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(en) US, California, Berkeley, A conference between anarchists and anti-state communists

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 22 Dec 2003 14:27:36 +0100 (CET)

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The anarchist study group (ASG)1 at the Long Haul had been
paying attention to the rise of intelligent commentary both
critical of the modern anarchist milieu and engaged in a
parallel criticism of the system as a whole. This is exemplified
by publications like Aufheben (UK) and Against Sleep and
Nightmare (US) that aspire to deepen the struggle against the
current order. Locally there has been a tradition of
collaboration and fracture between Anti-State Communists
(ASC) and the anarchist milieu (TAM). This history has
largely been lost but it is worth citing and learning from.

The goal for the ASG was to learn about this tendency, its
history, motivations, and antecedents. This began with G.
accepting the ASG invitation to give a presentation on his
perspectives on ASC. He began with requesting that the
reading group read Preliminaries on Councils and Councilist
Organization by Rene Riesel (link), which does a better than
fair job of explicitly defining and historically reviewing what
exactly council communism is. His presentation centered on
the events of Germany from 1917-1921 and a telling, from the
perspective of the revolutionary groups at the time, of the
German Revolution. One of the most unusual and intriguing (to
the ASG) aspects of G. presentation is that he defined himself
as a proponent of non-Marxist Communist. This was exciting
for the ASG who clamored for more.

The question then became, given the spirit of comradeship
given during the presentation and the knowledge that there
hasn't always been such positivity between the involved
tendencies, how to broaden and deepen this conversation. On
further discussion with G. the conclusion was that some sort
of conference might be appropriate. This conference was
organized with members of the ASG and a circle of people that
work with G. on assorted projects. It was organized as an
'invitation-only' conference with an openness towards people
inviting other people, but not towards it becoming a public
event. The conference was 8 hours a day for two days with
lunch served by the organizers.

From the invitation to the conference.

"It is clear that both traditional Marxism and traditional
anarchism have failed to offer humanity any kind of sustained
alternatives to the continuation of capital and the state. It has
been the experience of those presenting this invitation that the
more the authoritarian left clings to the last vestiges of its
living death, the more the anti-authoritarian tendencies among
those interested in authentic revolutionary self-organization
has grown in relevance. We have therefore decided to
organize a two-day conference of like-minded individuals to
discuss what we see as a gradual convergence of ideas, in the
hope of clarifying the issues of theory and practice that have
kept anti-state/libertarian communists and post-left/radical
anarchists apart historically. We would like to figure out if
there are enough similarities among us to create and sustain
any kind of collaborative efforts. "

Optimism was not the first order of the weekend. Given the
complicated personalities and historic tension between
anarchists and ASC in the past the organizers developed the
structure of the event in what could generously be described
as a plodding methodological format designed to have some
basic conversations with one another before launching into
what was suspected to be highly contentious and
personalizing debate.

The agenda (which can be found here ) began with the
attendees defining the different 'parent' tendencies that
represent our positions. The ASC defined was Left
Communism, Libertarian Communism, Council Communism
(both German and Italian), Bordigists, Socialism or Barbarism
(Castoriadis), the Situationist International, International
Communists, Libertarian Marxists, Autonomists (German and
Italian), Cammate, Wildcat, and Barrot. The PLA defined
Insurrectionary, Anti-Civilization, and Green Anarchisms,
Primitivism, DIY Punk/Hardcore, Crimethinc, Individualists
(and egoism), Post-anarchism, and Pacifism. Even keeping
these definitions brief entailed the first three hours of the
event being a refresher of ideas that many in the room already
understood and not enough information for those who were
exposed to them for the first time.

The next item on the agenda was a review of what could be
seen as a similar attempt at bringing anarchists and ASC
together in the late seventies and early eighties. It was local
(to the Bay Area) and called the UCC (the Union of
Concerned Commies). It brought together groups like
Red-Eye, Work and Pay, and Collective Inventions. Its history
shook out in completely unsurprising ways in that a certain set
of people involved were interested in keeping the politics
non-confrontational which limited the kinds of projects that the
UCC could embark on. These 'vague-ists' later went on to
participate in Processed World, favoring clever and
cosmopolitan over a defined, coherent politic.

The final and longest item discussed on the first day was a
review of some of the highlights of resistance (from the
perspective of ASC and PLA) through the 20th century, with
an eye on the question "What has prevented us from working
together before?" While the question was not directly
answered, there were some swipes in the direction of the
question throughout the discussion. What was obvious was
the high degree of specialization (for lack of a better word)
embodied by some of the participants of such historical events
as Kronstadt, the Spanish Civil War, and the German
Revolution of 1919. One of the running jokes throughout the
weekend was in reference to the specifics of the German
Revolution and the obscure ability that knowledge gave one to
understand the difference between the KPD, the KAPD, and
the AAUD.

There was a nod in the direction of talking about recent events
(Argentina, the recent War Protests) that quickly turned into a
heated conversation about protest politics and the power of
marching en masse. There was general consensus against the
ritual of protest, with one exception that kept the conversation

The first day had around 30 participants throughout the day
and a lunch of vegan potpie, baby lettuce salad and pumpkin
and pear pies. No Food Not Bombs for this group!

After the event of the first day most of the participants
scattered to the four winds. Most of the out-of-towners, and
those who hadn't talked themselves out, continued the evening
with a trip to Smart Alec's (a mediocre kind-of vegetarian
hamburger joint) and then a private showing of the "Ring of
Free Trade" (a parody of the Fellowship of the Ring from an
anti-globalization perspective) and "We Interrupt this Empire"
(about the resistance to the Gulf War of 2003).

