Rules of the road


On the Shelf

« Heads up: Revolutionary Blogs on a Roll | Main | We — featuring the words of Arundhati Roy »

January 08, 2007


Christopher Day

Of course Marxism, feminism, various nationalisms, and anarchism all have historical roots in bourgeois liberalism. The question is what each retains from that historical connection and what the consequences are for their respective capacity to inform the struggles of oppressed people to successfully overthrow capitalism and create a new and better world.

Lenin remarked famously something to the effect that the sins of ultra-leftism are the price Marxists pay for the even more egregious sins of right-wing opportunism. And indeed anarchism (or quasi- or semi-anarchism) has repeatedly played the role of shaking things up when more orthodox, ossified, and ostensibly Marxist forces were unable to. This in turn has tended to provoke ruptures within and to revitalize Marxism as some older Marxists awake to the new situation and as younger folks run up against anarchism's inherent refusal to face up to the problem of power. Seattle was indeed an expression of the first step in this oft-repeated process. The hoped for reviatlization of Marxism is still pretty embryonic, but events from Venezula to Nepal suggest that it is very much a reality.

I hope non-leftist is right about the extent of localized anarchist activity since the collpase of the more visible national and international expressions of the anarchist movement. Like most communists I am always happy to see a vibrant anarchist movement not just because young anarchists are often funner than old marxists, but precisely because it is a potential portent of even more auspicious developments.

Before he was a critic, Marx was an admirer of Proudhon. Lenin was inspired by his older narodnik brother. And Mao was a young anarchist before the example of the Russian Revolution led him to become a communist. Anarchists often speak of having been anarchists before they knew the term. Marxists don't talk much that way. I think this is because anarchism really is the instinctive ideology of the rebel. The problem, of course, is that our instincts are insufficient to the tasks of actually transforming the world, so we need a much more consciously elaborated ideology that is able to really evolve over time in the course of being tested in practice.

Chuck Morse


I see little evidence to suggest a revitalization of Marxism in any revolutionary sense. While there are always counter-examples, the general tendency on the left (among activists and intellectuals) has been to abandon the tradition. Hope as you will, but you probably shouldn't quit your day job.

I think it is correct to say that anarchists have never offered a satisfactory account of or theory of power. That's true, but it's not correct to suggest (as you do) that anarchists have refused to "face up to the problem." Bookchin (on the more democratic side) and the anarcho-syndicalists (on the more socialist side) have confronted the issue. You may not like their solutions, but they did offer them. There's a difference.

That said, Leninists have hardly provided satisfactory solutions either. While their literature on the question is strategically richer than that produced by anarchists, Marxists have overemphasized the role of the state in social change and been blind to many other, important ways in which power operates.

Power is an issue for all revolutionaries, whether they anarchists or Marxists or something else. The solution, in my view, is not to become less critical and more authoritarian (like the RCP) but to become more reflexive and more democratic (like Zapatistas, for example). That is the way to go, in my view.

arguing with passivism

Deeds win people over, not rhetoric. Anarchists are a subculture that is easier for some activists than building among people beyond their comfort zone. It's a shame, but not that big a deal.

Ditto what Chris said.


I'm thankful some folks are looking for another excuse to sit on their butt.

Comrade O'Brien

Attention Comrades,
Please visit to learn about our creative protest of the Military Commissions Act.

I blame physics!


I don't even know what this word means. The Zapatistas did kill people, you know. Getting shot feels pretty "authoritarian" no matter who does it. They have a military command structure that is firmly set, that does not "rotate" and where a non-indigenous, green-eyed Mestizo is their leader.

The RCP is not an authoritarian group. From older pieces like "Communists Are Rebels" to the very last thing Avakian wrote – the fact that you cannot wish away the state, or ignore it as it the current fad among some radicals, is something they acknowledge.

Blaming Marxism for authority is like cursing physics for gravity.

Here is a situation where a young woman leads others to confront the government, goes head to head with a media bully – and your response is to call "authoritarian."

What is that? What is the logic of that logic?

Revolutionary communism is and always has been a minority position. When it is not – there are revolutions. But even then, among all the forces who come into play, it is a conscious minority who adopts a program towards communism and not a set piece of radical reforms.

That Morse generationally came of age during a time of reaction and defeat has clouded his sense of not just what socialism was in the 20th Century, with his shallow flattening of that experience, but what MLM is actually up to right now.

I followed his comments on the Nepal thread and just like here he has no real interest in what reds are doing. His analysis and response is categorical. Red do x, x is bad. Who cares about the y and z right in front of us?

