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February 15, 2006


the burningman

Talk about flamebait.

Reading through this all again, I don't agree with the stresses and method of the whole piece. But it's one of the better short takes on these matters.nother being Marge Piercy's "Grand Coolie Damn." Piercy is focused on the reproduction of sexual gender roles in the movement, as well as corruption in gendered form, Freeman's take zeros in on the inter-personal as well as political.

Anyone who's ever lived life in social movements knows viscerally what's being discussed. Sometimes politics becomes a vocabulary used to play out all sorts of wacky shit.

Freeman doesn't stray far beyond the practical with her observations and suggestions. But it is a definite moment of consciousness that even those who most ignore it often feel compelled to acknowledge its argument.

Christopher Day

A refreshing blast from the past. The persistence of this little gem over the years is noteworthy. I read it first when I was an over-eager young anarchist and immediately recognized its (then painful) truth. It was, in my case, the beginning of a very slow process of disillusionment with anarchism which I continuously sought to rescue from its own internal logic by means transplanting bits and pieces of non-anarchist (ususlly communist) theory where I diagnosed anarchist failure. By the end of it all I felt a bit like Dr. Frankenstein wondering if maybe there was a less troublesome route to my ends. In any event its nice to see it in this new form. Whether this site has much of a readership that will benefit from it I don't know, but I suspect that lots of us here know others who would benefit from reading Jo Freeman's classic.


Is this available for download?


I found a pdf version on an Irish anarchist site here:
Direct link to pdf file:


But Cathy Levine's response "The Tyranny of Tyranny" should always go hand in hand with this. More great responses and critical engagements of anarcha-feminism can be founded in the book "Quiet Rumors". Here is goes

fellow traveler

I just read the Tyranny of Tyranny. I'm sorry, but it is exactly as uninteresting as every other piece of anarcho-foolishness I've ever encountered.

Look: Anarchism is a vice, not a useful philosophy. It's adherents are always the same mash of disgruntled radicals, the self-involved, and really and truly -- deeply middle class lifestylers who love getting down with the movement until it touches THEIR privilege. The idea that these people should subordinate their "autonomous" selves to the working class movement is a horror of horrors.

Anarchists do fine on their own terms. Go set up a coop. Great. Go be an artist. I love it. But when you start acting like your comfort zone is the limit of what a revoutionary people's movement can accomplish... and when you equate the power of the proletariat with "authoritarianism" -- you end up working for your own enemies.

Anarchism is a holding pen. It is a barricade on your mind. Do we have to wait for every right-wing asshole to agree with us? NO WE DON'T. We will defeat them, or at least give everything we've got.

I look at these activists and professional protersters and on one hand I'm like YEAH!. Then I watch them for years stewing in the same juices of passivity, self-entitlement, guilt politics and so on.

Get over it.


Flamebait indeed, Burning Man.

What next? "On Authority?"

Anarchism has a criticism worth considering, especially for Marxists and liberals who often think politics is the answer to everything. On its own, however, anarchism was where I turned to try and fight for a better world but ended up totally stifled by problems I eventually figured were built into anarchism.

I don't think I wasted my time. Now I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do. I still think that the "party" type groups stifle people and if I can't speak freely and have something to offer, I won't settle for being a newspaper hawker spreading the good word.

You can criticize the anarchists all day long. The truth is thatt anarchism took hold because the communist groups were a bad joke.


thanks for speaking for us "proletariats". woohoo. i'm so glad that the communists decided we would be the vanguard revolutionaries. how empowering. lets go critiques anarchists because they don't have parties. good idea. paper, anyone?

Short commentator

I was sitting on the toilet not too long ago in the restroom of a mock-restaurant (all vegan food), and among the writings on the wall I saw this:

"Anarchism may not be for everyone, but its good enough for me."


Anytime, prole. Anytime.

People are desperate for leadership. If your plan is to do what the anarchist movement has been up to these last few years, then maybe you should trade that sarcasm in for a clue.

You're mostly, I assume, talking shit to communists here. We know what we actually think, and not what you and your fucking buddies think you know. Instead of making yourself look like an idiot, whatever your class background, maybe you should notice what people are actually saying.

Most of the super-hardcore anarcho types have attitudes not dissimilar to your average Reaganite when it comes to socialism. American White Man bullshit. "Give me liberty of give me death," oh yeah... except for them nigras. That's all "big government." Right? White man needs room to stretch his legs. Need big SUV. White man freedom! Local schoolboard control so we can teach Christian fundamentalism and get the big, bad government eggheads out of our business. OUR BUSINESS!

