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(en) US, Praxis, journal of the Red & Anarchist Action Network, May, 2003,- ANARCHO-SCENEISM: What it is, and how to fight it

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 4 Jun 2003 22:11:20 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

"Sub-cultures... are no more than glorified fan clubs. They are
incomplete or escapist at best, and social organs of the enemy
collaboration at worst. They are not counter." - David (Green
Mountain Anarchist Collective)
When it came time for the Red & Anarchist Action Network (RAAN) to
develop a short description of itself, or "blurb", which we could use
in efficiently introducing our core values to a large number of
people, we included in it one line in particular that has since
become a source of confusion;

"The network was born out of a desire to... ...Dismantle the
elitist "sceneism" that has governed portions of the revolutionary
movement for far too long."

What do we mean by "sceneism" and how do we identify it as a negative
force operating both consciously and unconsciously in the established
anti-authoritarian movement? More importantly, how does this
awareness fit into the daily practice of the Red & Anarchist Action
Network; what steps can we take to put an end to Anarcho-sceneism?

Why "Sceneism"?

Sceneism is the name that we are using to describe the prevailing
state of the "anarchist movement" today (at least, in North America).
What we mean is that our movement now shares several fundamental
characteristics with the petty social relations found inside music
"scenes"; punk, indie, hardcore, etc. (of course music scenes are not
the only ones that exist, but for comparative purposes they're a good
place to start)

Specifically, the hostile trends that we have witnessed within the
anarchist movement have been elitism, white & male dominance, too
close a relationship with a specific subculture (IE punk), and
cliques of friends who by their very existence close off new
membership in the movement by making it inaccessible to those not
already deeply involved.

This is not to say that we are addressing sceneism as the only
problem in today's movement, but a specific one that so far very few
organizations, especially informal affinity groups, have managed to
combat effectively. Furthermore, sceneism must be confronted as yet
another system of domination: a bourgeois-spectacular social relation
operating within the anti-authoritarian movement; one that we must

Our main purpose here is to identify and analyze "sceneist" behavior
in the movement, and begin to develop concrete ways of fighting it,
specifically within RAAN and especially in light of the fact that our
organization has begun to grow, and that this growth is now bringing
up an inevitable series of interactions with the "established" anti-
authoritarian movement (that is, what is now popularly referred to as
the anarchist movement).

What to be on guard against

The idea for this article as a necessary reflection on the state of
American anarchism - and how our network should strive to
differentiate itself - first came about as the result of a
conversation between two members of RAAN. The topic at hand was the
possibility of putting on a benefit concert for the network, and what
such a show would ideally look like. One of the people involved was
already very familiar with the established anarchist movement, while
the other was not.

The more experienced activist suggested that she would be able to get
a well-known anarchist speaker to come support the benefit. The less
experienced activist, while unfamiliar with this famous anarchist,
nevertheless pointed out that when one thought of a "well-known
anarchist" speaking somewhere, one would also be inclined to think of
the "usual suspects" of the anarchist scene as being the people who
would show up to see her.

Based on that observation, the two RAAN members began to wonder if
getting the anarchist to speak on behalf of the organization wouldn't
result in RAAN attracting only a very limited assortment of the
people we'd hope to reach with our ideas. After a little more
discussion, it was decided that getting this famous anarchist to
speak would indeed not be in the best interest of the network. After
all, our purpose here is to build a new and independent movement, not
to merely place the old one, with all of its baggage, under the
banner of RAAN (which is not to say that people already identifying
as anarchists shouldn't also be considered potential allies).

What do we see as being wrong within the current manifestation of
anarchism? To put it simply, we fear that large sections of the
movement have become exclusive social cliques that have reproduced
within themselves all the forms of oppression tied to capitalist
society. Whether such a result must be inevitable in any organization
(anti-capitalist or not) born of class society is not the issue.
Rather, we are disgusted by the continual failure of the recognized
anarchist movement to combat this tendency and more specifically, by
its actual semi-conscious attempts to do so by withdrawing into a
series of alienating social circles, which we here will call
"scenes". If scenes are the bourgeois social structures that arise as
a result of people struggling to come to terms with alienation, then
"Anarcho-sceneism" is the held belief that a revolutionary movement
can exist within, or even be based on, any such scene (especially, a
"revolutionary" one).

