers have published denunciations of anarchists, as Albert has.

Albert: I have to wonder whether you know what the word denunciation means… Perhaps, to get us on the same page, you can quote me denouncing anarchism, please — so I know what you are referring to, at least, since, to my knowledge, I have never done so.

Critic: He welcomes anarchists into his "movement" so long as we abandon our commitment to individual initiative, antiauthoritarian decision making, and imagination;

Albert: Similarly, perhaps you could quote me suggesting any of this…and while you are at it…why not entertain the impossible, and look to see if you can find serious discussion, by me, of what constitutes anti-authoritarian decision making and of means to accomplish it. The astounding thing is, that were you to look, I suspect you could not find anyone who has written more that bears on that topic, and in ways you would like, than myself. Perhaps not so, but if not, not by much…

The point is, you just have no idea what you are saying…no idea what my views are…

Critic: Like all authoritarians he urges unity and collaboration, but only on his terms, never on ours.

Albert: This is sort of odd too — because the only thing it can possibly be referring to is the discussion of confrontation in demonstrations. For example, another matter would be the issue of democracy and participation and anti-authoritarianism as compared to democratic centralism and vanguard partyism in political work — but of course, I say that the latter should simply not be part of the left, thus arguing precisely that any unity on this truly important front has to be exactly on anarchist terms. Again, you have no idea what you are talking about…

Returning to the confrontation issue — actually, my propsal there was also that unity should come on the anarchist principles far more than any others: that is, that those involved in activities should have say over them proportionately as they are involved, reserving that same level of say for all others, of course.

Go back and look…

Critic: The phenomenon of anarchists knuckling under to such demands is old and ugly; it is precisely why anarchists have consistently been on the shit end of the stick throughout our history. I urge you as the organizers of this important anarchist event to reconsider your invitation to Albert. This is a conference for anarchists and our allies, not for those who wish we’d just go away."

Albert: I guess they ignored you, huh?

 

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Critic: Is Michael Albert really worried about anarchism not attracting enough allegiance among social change activists?

Albert: Yes, I am. Why do you think it is constructive to start out an exchange by implying someone is lying, I wonder?

Critic: I I don’t think he’s lying when he professes to be concerned about anarchism-it’s just that I don’t trust his motives.

Albert: No point quibbling about this. Either you think you are a better judge of my motives than I am and I am confused about them– or that I know them and am lying about them.

Critic: Good/bad or desirable/less desirable-the negative judgement is the same. He’s either trying to backtrack from his hostility, or he’s hoping that no one will actually read what he in fact wrote.

Albert: Not at all. The views I am calling undesirable I think are undesirable — rejection of technology, institutions, reforms per se. I don’t see how it could be clearly. The phrase is gentle, meant to be civil. I find the rejection of these things, tout court, well, absurd, insane, outrageous, beyond comprehension — choose your term. I think that is obvious from what I have written which makes clear the basis of the view.

Critic: His complaint is that "less desirable anarchism" is getting attention from the mainstream because they look for the most ridiculous so-called representatives. That’s true. But it also sounds a bit like sour grapes-that they’re not paying attention to him.

Albert: What an odd formulation, what a degrading and demeaning one.

Suppose you thought, as I suspect you do, that someone saying that it was good to expand the sway of markets was talking nonsense, and that the fact that they were highlighted in media reflected media’s biases and system-supporting priorities, not a sober judgement of merit. Would it make any sense for someone to say, that sounds like sour grapes? No. It wouldn’t, of course.

I honestly don’t have time for this kind of thing — if you want to address substance, okay.

Critic: Yes, I have on occasion read the magazine. Every so often there is something that stands out as incisive, but mostly it’s filled with the same old leftist analysis and jargon.

Albert: Is this you — what does this word "leftist" mean to you, I wonder, to use it as a dismissive adjective?

Critic: Ah, so we finally get a name attached to his previously anonymous brand of "less desirable" anarchism. Albert’s objections are about John Zerzan, and the attention he’s been getting.

Albert: No, they are about views…the one’s I enunciated. Zerzan happens to be a forthright propopent of those views.