The most dynamic radical movements in the world right now are left social-democrats in Latin America and Maoists in South Asia.

It is the Maoists who are fighting for communism, who are overturning the state and building popular power. It is Chavez who has emerged as the figure personifying the dreams of South America, with Marcos choosing to reduce his own role to press office.

I attended the emergency anti-war protest in Times Square. Guess who was there? Three trends in numbers: ANSWER, UFPJ, WCW. Each of these was initiated by one or another self-described Marxist group.

Anarchists exist, but they always have and always will. So do Trotskyites, whose half-life continues to astound.

The "Global Justice Movement" has been anything but anarchist – demanding national tariffs, fighting privatization, electing left social democrats, and so on.

The World Social Forum in Venezuela gave a good read on where anarchists are at: in a small room on the side complaining about the communists and social-democrats filling the stadium next door. Same in Europe, where the SWP plays huge role in the ESF. And so on.

Anarchists don't generally "grow up" to be communists. But rebellious movements CAN turn to revolutionary movements, and when they do – Leninism develops out of its pores. Lenin's insights weren't just products of his mind, but a remarkable analysis of what the role of conscious revolutionaries is.

So continue on with your bike rides. I support them and have joined in. They are fun. Don't get mad at me for noticing that your "swarm of butterflies" met those big orange nets, that the squats were crushed after years of atrophy, that revolt ain't revolution and you can't wish the state away or pretend it doesn't exist.

Chuck Morse

I blame physics writes: ""Authoritarian" I don't even know what this word means."... "The RCP is not an authoritarian group."

Um, if you don't what the word authoritarian means, how do you know that the "RCP is not an authoritarian group"?

... Don’t worry. I can help.

The term authoritarian is an adjective applied to social relationships characterized by command and obedience. However, social relationships are complicated and it is difficult to find a vocabulary that is adequate to their full complexity. You point to some of the issues that come up when you apply "authoritarian" to the Zapatistas. Sure, those ambiguities arise with the word, but terms like "exploitation" (favored by Marxists) are no more transparent. When a baby breast feeds, is he or she exploiting the mother (for surplus milk)? When your mom made (makes?) you do the dishes, has she turned you into a proletarian?

Yeah, it's hard to come up with a good vocabulary, but that doesn’t mean that words like "authoritarian" (or "exploitation") are useless. The RCP *is* an authoritarian group: it seeks to seize power and reorganize society from above. It calls for the dictatorship of the proletariat which, of course, would mean the dictatorship of Bob Avakian. (Would you really like--or do you already--take orders from Avakian?).

The Zapatistas emphasize grassroots participation, dialogue, discussion, and change from the bottom up. Yes, they have an army. Yes, they a charismatic leader. Yes, they killed people. None of this changes the general tendency of their project. There is a significant divide between them and the Marxist-Leninists groups that emerged out of the 1970s.

Just chiming in

Long time reader, first time contributor. The mentioning of the Zapatistas has compelled me to add my 2 cents.

I’m totally unimpressed by the Zapatistas. Sure, I was excited during the first few days of 1994 but I quickly lost interest in them. They’re uninspiring. Now I’m not saying they’re in the enemy’s camp. I’ll defend them against any reactionary. But what have they really done in the last 13 years? Really?

The Zapatistas had a two-year head start on the Nepalese Maoists yet the latter have virtually taken over the country. You imagine if in 2007 the Maoists were still only in Rolpa and limiting themselves to press statements and photo-ops while the rest of the country was under the King’s gun? How disappointing would that be? Now imagine if in 2007 the Zapatistas had taken over the southern half of Mexico (or maybe only the southern third) and was fighting the government in the rest of the country right up to the US border?

Chuck says that “The Zapatistas emphasize grassroots participation, dialogue, discussion, and change from the bottom up.” I don’t doubt that they emphasize these things but are they actually changing things from the bottom up? I see no evidence of this in the last 13 years. Now if the Zapatistas are only concerned with the 2 square miles they control in Chiapas (if that, I have no idea what they control) then that’s another thing.

But to suggest that their model should be adopted here in the US when it is not even achieving anything in Mexico is crazy.

the non-leftist

"Chuck says that “The Zapatistas emphasize grassroots participation, dialogue, discussion, and change from the bottom up.” I don’t doubt that they emphasize these things but are they actually changing things from the bottom up? I see no evidence of this in the last 13 years. Now if the Zapatistas are only concerned with the 2 square miles they control in Chiapas (if that, I have no idea what they control) then that’s another thing."