Why people with progressive intentions buy that line of conservative bullshit is totally beyond me. Challenge them on it and they act like you're a "zombie" just listening to the Party. "Everybody knows" communism failed and people hated it... I saw that on TV, heard in my 8th grade "Civics" class and just about every time I open any anarchist publication.

Well, my Party supports science, free thinking and not just "My Dick" psuedo-politics of priviledged assholes who don't care if nothing changes because they plan to inherit their daddy's property after they get tired of the activist scene...

BTW "prole" -- some people actually like reading. Maybe "selling papers" is a way to start conversations with people unused to doing so in a world where most are taught to obey not to question. I sell a communist paper. It's full of information and analysis most people NEVER see.

You don't like that because you think people are idiots. That's why you are so "free," because you think everyone else is a slave.

Sorry to rant. I've heard a boatload of anarchist attacks on revolutionaries and I'm tired of just taking it. That's party discipline for you. We're supposed to treat other radicals with respect even when it's not given in return. How authoritarian.


While I have some understanding and sympathy for where Communist is coming from with his rant, there is in fact a good reason that communists are usually expected by their organizations to be respectful of anarchists and others who disagree with them, even when that sometimes means smiling and trying to unite with people who are dissing us as authoritarians. The fact is, this sort of rant is not dialectical, it is a one-sided understanding of what the anarchists are about. The reality is much more complicated, and we need to apply the method of unity-struggle-unity, and 'curing the disease to save the patient', even when we are confronted with large numbers of people whose perspective is divide-diss-dividefurther and 'cure the disease by killing the patient'.

Tyrrany of Structurelessness is, in my opinion, a good dose of medicine for the first step in curing the patient (I know it helped cure me).

the burningman

If anything, communists have been uninterested in actually-existing anarchism, and too content to just dismiss it as unapplicable to life beyond friendship circles.

With communist ideas largely forbidden from public discussion in the United States (in the schools, media and government), new radicals often arrive into movements with all the anti-communist, and frankly counter-revolutionary propaganda they've had shoved down their throats since birth.

After a steady growth from the later half of the 1980s, and a burst following the Seattle protests that re-invigorated anti-capitalism in the United States, anarchism has been unable to sustain either the energy or direction that many, including myself, expected. This isn't for the better.

Different radical, anti-capitlist trends have much to gain from the growth of any and all. The left is small enough that however anti-capitalist ideas and liberatory practices disseminate, it's a good thing.

Freeman wasn't denouncing anarchistic (democratic formal) intentions so much as observing what happened in her experience. That so many have read and spread the Tyranny of Strucuturelessness is because its a real pattern.

Freeman neither takes this critique all the way, in terms of identifying and naming the underlying method, nor is she advocating political parties. I will, ardently, but Freeman does not. That's why I think this is a good piece to know, and a place to continue a long discussion.

What I've most learned from anarchists is to really look at everyday life. I don't want a change in what's on TV. I want work, property, family and culture to change in ways the open things up for people instead of closing them down.

Anarchism raises issues of concern, but cannot see beyond the end of its own nose. That doesn't mean the "issues of concern" go away. See Prachanda's recent statements about learning from mistakes.

That anti-communism is part of what makes anti-authoritarianism coherent is to the detriment of its adherents' ultimate intentions.

To the degree that the negative legacies of Stalin are not fully uprooted among communists is also still real (and I'd include Trotskyism as one of those "negative legacies"). Struggle is happening, with surprising reds leading the way. The parties and groups in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement are among the few who uphold the Stalin era as the "dictatorship of the proletariat," and with that position fight for the most radical forms of socialism. They claim responsibility for all sides of that legacy that so many fair-weather socialists wave away with their hand.

Unlike the dispute over the nature of socialism, debates about anarchism will not have a real-world application beyond the limits of affinity, however large or small that may be. Anarchism (and the radical democracy with which it is largely interchangable), is an ethical system. It has no politics. This fundamental misunderstanding is the answer to Freeman's riddle -- and the source of her frustration... as I read it.


Sidenote: Venting online won't make anyone feel better. It's what you make it.


former-@ said: "The truth is thatt anarchism took hold because the communist groups were a bad joke." That's too one-sided, but it does contain a germ of truth.

No one said it better than Lenin: anarchism is the price communists pay for the sin of opportunism.


this is a ridiculous thread. anarchists and commies work together all the time. historically and currently. of course theres disagreement. there always is. whatever. this is fun, but silly.


Some readers of this blog might be familiar with the phrase, "form follows function." It is associated with architecture but I always found it a useful starting point when discussing democratic structure.