The Red & Anarchist Action Network has, at least so far, been very
free of the sort of social and interpersonal drama that has in the
past plagued other groups with similar goals. RAAN members have been
able to build ties through the network and meet together towards the
accomplishment of goals, such as the writing of this article, and by
all accounts the results so far have been excellent.

This may not necessarily hold up as we grow, but we certainly cannot
in any way cultivate the culture of immature personal squabbles that
has become standard in so many anarchist circles.

How to fight it?

So, given that we reject as alienating the current state of the
stereotypical anarchist movement, what can our organization do to
significantly differentiate ourselves from it?

RAAN has made an effort in this direction simply through the way we
have chosen to organize our network. Under our founding theoretical
document, the Principles and Direction, we exist as a series of
autonomous individuals and collectives who can look to the rest of
the network for support in any number of projects. Within our broad
group of those who identify as anarchists and anti-state, anti-
Leninist communists, we make no distinctions based on preferred
ideology; and embrace a wide variety of tactics spanning the
traditions of the syndicalists to those of the primitivists - towards
our common goal. As such, RAAN is as open and un-sectarian a group as
possible, while still managing to keep and defend for itself a firm
anti-authoritarian position.

But our purpose here is not to pat ourselves on the back and
congratulate each other on the extent to which we have tried to make
this organization invulnerable to sceneism. Rather, we need to take a
sober look at how we can further direct the operation of our network
away from the current failing systems applied by large sections of
the anti-authoritarian movement, especially as we continue to grow
and interact with them.

Unfortunately, to our knowledge there is no non-hierarchal
organizational method in existence that in itself will sufficiently
guard against the marginalization of the movement into a subculture.
Accomplishing this can only be the product of a continuous and
conscious drive to avoid sceneism. This drive will no doubt take many
forms in different situations, and the addition of this article to
the anti-sceneist culture we must develop can only be considered a
first step, a call to action.

RAAN has found that the greatest amount of interest in our project
has tended to come from those who - like us - are already familiar
with anti-capitalist ideas, but have become disillusioned with the
established movement as a result of having felt excluded or alienated
from it because of something like their race, gender, sexual
orientation, clothing, musical preference, or even just because they
weren't already friends with the core group of scenesters who ran the
main anarchist collective in their town.

As it turns out, effectively opposing sceneism is no more complicated
than developing a more or less detailed analysis of how it operates
based on our past and current involvements with the wider movement,
and then using that analysis to create mechanisms in our own
organization that will allow us to function on a wholly different
basis. One of the most fundamental things that we can do in this case
is to separate ourselves from any sort of reliance on youth
subcultures, especially those related to or rooted in music (various
forms of punk being the most obvious and relevant examples).

Marx predicted that any future post-capitalist society would
inevitably have to bear the scars of the bourgeois culture from which
it rose. We can see this process in effect by observing how it is
nearly impossible for any expression of human creativity or joy (be
it art, music, love, etc.) to take shape without reproducing in
itself some form of oppressive power structure. The pretentious
elitism that has become a matter of pride with those who participate
in music cultures has no place inside a revolutionary organization;
it too is a fundamentally oppressive structure. Any subculture - from
graffiti artists to punks - that is produced from within the
capitalist milieu, runs the risk of being bought out and turned into
an alienating spectacle accessible to only a minority of the
population. Hairstyles, clothes, and even something as apparently
beneficial as the DIY ethic can be fetishized and turned into an
object of worship or status. Too often, the alternative to direct
cooption or "selling out" is the establishment of a largely
unattainable ideal, a "cult of personality" peppered by seductive
romanticizing that ironically is itself only another reflection of an
authoritarian social relation. It is this that we see as being at the
very root of sceneist development.

An anti-capitalist group such as RAAN is not exempt from this effect
simply as a result of having declared itself to be in opposition to
the present system, and in fact it is we who bear the greatest
responsibility to organize in ways that directly challenge and
contradict the hierarchies found in all class societies. It is for
this reason that we cannot base our movement in any sort of sub- or
even "counter"-culture that continues to perpetuate capitalist
values, but only in a revolutionary association of our own creation
that will produce no bands to idolize, no clothing styles to mimic,
and no social relationships comparable to those we maintain under
capitalist domination.