What you're of course failing to mention chimy is that the Zapatistas are not exactly forcing their agency on the rest of Mexico. Taking power generally means this happens.


By "the rest of Mexico", the non-leftist is refering to "the centers of power and capital."

You know, that "rest of Mexico."


Revolution is not about consensus with the enemy.

the non-leftist

The "centers of power and capital" continue to exist to a great extent because the rest of the mexican population have an attachment in some form or another to modern rationality. They exist because of the peoples consent. This is the case with either the right or left. The indigenous population on the otherhand still has a fairly 'back to land' based view of the world that has not quite been corrupted by the logic of industrialism. It's a classic city vs rural issue which will go on for quite sometime. No need to get into this whole nonsense of objective this or objective that, what you have are two antagonistic world views. Look at what native americans in the US and Canada are going through. Taking over ottawa or washington does not solve these inherent differences. What is needed is a change of agency. If that does not happen then you hold your local fort as much as possible.


Wait... "non-leftist" is arguing in favor of the Zaps? But the program which you are espousing has been clearly broken with during the Other Campaign. They're not about holding the local fort, or simply about indigenism anymore. They are trying to broaden the scope of the struggle to include all of Mexico. Not just indigenous Mexico, or southern Mexico.

You all are arguing over a phase of the struggle in Mexico which has been implicitly criticized by the Zapatistas themselves, and which has been explicitly abandoned.

This argument shows all the indications of the use of a foreign movement as a domestic ideological football, i.e. reality isn't as important as the ideological filter to which reality must conform.

The argument takes on a life of its own, and the reality of the Zapatista movement, and the conjuncture in Mexico is subordinated to the explication of the ideological differences between Anarchist and Communist. We have enough Spains to do this with. We don't need to start distorting contemporary struggles into this absurd, leftist neurosis.

Suffice it to say, that while the Zapatistas are decidely not Marxist-Leninist, that doesn't mean they're Anarchists, or "anarchistic". This is an example of Anarchists developing their history by appropriating other movements and ideologies to their flag, and having THEM fight for anarchism in today's world so our local collectives can keep dumpster diving and riding bikes. It's like mormons going back through history and bringing the dead posthumously into the mormon church to save their souls. That the Zapatistas don't seem to mind probably has more to do with the amount of support that is based on the misunderstanding than with any organizational or ideological similarities.

Seriously, if the only thing anarchists can point to, in terms of a real alternative in the contemporary world, is the Zapatistas, this only shows the lack of anything worthwhile happening here. It shows a profound LACK of agency among anarchists in the U.S.

[And one may fairly add that if the RCP is the only thing Maoists can point to... but there is a significant differance between that and Maoists in the U.S. being consigned to pointing out the exploits, or lack thereof, of foreign movements (such as Nepal) in order to justify their own existence.]

I mean Chuck, WTF, reading your blog about the Anarchist Pride Fighter was straight up depressing. Like anarchism is an identity that you can put in a ring and have compete. It's almost as if the "propaganda victory" of having an "anarchist" win a pride fight is where your sights are set. And that's not just lame, but displays a lack of movement, a lack of initiative, and yes a lack of agency in the anarchist left. Let me really focus on what I'm trying to say here which relates to the issue of the Zapatistas: you have other people do your fighting for you. And what they really stand for, and what they're really fighting for isn't as important to you as the IDEA that they're united with you on the basis of some identity called "anarchism".

And that these fights are staged within what is an "artificially constructed" hierarchy, even as they display excellent examples of "natural" hierarchies based on skills and physical difference, that all this is so readily described by you and you still can't come to terms with hierarchy as a natural phenomenon is interesting, to put it nicely.

But again, posing Zapatistas against the RCP makes little sense. What is really being done here is an attempt to pose american anarchism against the RCP tendency, but with little to show for themselves anarchists use other movements and struggles to hide behind, and give themselves an exagerated sense of importance or accomplishment. This allows them to continue to delay the time when they're going to have to stand on their own two feet, but it also has the effect, all too often, of disrupting and sabotaging any attempt at forward movement. It's like the rest of us are held hostage to the anarchists' inability to take responsibility for their own politics.

Chuck Morse

Repeater, nobody claimed that the Zapatistas are anarchists or anarchistic. I simply pointed out that the Zapatistas have a more democratic, decentralist, and even anti-authoritarian politics than the RCP or similar Marxist-Leninist groups from the 70s/60s. Do you disagree with my characterization?