I agree with a few of the points that Freeman raises but she is missing the larger questions: what is women's liberation? What is the vision of society being articulated here? Without answering these questions, any discussion of structure can only be mind-numbingly bureaucratic - and that's the dirty little secret of anarchism. Despite their claims, they are what I would call "Lockean bureacrats." Much anarchist debate is centered around finding the perfect organizational form which will allow an individual's 'inherent' tendencies towards freedom and solidarity to be realized. For anarchists 'function follows form.' A form in which one simply has to insert mass participation and - voila! The perfect politics comes out the other end.

The sterility of this approach to politics is reflected in passages such as this: "The end of consciousness-raising leaves people with no place to go and the lack of structure leaves them with no way of getting there." How about the lack of clear political vision? Might that have anything to do with it?

Even within her limited framework, she could have directly addressed the question of leadership. Leaders emerge, not because they do the most tasks or do them better than anyone else. Leaders provide coherent ideological and political vision because ultimately, people need to make sense of their activity. Because individual activity is necessarily fragmented, the individual, or individuals, who can put the pieces together into a singular, meaningful picture is exerting leaderhship. Leadership is NOT about telling people what to do [although bad leadership is]. Anarchists think they have no leaders? Please. I resent that anarchists have appropriated 'anti-authoritarianism' as well. All genuine revoutionaries are anti-authoritarian! However, anti-authoritarianism is not really a politics just a stance, but it's typical of how anarchists raise tactics to the level of strategy. That's why things that work well in a small meeting don't play out as well on a nation-wide basis.

By focusing on delegation, information sharing and rotation of responsibilities she does not address the manual/mental division of labor that pervades society and, of course, the left. While all people are equal in some metaphysical sense of 'human worth,' all are not equal in terms of access to resources, development of intellectual tools, breadth of experience. Pretending that we are all equal is a sure way to institutionalize inequality. Freeman does not address the material basis for this inequality preferring to deal with it as an organizational problem.

Levine's response is just as problematic. Her essay is more substantial and addresses the question of political vision but ultimately atttempts to validate the small group form as a means of preserving political purity - another characteristic of anarchism is its absolutist 'all or nothing' approach to politics.

the burningman

Of course we do and will.

People also change what they think, how they work and what they accomplish. Even what they seek to accomplish.

I do respect, and have learned a lot from anarchists, and in the basic meaning of it -- I'm against authoritarianism. Deeply. But I don't think that's the basic cut, and where it is, there are consequences. That's not ridiculous...

It's the underlying respect that prompts the criticism.

Voline's cousin

Ever heard the one about Trotsky and Voline in NYC before the Bolshevik revolution? They were talking in a print shop and Voline was saying how pretty the soon the Bolsheviks would probably gain power in Russia and come out strong in the revolution and end up having to kill the anarchists. Trotsky laughed at him and said, "no way, look at us, good friends, how could such a thing be? Like you, we are anarchists, in the final analysis." Well, after the revolution, Voline was arrested in the Mahknovist region by Bolshevik authorities. The guards asked Trotsky what to do with him. Trostky wrote back in a telegram, "Shoot out of hand." Fortunately, Voline managed to convince the captors otherwise. From "The Unknown Revolution" by Voline, found in "No Gods, No Masters" by Guerin.

Christopher Day

"Lockean bureaucrats"! LOL! That really hits the nail on the head. If only most anarchists knew who Locke was. This was long something that bothered me when I was an anarchist, the extreme formalism of anarchist thinking on organization. Its nice to see it given a name.

Leftclick's criticisms of the limits of Freeman's piece are dead on. The value of the piece primarily of a bridging nature. It neatly debunks a few of the central misconceptions of anarchism and similar views on organization and thereby opens the way for looking critically at the bigger political questions.

I think a lot of anarchists are unconsciously aware that their neurotic obsession with locating the Holy Grail of the perfectly non-hierarchical organizational form is a real world obstacle to the development of the rest of their politics. One method of repressing this feeling is active avoidance of substantive political debate beyond the most superficial level. Anarchist conferences are therefore commonly divided between two kinds of activities: largely self-congratulatory experience sharing (and then we had a march and then the cops attacked us and then...) and skill sharing (bicycle repair anybody?). There is a profound underlying empiricism in this. The presumption is that the main task of an organization or even a meeting is to "share information" rather than to wrangle towards a collective ANALYSIS of the information and PLAN OF COLLECTIVE ACTION. There is a naive faith in the power of data alone to lead people to do the "right thing." A small anarchist trend called Platformism argues for the "leadership of ideas" as if ideas didn't reside in the practices of real breathing human beings with names. And within anarchism this trend is probably the MOST sensible about elementary organizational questions.

the white stripes

Voline, Voline
Voline... VOLINE!