Critic: I do know John Zerzan’s views; I’ve been in regular contact with him as an ally and comrade since 1985. While he and I don’t agree on everything, I respect his critical abilities and the fact that he doesn’t shy away from expanding his critiques to their (sometimes uncomfortable) conclusions. It is not my place or my desire to defend or justify John’s positions regarding technology, language, numbers, and time (that’s for him to do if he wants); but the issue of division of labor is an interesting one.

Albert: Okay…let’s address what you wish to, sure…

Critic: Is Albert implying that he doesn’t reject division of labor?

Albert: Of course I am. Are you saying you think all people should do all things — with no differentiation? I doubt it. We’d all promptly die. Division of labor is essential to survival. What isn’t essential to survival is specific divisions of labor that benefit elites and subordinate everyone else.

Critic: Or perhaps he just understands it to mean a specialization/separation of tasks, rather than how the term is used by most radicals: an integral component of alienated labor, based on the perpetuation of class society within a capitalist framework.

Albert: Well, you can use it as you like, I suppose…but Zerzan is quite a bit more encompassing. More, I actually describe in detail how to have specialization and expertise yet also work responsibilities that are not class divided or hierarchical. You might find it interesting, in fact…

Critic: Regardless of my opinions of John’s critiques of technology, etc., the fact that he rejects the principle of government as well as its actual manifestations in the state means that he is in fact an anarchist. The rejection of statism as an ideology and a practice is the foundational principle of anarchism; where this foundation leads in terms of how to implement anarchy is where disputes arise in the anarchist project and between anarchists. This lack of universal dogma is part of what makes anarchism strong as an idea and relevant and open to various individuals and their ideas.

Albert: People can define terms as they wish to. With your definition he is anarchist…and I didn’t say he wasn’t. I said, rather that he goes off in an undesirable direction — with others — and that many more go in a very desirable direction.

But I think it would be far more instructive and wise to say that anarchists reject authoritarian political forms, typical government arrangments, etc. etc. This leaves quite open the questions of what other political forms are desirable, the question whose answer I think is very much on the agenda.

 

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Critic: Since anarchists are getting a lot of attention, Albert can’t afford to ignore us either.

Albert: A strange formulation, it seems to me. First, why would you want to be ignored? Second, having written about anarchism at various times for over thirty years…what makes my doing so now such a surprise?

Critic: I’m not making up any quotes. These terms all came from his essay. "Distasteful" appears in the paragraph that begins "Problems arise." "Debilitating" appears in the paragraph that begins "And finally, regarding reforms." "Negative," "unsustainable and objectionable" appears in the paragraph that begins "It shouldn’t be necessary." And "counter productive" appears there too-I left that one out by mistake. If he wants them not to be his characterizations, then he should say so-called or something. Otherwise, it looks like he’s being totally dishonest.

Albert: When I read your message I went and looked at the wrong piece, and didn’t see the words. My mistake. The implication in your message was that I applied these terms to anarchism — or so it seemed to me — and of course I knew I did not do that. I applied them, instead, to very particular viewpoints. Much as you might use critical or negative words in reference to leninist vanguard organization, say.

Critic:  His assumptions about anarchists rejecting "illegitimate authority" and promoting "appropriate control" over people is the basis of his overall cluelessness.

Albert: Anarchists certainly don’t accept illegitimate authority, do they? So that’s not our disagreement. Presumably your concern here is that I don’t reject all authority, correct? That I can conceive of lots of situations in which authority is reasonably and sensibly granted?

In contrast, do you think there is no such thing as legitimate authority? This would distinguish you from virtually every well known anarchist in history — certainly kropotkin, goldman, malestesta, bakunin, rocker, and on and on…

But more, it would mean that you think a child’s will should prevail over an adult’s, by definition, in every circumstance — no adult ever having legitimate authority over a child. It would mean that at a meeting, say, where it was voted that everyone should talk in turn, you would feel that there would be nothing wrong with you talking whenever you wished — ignoring that authority — and that anyone angry at you for doing so would be deluded. It would mean that in a workplace with agreed norms for how long and in what circumstances people work, etc., you would feel it would be perfectly fine for you or anyone to simply ignore the agreements and sit around and chat, or take up someone else’s spot and do their work against their preference, and so on and so forth.

I doubt you believe these things. And I would in fact suggest that no one anywhere believes, in practice, that there is no legitimate authority possible other than

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