Your comments about my blog entry ( on MMA fighter Jeff Monson don’t make much sense. He lost the title fight in question but, had he won, he would have been in a highly public position in a popular, growing sport. He would have been able to continue challenging the normally militaristic martial arts world and, potentially, speak to millions about what’s wrong with the war, capitalism, and the system in general. I think that would have been great, although I’m personally interested in the matter because I’m a longtime kick boxer. So, what exactly is your objection? Would you prefer that a rightwinger win in the UFC?

Your attempt to naturalize hierarchy doesn’t hold water either. Yes, people have natural physiological differences but hierarchy is a social matter. For example, most men are bigger and stronger than most women, but that doesn’t mean that patriarchy is a permanent feature of human life. On the contrary, it is a socially constructed, historically specific condition that can and should be challenged and abolished. Societies handle differences in different ways: some societies shape them into hierarchies; others relate them to one another in a more complementary way.

In any case, if you think hierarchy is natural, then presumably you believe that class hierarchies are too. Is that what your position?

back to life

What is up with anarchists?

For years you guys have been dedicated to bike rides and other essentially subcultural endeavors like eating garbage, the Freegan contribution to human liberation.

Do you have any thoughts on, say, what Sunsara is laying out here... or are you just in for another round of accusing people of a non-existent authoritarianism?

Or is it all just the same... liberals, fascists, socialists, communists, monarchists, theocrats: all "authoritarians". The whole discussion is boring and stupid.

What are you about? All you do here is dump on people, but you don't seem to have much to offer save self-satisfaction for not much reason I can tell.

(And did you ever stop to wonder that American would-be "authoritarians" might choose something a little easier in their quest for power... like being a Republican? I mean, seriously.)

back to life

PS – I'm all for Jeff Monson. What a nice guy. I always hope rebels win, I guess that's why I'm not an anarchist. I actually care who holds state power and what system it guarantees.

If this anarchist wants to win, that's better than most in this age of "Change the world through positive thinking."


Well Chuck,

I think your ideas about the Zapatistas are pretty naive, and your comparison of them to the RCP is rather amusing. I mean, the issue is not authority or no authority for the Zapatistas, or for the RCP. The issue is what are the characteristics of authority in our society. Who calls the shots, for whom, and why. The irony here is that the Zaps are far more centralized, far more organized, far more militaristic, and have a far more effective and prominent cult of personality than the RCP does. And yet you continue to pose some fiction, which has more to do with your politics than theirs, against what can only be seen as an equally fictive idea of the RCP.

The bottom line of what you keep putting out on this board has nothing to do with the RCP or the EZLN, and everything to do with YOUR anti-politics, the sights of which, I think, are perfectly evidenced by your comments on Monson. And to pose it as a question of a rightwinger being the big man in cage fighting versus some anarchist sounds an awful lot like a democrat after someone argues that Barack Obama ain't all that... "would you rather have McCain?!" You might as well be voting, or shopping.

What I find worrisome is the extent to which you're doing the same thing with revolutionary organizations and politics, as evidenced by your pat agreement that there was something wrong with the actions of Sunsara and those who protested Rahm. Instead of getting off our asses and doing it right, where we don't agree with how it's being done, you argue for stargazing across the border, or into the ring, that is, as long as you can find someone to root for. You prefer to be a spectator, not an actor. And you attack the people who are taking action for their lack of respect for agency? I mean they're actually acting as agents, and you're just sitting there making shit up and placing bets on whose gonna win the big fight.

So yeah, I disagree with your characterization of the EZLN. I mean who the hell are you comparing them to? There aren't any communist organizations with anything like, for instance, an army. And come on, have you read the declaration of a red alert? It doesn't exactly read like a "democratic", "decentralized", document. Well not until it exclaims, "Democracy! Liberty!Justice!". How 19th century of them.

Checkout this characterization of that document: "In a curt communiqué issued on June 19, the Zapatista General Command announced a series of drastic measures including the closure of the "Good Government Board" offices, and the withdrawal of outside support groups from Zapatista territory."

"The Zapatista General Command", yeah that sounds like a bottom up kinda thing.

And as for the RCP, they aren't simply arguing for a centralized politics, or simple authoritarian top down politics. They're explicitly arguing for an understanding that there is a dynamic tension between centralism and decentralism, and that political organizing has to work in that framework, not be purely decentralized or centralized. In fact they argue that it's impossible to build a purely centralized, or a purely decentralized organization. The irony is that they aren't really as centralized as they have a reputation for, certainly not as disciplined as the EZLN which can effectively shut down an entire region with millions of people after the "announcement" of some committee.