Christopher. You. Are. Wrong.

Within anarchism the ideas that make the most sense are the ones that are the lifestylists that Bookchin attacked, that drive you batty -- and that know their own measure.

If people think setting up what they call "autonomous" institutions is the best thing to do -- good. The world needs more infoshops, printshops, squats, bicicle repair shops(!), free schools and so on.

It's when anarchists try to get political that they get totally confused.Or when the people inclined to setting up such institutions they think that these institutions are ACTUALLY autonomous... or even antagonistic to radical poltiical parties...

When social activists and political activists have common motion, that's prefigurative of what I think socialism is.


Many progressive activists and revolutionaries get all worked up about the form an organization must take, raising that to the most important question, without grounding it in what the political goal of the organization is and how organizational decisions should flow from that. In my experience, anarchists and Trotskyists are the worst about this in mass movements, taking up untold hours of meeting time arguing about questions of organizational form trying to get a mass organization to match their abstract idea of what the 'correct' organizational form is. This is why the approach of keeping "politics in command" is so important.

the burningman

Leftspot is right on with that -- but the issue is confused...

What is often called anarchism or anti-authoritarianism is more properly called "default anarchism."

In much same ways that David Graeber, the erudite anarchist formerly of Yale, put it -- anarchism is often the series of radical democratic forms that social movements take.

By attempting to graft anarchist philosphy onto the participatory practices of post-60s social movement activism, anarchism as a philosphy "caps" the development of such movements exactly at the place Freeman begins to feel the frustration.

Criticizing the anarchist limitation isn't the same AT ALL as dismissing the often amazing work such horizontal, properly social movements unleash. There's no better example of that than women's consciousness-raising, which spread like wildfire in the 60s and 70s, opening the world up to women in ways we still don't have the measure of.

Freeman's note about how the anarchic clusters of consciousness-raised women were subject to the national leadership of liberal, timid forces is exactly as true today as it was back then.

See the direct-action forces from the Seattle aftermath who largely follow the movement terrain set by UFPJ. They are mightily frustrated by this, yet still can't overcome the built-in limitations of their own immediatist method. Ever on the lookout to avoid contamination by Marxism-Leninism, movement militants end up tempered by liberals and social-democrats...

The irony isn't even funny, no more because Lenin noted the exact same shizzle 80 years ago. Like Leftclick quoted, "anarchism is the price communists pay for the sin of opportunism."

Though I've heard communists note that, while avoiding discussion of what exact forms of opportunism (and dogmatism, I'd add) that have been so pervasive...

Nick Taper (formerly nope)

Leftclick quoted, "anarchism is the price communists pay for the sin of opportunism."

And then burningman wrote: "Though I've heard communists note that, while avoiding discussion of what exact forms of opportunism (and dogmatism, I'd add) that have been so pervasive..."

Well, lets be both dialectical and materialist here:

First, it is a bit mechanical to imply that "anarchism rose in the 1990s, so the communists (even the best revolutionary communists) musta been doing something very fucked up."

Or even to imply that the rise of anarchism in one country must be the result of opportunist errors by communists IN THAT COUNTRY.

Think about it.

What was the main "opportunism" among communists that gave rise to anarchism (in the social movements of imperialist countries)?

It is the restoration of capitalism in the previously existing socialist countries (in the Soviet Union 1956, but even more significantly in China in 1976). That combined with the conversion of Soviet social imperialism into open western-style capitalism, spread the notion (with no little imperialist help obviously) that "communism is a failure."

Add to that that many forms of revisionist "revolution" (i.e. Cuban influenced trends) also failed (Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc.)

And as others noted: there is a real linke between the perception that "socialism and communism failed" and the rise of non-communist radical politics.

To be clear: I am not arguing that revolutionary communists have not made errors, or that they could not have been better communists.

But in fact, those errors are hardly the reason for the (temporary) emergence of anarchism as an attractive edge for youth in the mid-80s til Sept. 11.

The main reason is global: i.e. the end of a stage -- the ending of the first wave of proletarian revolutions in capitalist restoration, and the capitulation of many parties influenced by the capitalist roaders who came to power.

And in fact, the existance of a revolutonary van in the U.S. (and in particular the work of BA, who concentrates what is best about his party) was a countercurrent and counterinfluence to the rise of anarchism -- since very often in radical circles, the anarchist trends had to contend with a communist pole.

a second note:

It is ok to reprint an article expressing the frustrations of New Left experiences as the 1960s. It is useful in confirming (perceptually) that what has happened to anarchist circles and attempts now is not unique -- but is mirrored and repeats similar experiences 30 years ago.