It is not necessary to start from scratch, however. We can look
towards the existing activity of our movement, imperfect as it is,
for glimpses of hope. When anti-authoritarians converge in the
street, there usually isn't time or space to only march with your
friends, or bicker over inconsequentialities. Likewise, power
divisions within the movement can be made to disappear as we form
into the Black Bloc, where anonymity becomes key. While the Bloc
tactic itself is alienating in a larger sense, it presents RAAN with
a stage upon which to put into practice some of the basic
improvements we see as being essential to the movement. The Black
Bloc, in which urgency separates the participants from the more
common aspects of petty sceneism, can serve as a good example of how
our movement should ideally work; collectively and without formal or
informal hierarchies, especially of the "social" kind.

(For more on how RAAN can operate as an organized body with specific
goals within the Black Bloc, see The Crisis of the Crisis-Makers,
which also appears in this journal)

Often, struggles that are not seen as specifically "anti-sceneism"
will also indirectly serve as such. For instance, our practical moves
to make RAAN more inclusive to oppressed and marginalized groups by
creating safe spaces for them is inherently anti-scene, since it
flies in the face of how sceneist anarchist groups have usually
reacted to the issue (with either ignorance or condescension). Our
goal should be to create a functioning network with such integral and
established non-hierarchal, non-sceneist tendencies that ideally,
even a Maoist could join RAAN and find himself completely unable to
damage the network's functioning or core values (not that we want
Maoists joining in the first place!). This is what must be done if we
are to be simultaneously anti-scene/anti-authoritarian without
closing ourselves off to new membership and fluid alliances.

Our organization also has something somewhat unique to it, in that
RAAN can be considered a communist group, and we embrace libertarian
Marxists as comrades and allies. This in itself will play a major
role in discouraging close-minded anarcho-scenesters from affiliating
with us, as will some of our other basic principles of unity. The
trick here is to make sure that our fundamental principles (anti-
sceneism being one of them) are always apparent in all activities,
and that we will remain dedicated to them as our group develops. This
will prevent anarcho-scenesters from joining just because they see
the word "anarchist" in our title, just as it will keep Leninists
from joining just because they see the word "red".

We have to remember that what we are trying to build is a new, truly
inclusive anarchist/communist group. To do this means that we have to
supersede the elitist flaws that exist in portions of what is
contemporarily called the anarchist/communist movement. Accomplishing
this takes a wide variety of initiatives, from
discrediting/rejecting/fighting Leninism, to confronting the informal
hierarchies of existing anarchist cliques.


1. Sceneism, like any other oppressive societal construct with which
we must grapple, has ways of expressing itself subtlety and seemingly
without malice or pretension. Even activist groups that remain open
and inviting to new membership can become alienating if the
discussion within them is dominated by pre-defined friendships and
nostalgic anecdotes about past events or unrelated projects
(especially, but not limited to; music and activism unrelated to the
other members of the group). Objective analysis regarding past and
current situations created by our movement is helpful. Social
reminiscing about all the great things you and your friends in the
group did in the past only makes said group more inaccessible to new
membership, as they will feel left out of the established social
circle within the collective.

2. "Anti-sceneism" can in itself become an exclusionary activity or
construct. An anti-sceneist mentality must not be adopted in the same
way that one can adopt a hairstyle or fashion, because to do so would
be only to trade one form of pretension for another.

3. The goal of the Red & Anarchist Action Network is not to undermine
or discard the punk counterculture within our movement. In fact, many
of us contribute to and draw great strength from anarcho-punk and
hardcore, and we see in it a wonderful opportunity to build
communities of resistance. Doing this means returning the emphasis to
what is "counter" about these cultures. That is, we must re-emphasize
what it is within these and other subcultures that once gave them the
potential to be revolutionary: anti-capitalism, not hairspray.

Link: http://www.kazm.net/raan
Source: http://www.kazm.net/raan/sceneism.html

This essay originally appeared in the first issue of Praxis, journal
of the Red & Anarchist Action Network (May, 2003)

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