It seems to me that no matter what the EZLN says or does, you will think of them as partisans of your own politics, just as no matter what the RCP actually says and does you will treat them as opponents. What this requires is that you studiously ignore exactly what it is they're doing and saying.

Seriously, compare the Red Alert communique to the Call for the World Can't Wait. Viewing these documents, neither of the organizations match-up with your characterizations of the organizations that produced them. Overall, what is most interesting about the two organizations together is the amount of convergence that has been occurring in the last decade, not this bullshit debate which uses EZLN as a stand-in for domestic political conflicts.

On the hierarchy question, I advocate for understanding it in a dual sense... you say, "Yes, people have natural physiological differences but hierarchy is a social matter." Well I would argue that the first "natural" level of difference forms a hierarchy, that human beings in order to deal with and understand these hierarchies, create new and primarily ideological hierarchies. In other words the two forms of hierarchy are both distinct, but also interrelated. Thus I made the distinction in my earlier post between "artificially constructed" hierarchy and "natural" hierarchy, or the difference between the hierarchy constituted by the sport of cage fighting and the other hierarchy of individual skills and differences which that specific sport is intended to sort out. Or to put it another way the hierarchy represented by the tables of positions in the sport, versus the hierarchy represented by the fact that Monson was too short to beat one of his opponents.

Chuck Morse

No, you’re wrong: the Zapatistas are far more democratic and decentralist than the Marxist-Leninist groups from the 60s/70s (like the RCP). This is evident in all sorts of ways, but the biggest issue is that they have no intention of seizing power. Likewise, they see themselves as one organization among others in a broader movement for social change, whereas the RCP sees itself as THE vanguard. The Zapatistas call for autonomy and decentralization; the RCP calls for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Zapatistas emphasize dialogue and discussion, whereas the RCP proselytizes and indoctrinates.

The differences are significant and they reflect a growing commitment to democracy and decentralization in radical movements. That is a very good tendency and should be encouraged.

fellow traveling

From following the recent arrival of Chuck Morse on these discussion, it doesn't look like he wants to speak to people so much as at them (read, us).

That's a shame, but not untypical of my encounteres with people who call themselves anarchists. A peculiar, conservative wind has blown through the anarchist movement that is best described as "anti-political."

This views any attempt to influence, utilize or effect "power" as itself the problem. What one comment above called "blaming physics for gravity."

So with no irony whatsoever, Morse thinks the EZLN's rhetorical indifference to government is something to uphold. As if the PFP didn't just crush the strike and protests in Oaxaca, disperse their assemblies and uphold the corrupt power of Ruiz. As if every single autonomous municipality in Chiapas isn't literally surrounded by government army bases. As if the EZLN didn't the Acteal massacre lying down.

That state the EZLN has no interest in governs Chiapas. The market governs even the EZLN's supposedly autonomous communities. It can kill them at will. But the Mexican state, along with the US military has concluded that the EZLN offers no threat... which to Morse is another sign of their "success."

This myopia is deadly to resistance movements because it is all about mystifying politics, and teaching people in rebellion that the best they can hope for is heroic defeat.

This is here relevant because Morse has no opinion about what Sunsara is doing or saying save the fact that she is a communist. Nowhere does she advocate the words he stuffs into her mouth, which doesn't seem to bother him. Because he has nothing to offer.

Why oppose Bush, and fight to push his regime out when it's all the same?

Why analyze the particularities of this political moment when it's all some "activist playbook?"

Why fight tyranny when the very tumerity to do so is "authoritarian?"

This is the essence of dogmatism, here called anarchism by its own proponents. What a waste.

Morse only respects people disposed to suffer in dignity, or even "silence."

It's a discussion that's gotten old before it started here. It got old years ago when the hype wore thin in Mexico.

The anarchist movement has dissolved itself here into navel-gazing subculture. After years, they have not offered any substation plans or projects to deal with this war, the fascist direction Bush has taken the country in – or really much at all except increasingly hollow self-promotion.

Like other communists posting here, I have no antipathy towards anarchism as a philosophy or the actually existing "spaces" it inhabits. I've participated in Critical Mass bike rides, even if I'll pass on the recycled garbage the dumpster divers try to serve at conferences without warning.

Insofar as anarchists are politically active, and there are many who are, it is not as anarchists unless I'm missing something.

It is anarchists who have pushed for reactionary ideological bans in coalitions and conferences, who let arch-sectarians speak on their behalf with no concept of accountability, who degrade any anti-capitalist organization that isn't anarchist as "authoritarian."