But we really have a responsibility to go further: the problem with "structurelessness" goes far beyond the short term problems for the various "social movements" that it influences. I.e. the main problem is not that it has trouble maintaining consistency, or accountability, or regional organization, or whatever.

This falls far short -- in what it aspires to, what what it can then draw from the summation of experience.

The main problem with all this is that it can't liberate humanity.

The main problem (seen from "the mountaintop" of world historic questions) is that this approach can't produce a revolutionary movement that can overthrow capitalism and carry through a transitional process.

And creating a movement which can do THAT is the essense of the kind of leadership we need -- i.e. the essense of COMMUNIST leadership is to be and forge a "living link" between the communist goal, the tasks of the present, and all the complex questions of transition in between. Marx talked about "representing the future within the present" and BA has deepened it with this explicit formulation of "living link" (and by working to forge that link through his leadership in practice).

nick taper

on anarchists and unity.

The main task for revolutionaries is to reach broadly into many sections of the people -- not to endlessly fret and fuss over how to form "left coalitions."

The main problem with all the back and forth about "should anarchists unite with communists" is that it has a sectarian "frog in the well" approach to the masses and politics generally.

The anarchists who can't/won't unite with "statists" (puleez!) generally don't unite with anyone else either (including the masses) -- for them "politics" is often a form of self expression.

Compare for example the attempt of the RCP to unite broadly (very broadly) while promoting (in parallel) a very open communist politics both within the organized forces and the masses. In other words it is capable of developing different levels of unity (including by not abandinong the importance of fighting to forge a much larger communist movement around its party -- with a communist level of unity.)

And compare that to various "black block" concepts which takes various forms -- either the idea that you literally need a "black block" or a "red block," or sometimes rather arbitrarily insisting that "antiimperialist" should be "the" dividing line.

Avakian has argued for a specific approach to dividing lines -- concentrated in what the RCP calls "the mouthful sentences."

Their approach to this is not well understood.

In the essay here:

it says:

"At every point, and throughout the entire revolutionary process, we have to be good at applying our line and strategic approach of United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat (UFuLP), including the aspect of independence and initiative for the proletariat and its vanguard.

"We have to be good at doing this all in a way that, proceeding from the strategic interests of the proletariat, we draw the dividing lines so that we can unite the broadest numbers of people in a way that moves them--objectively and, to the maximum degree possible without rupturing that unity, subjectively--in accordance with and in the direction of the proletariat's strategic interests, and which advances those strategic interests overall. Now, that last sentence was a "mouthful," but this is an extremely important point.

"What I mean by "objectively and, to the maximum degree possible without rupturing that unity, subjectively" is that we draw the dividing line so that the way the battle is developing is objectively in accord with the interests of the proletariat, and we also try to win the maximum number of people within that to more consciously fighting in that way, without rupturing the unity that's correct for the particular struggle and the particular circumstances."

The parts that actually are really worth thinking about is that key here is that there is no simple or mechanical way to decide what dividing lines should be -- it is a "moving target." And also that all of this is "preceding from the strategic interests of the proleatariat." This is not just boilerplate -- but part of the concept of "living link" i mentioned above, and actually at the heart of what the "mouthful sentence" is calling for.


I wnt to the site you linked to, burningman, by the red fists.

Am I wrong, or are those guys basically advocating "black blocks for communists"? Reading it, I couldn't find any real difference between them and syndicalist type anarchists.

(Even the rap about "anything we do as workers makes us the enemy of the bourgeoisie" -- which if you think about it is this pretty typical overestimation of class identity, and underestimation of the importance of class conscousness.)


Nick Taper: regarding the quote about communist opportunism, here's an explanation from Bob Avakian []:

"In other words, where and to the degree that the communist movement, the Marxist movement, was not revolutionary enough, then this gave rise to, or gave strength to, anarchism. Honest revolutionary-minded people were attracted to anarchism because it seemed more revolutionary than Marxism. This is one important aspect: where anarchism grows as a trend among people radically opposed to the status quo, this is often partly as a result of the fact that what is supposed to be the most revolutionary ideology and program, namely communism, is not revolutionary itself, or not thoroughly and consistently revolutionary, but is instead some variant of reformism wearing the mantle of Marxism. This is what Lenin meant when he said that, in part, anarchism is "payment for the sins of right opportunism."

When Avakian talked about "some variant of reformism" I don't think he was referring to the RCP or genuine commuinsts but to those who claim the mantle of communism. Lenin didn't make the distinction at the time.

The point is, we actually agree. You were absolutely right when you talked about socialist parties capitulating to capitalism.

It's just that Lenin's quote was snappier.

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