Again, what a waste. Who are you going to blame for "betraying" you this time?

Meanwhile, during the recent Green Scare, the majority of defendents became snitches. That is the morality of this movement that is literally founded on "what's in it for me?"

When push comes to shove, it is weak, brittle, misanthropic and a victim of its own hype.

The EZLN is far less sectarian than its North American apologists, who as a matter of course have little interest in problematizing or critically analyzing the movement they hype WAY beyond its accomplishments.

I can only assume this is because, as Morse notes here, they have no interest in "accomplishments." Thankfully the EZLN, as Repeater above notes, is interested in breaking out of their own inertias, forming unity as broadly as possible and developing a political fight against the Mexican state.

Morse literally began his contribution on this thread ditto-ing a comment against militancy, saying that Sunsara should just shut up and that resistance will just make things worse.

Maybe that explains the anarchist movements current state – ruled and governed by the very people they claim to hate, but with enough energy to shit talk the people who have the cajones to lead.

Just look at it.

I'm going back to my plans for global domination and forcing anarchists to bath. That's really why I dropped out of school, became an organizer and fight the government... to relive Kronstadt.

Morse: if you want to talk with people, and criticize them, you might at least pretend interest in what they are actually saying and doing.

For the rest: IMHO, The people have the right to rule, to organize parties that can weather the storm and the responsibility to lead.

Libertarian sophistry is like eating cotton candy for lunch.

the burningman

"Libertarian sophistry is like eating cotton candy for lunch."

That's the officially best snarky comment of the day.

I hope the critics here, and elsewhere, start taking themselves seriously enough to engage this fight, expand the ranks, broaden the organized groups involved and do their part.

Otherwise, I don't really care about all this "shut up, commie!" style criticism. Trust me, I've heard it before. Anti-communist cariacture is a broken record.

Political ID politics are boring, they tell us nothing. Anarchists are not all "eating garbage," etc. I agree with just about everything said by Fellow Traveling and Repeater, but you aren't going to win anyone over by dealing in gross generalizations, or returning them in kind.


World Can't Wait just finished its national organizers meeting here in New York. It was came together real last minute, but firmed up the intention to remove Bush from office, develop a broader (and more aggressive) movement to demand impeachment – and to consciously reach out to additional "stake-holders" (my word, not theirs) so that this movement can't be marginalized as anybody's "property" or "playbook."

An emergency summit will be held in a few weeks, likely here in New York, that will be broader than World Can't Wait to galvanize and focus different pro-impeachment forces.

Bush has said directly that not only will he NOT end this war, no matter what the people vote for or want, but through his actions that the "rule of law" does not apply to him regarding surveillance, torture, and wars of aggression.

Many leading Democrats WANT Bush in power so as to run against him in 2008. Some activists (and organizations) think this is sensible... while he prepares war against Iran and the "new normal" sinks in.

People support the demand for impeachment, if smart activism can be modeled – the possibility of a movement of millions exists right now. But it needs to be unleashed. It will not happen on its own.

Chuck Morse

Fellow traveling, what exactly are you afraid of? Your anti-anarchist rant has nothing to do with this tread or what I actually said. As you may recall, I characterized the difference between the Zapatistas and ML groups from the 60s/70s (like the RCP). Do you disagree with my characterization or are you just trying to skirt the issue? If you disagree with my statements, why not just say how? Then we can have a discussion.


Jed:"Many leading Democrats WANT Bush in power so as to run against him in 2008. Some activists (and organizations) think this is sensible... while he prepares war against Iran and the "new normal" sinks in."

This is true and needs to be further brought out to people. People went to the ballots to show their disapproval of the war, of the president, of the current situations... but that's "off the table" it seems. The moment is here.

Jed:"People support the demand for impeachment, if smart activism can be modeled – the possibility of a movement of millions exists right now. But it needs to be unleashed. It will not happen on its own."

Right the fuck on. Who's going to step up to this?

On a side note, it was fucking great to meet you, Stan and some of the other NYC comrades.



You were right to point out the issue of over generalization and name-calling as counter productive. In my own defense I wasn't trying to criticize on such a superficial and personal level.

My points regarding dumpster diving and critical mass were not based around some problem with "eating garbage" or with riding bikes, but with the replacement of politics with these essentially moralistic and passive forms of activism. I have no problem eating dumpstered food, or helping to get it or prepare it. It's not garbage. But that really isn't the point, and I wasn't trying to make that the point.

I don't care about cleanliness or other superficialities of the anarchist milieu, except to the extent that it replaces politics and is raised to the level of some noble, or radical enterprise. To put it another way: I don't see how one could find agency in dropping-out. And that's what is going on when dumpster diving and critical mass are your primary forms of political activity, and where people ask for more you simply point to the EZLN and attack your ideological "enemies" to obscure the fact that you've already made your decision as to how much you're going to commit and how much is possible. If anything, I would love to see a vibrant anarchist movement, like we saw coming out of Seattle, with dumpster diving and critical mass as tangential aspects of it, but it's the anarchists themselves that are getting in the way of that developing. They're also actively getting in the way of anything else developing.

Now there is alot of generalization going on here, but to make it particular, I'm talking about anarchists like Chuck.


The Other Movement is all about abandoning the passive politics of the EZLN's prior orientation. As such it deals everyday with the question of power, on a national/international level, as well as on a local level. The questions posed in the recent mexican election by the Other campaign were not questions of how they were going to "not take power", but questions of who is going to take power, for whom, for what, and why.

You think the EZLN has some monopoly on consultation, discussion, and democratic decision making, but as I noted they have used top down decision making, they have a centralized party organization, and they sometimes act in ways that any objective observer, using your criteria, would see as "authoritarian". Overall, they're moving in this direction more everyday, and this is a good thing. On the other hand the RCP is not some monolithic organization, with a strict top-down organizational structure, nor are they interested in being that, or creating a future society along those lines.

You're not representing the actual differences and similarities of the organizations, but rather representing the dichotomies that structure YOUR view of society, ideology and change.

Fellow Traveller:

You did note that the EZLN is trying to develop a "political fight" in Mexico, but alot of what you said earlier in your post was strange. If anyone is an "apologist" for the EZLN here, it's me. Morse and "not a leftist" are playing a different game when it comes to their use of the EZLN as some kind of standard barer.

At least part of my point is that the EZLN is actually far more advanced in many significant ways than the RCP. The ability to call the Red Alert, and to make it stick, showed exactly how well organized they are, how much support they have in their base areas, and the possibility of them actually defending against an attack by the State. The RCP has nothing resembling this kind of influence, discipline, or strength.

It is my opinion that EZLN and the RCP, as well as many other forces are converging onto very similar paths, even as they're coming at this convergence from very different "cores". Chuck only sees these static ideological positions, but refuses to see the direction in which these organizations are moving, and the instances in which they've never actually been the creatures that these ideological representations of them by "supporters", "apologists", "critics", and "enemies" suggest they are.

Again, I think that the EZLN is not so much making a declaration against the taking of power, not at this juncture anyway, but expressing a deep dissatisfaction with the different routes which have been used up to this point, while very carefully searching out a new path.

Now, the RCP does very clearly declare that they intend to take power, but they also express deep dissatisfaction with the routes to power, as well as how it has been exercised in the past. Moreover they too are looking for a new path.

At any rate, the EZLN exercises far more actual power than the RCP, even at this stage, and this is shown by exercises like the Red Alert. And this would be true even if those were the self imposed limits of their power, but I think they're moving in another direction. I think they have to, and I think they know that they have to.

Just chiming in

For all their talk about authoritarianism, it seems to me that anarchists aren’t all that concerned with the currently existing, in your face, all encompassing authoritarianism of the present capitalist state. They instead express indignation of having to be possibly ruled by some revolutionary party in the distant future while ignoring the current state ruling over them. From what I’ve seen and read, they primarily focus their energies on those who challenge the current state. On those merely speaking up against the current state.

It would appear that they have actually made their peace with (it deserves repeating) the currently existing, in your face, all encompassing authoritarianism of the present capitalist state. As repeater noted, they are satisfied with just suffering in silence or dignity. That appears to be their entire program! It appears to me that they have found enough room under the current system/state to comfortably exercise whatever it is they want to do. They’ve internalized the current state as normal.

Do I dare suggest that they don’t want the current state to be disturbed, much less overthrown? Since they’ve secure their little niche under this system, they may feel it would be threatened if the system were overthrown. Is that why they indirectly defend the current state against anybody who wants to see it overthrown? Sunsara only needs to exercise her right to free speech for the anarchists attack her.

I don’t think it would be hyperbolic of me to say that they would have viciously attacked Nat Turner and any and all slave rebels for being “authoritarian” while ignoring the authoritarianism of the slaveholding society all around them.

I would hate to think this is what anarchism is all about. But I repeatedly point out how it SEEMS and APPEARS to me. It may not be what they are all about but that’s the APPEARANCE they give.


I disagree, I think anarchists are extremely concerned with the present state of things. I think that, generally speaking, the problem is one of not knowing how to properly understand today's situation, and then not having any idea of what to do to change it. This has produced paralysis. And the most paralyzed are also the most outspoken in arguing for a method and way of thinking that led them to where they're at currently. For instance, Chuck (though Chuck has shown a real willingness to get off the farm by even bothering to engage here).

The dogmatism of the anarchist movement was shown in their inability to effectively change course strategically when faced with 9-11, and then tactically when faced with Miami. When the ideology which led them to this impasse was finally tested and proved not up to the ultimate test of practice, anarchists had a couple choices: they could reevaluate their ideology and theory, or they could reevaluate their practice. Most seem to have decided that if their ideals could not be actuated on the first go-around, then they would simply drop-out.

Dropping out meant no more significant mobilizations, and simultaneously a more rigid adherence to the ideology which was no longer viable. In practice it meant a turning inward, where the building of "communities", and the purification of the individual became the primary form of politics. Of course this is nothing so much as an anti-politics. It also betrayed a certain elitist and aristocratic sensibility, albeit inverted, that if the world wasn't going to simply embrace anarchism, then the world was full of idiots and oppressors and they could all go to hell.

In certain cases this seems to have now turned in on itself and has become evidenced in a distinct antagonism, on the part of many anarchists, against anyone who would dare to fight.

Chuck Morse

Repeater, I don’t not see any evidence of the convergence between the Zapatistas and the RCP (or RCP-like groups) that you describe. With respect to the Zapatistas, you say that everyday they’re moving more in the direction of a top down, centralized organization. But where is your evidence to support that claim? Do you have any?

You say that “The EZLN is not so much making a declaration against the taking of power. . . ” Well, they have said explicitly that they do not want to take power.

Do you remember when Marcos said that he spits on all vanguards? That would include vanguardist groups like the RCP. Do you have any reason to think that his views have changed?

YOU think that they should become more centralized and top down: what makes you think that the Zapatistas “know that they have to” (as you said)?

With respect to the RCP, it is a vanguardist organization that intends to seize power and institute a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Is there any reason to believe that the RCP has abandoned that goal or become more democratic? If so, what is it?

Christopher Day

Burningman is playing a little fast and loose with the facts to make an important point: the EZLN is a much more effectively run top-down operation than the RCP has ever been. It is undeniable that Marcos has said a lot of things that make the hearts of anarchists go al aflutter. What is striking, however, is the willingness of anarchists to accept at face values the declarations of a the leader of an army so long as he insists that he's not really a leader.

I love the Zapatistas and I find the uninformed lamentations about their failure to surround Mexico City by now in just as stupidly arrogant as the knee-jerk attacks on the "authoritarianism" of th CPN(M). But my love for the Zapatistas doesn't blind me to the disconnect between the more hyper-libertarian rhetoric of Marcos and the decidely more complex situation on the ground.

This is not to say that the differences in the stated politics of the EZLN and the RCP don't mattter. They do. But they should always be evaluated critically in light of actual investigation of their practice. When Marcos talks about the EZLN military structure obeying the will of the indigenous communities that are their base this should be understood as a desire, as something that is being struggled toward, more some days than others, and not as an accomplished reality. The truth is messier. There are profound contradictions within the Zapatista communities, all the more so after a dozen years of counter-insurgency. The EZLN is a hierarchical military organization and would not have been able to achieve a fraction of what it has if it weren't. The Zapatistas don't use the language of "the dictatorship of the proletariat" (anymore), but in truth they exercise it when and where they must. And their exercise of it reflects all the ambiguities that hover around the term. In some moments it really is the expression of the power of village assemblies. In others its the power of the General Command. The one is defended by, and unimaginable without, the other.

Is there a convergence going on between the politics of different groups? I'll just say this, groups that are going to be viable AND revolutionary have to develop political practices that reflect the interpenetration of centralism and decentralism in the organization of the power of the people. You can't eschew state power forever and neither can you avoid the neccesity of a vibrant civil society, with all the freedoms that implies, if the masses of people are to really direct society. Marcos hasn't retracted his anti-vanguardist comments by any stretch, but the politics of the Other Campaign reflected a recognition of the limits of the project of indigenous autonomy alone, and this was a change that shouldn't be ignored. There were communists working quite publicly in the Other Campaign and they were accepted as full participants despite the repeated efforts of so-called "anti-authoritarians" to have them excluded.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Hot Shots