The second day started slowly. We attempted to lure people to
show up on time (10:00 am) with the promise of muffins, good
coffee, and zucchini bread, but still didn't get started until
10:30. People didn't entirely roll in until almost noon.

The agenda for the second day built on the 'trust' established
the first day and was more directly pointed at critical
discussion. The question was asked the first day (to the
anarchists) "Why don't you just use the term communism?"
which prefaced much of the eventual discussion during day
two (although the same question was not asked again, the
inverse was). The specific question we tried to center the
conversation on was "What are the lingering questions from
the "other" tendency that need answering?" For the anarchists
there were not a lot of pointed questions, which highlighted the
fact that most of the anarchists knew a hell of a lot less about
the ASC than the ASC knew about the anarchists. The ASC
were most interested in hearing how anarchists addressed the
problem of being an ahistorical tendency (as in unconcerned
with its own history of revolutionary failure and the inability to
deal with the problematic of power (as in Spain)). They also
argued that anarchist’s criticism of Marx was a)overly
simplistic and b)de-emphasized the importance of having an
analysis of political economy. Finally they made the argument
that their perspective was a materialist perspective that is
something that PLA do not seem to have established.

The most coherent anarchist criticism of the ASC perspective
was regarding the question of 'Hierarchy and Authority' by I.
While the definitions of hierarchy and authority are not
particularly clear, it is clear that anarchists are concerned with
combating this problematic to an extent not of concern to
ASC. This developed into a brief exchange regarding which
tradition has a more valid claim to concerns outside of
economics. Mentioned specifically is the anarchist desire for
'freedom,' as a symbol for a psychological component to the
tendency that the ASC do not have. In response, the Frankfurt
School was brought up as a Marxist (although not ASC) group
with interests in psychology, culture, sociology and more.
Woven through this conversation was a question brought up
on day one. "Who is to be suppressed?" This is a particular
problematic for anarchists as the question of violence is
normally thought of as a very different question than
suppression. Put another way, should 'the people' (the
proletariat, the dispossessed) take the 'voice' away from the
exploiting class? What if that looks like taking away the
freedoms normally associated with a liberal republic (speech,
commerce, and movement)?

The highlight of the weekend was when we did a go-around
where the question was finally asked "Describe your political
tendency without the use of jargon" which was the first time
over the course of the weekend where we specifically argued
for our own individual political position. The unique thing about
this constellation of people was that in a room of 25 or so
people you authentically heard 25 different articulations of
many of the same themes. While quite a few of the anarchists
cited a desire for freedom and quite a few of the communists
wanted to not be alienated, the way that people talked about
their position was refreshingly distinctive. This was not a
room filled with voyeurs.

Lunch was served and consisted of fake meat hoagies and
butternut squash soup. Dessert was a mix of vegan cookies,
snicker doodles, chocolate chip, and peanut butter.

The post-lunch discussion was anti-climactic in a rather
inspiring way. The tendency at many conferences is to leave
very little time at the end of an event, to discuss what all that
you have talked about before really means in terms of future
work. Obviously this question was asked here too, "What form
can future collaborative efforts take?" Instead of there being
an insistence on a centralized task that everyone could/should
sign onto, the group generally talked about what projects they
were working on and requested that interested parties contact
them at their leisure. People agreed to a sharing of contact
information and a proposal to continue the conversations that
have started at the ASG site. sfbay forum.

What went right?

Given the setup, a lot of things went right. The space was
really conducive to the type of meeting that we had and the
number of people that attended. It was better attended than
the organizers had hoped for, given the obscurity of the
subject matter and the word-of-mouth nature of the invite

The food was great. If the ASG has proven one thing (time and
time again) it is that we can throw a good party where
conversation, and not idiots, is the main attraction.

There was not a major fight. Given the egos and politics in the
room, there was every expectation for a knock-down, drag-out
fight between a couple of the hotheads. This did not
materialize. There was some flirting with larger arguments
(including me rising to the bait of yet another call to 'get out of
your anarchist ghetto and start working with real people') but
people kept a level head. (There was at least one heated
argument over dinner but was quickly diffused out of apparent
lack of energy and general comradeship)

The people were very interesting. People can be surprising.
Right when you are ready to write off a certain set of people
for being too rarified in their knowledge base, or too (anti)
ideological they surprised you with a crystal clear point that
you didn't think of before. There were people there who
represented the best of the ASC and anarchist traditions over
the past 30 years.

The people were very knowledgeable. Given the age of the
participants (the opening go-around entailed many of the
people citing their years of experience with the average being
well over 10 years), this isn't that surprising but it was a
pleasure to hear a consistent level of both lived and learned
knowledge throughout the weekend.

Trust was built . While the group didn't seem ready to do
trust-falls and grab an earth ball, there was an escalated level
of trust in the room after the weekend than there was before.
An argument could be made that these are the kind of baby
steps that will allow for the running that we may need to do in
the future.

What went wrong?

A lot of the weekend was really boring. The entire first day
served as a type of sophisticated trust building exercise. This
was great from the perspective that the weekend ended up not
(obviously) alienating anyone, but no one necessarily left
punching the air ready to set Berkeley aflame.

Some people talked too much. This is related to the problem of
experts (and ego) but there were a half a dozen people
(myself included) who took up at least 2/3rds of the speaking
time over the weekend. That is a shame and seemingly

The language could use some work. The title of the conference
went something like 'Anti State Communists and Post-Left
Anarchists collaboration conference’, which rolled off your
tongue with the ease of swallowing a mouthful of glass. The
entire weekend was loaded with what seemed like subjective
interpretations of a lengthy laundry list of empty phrases
(which was the motivation for the 'jargon-free' go-around) that
seemed more like reflection of our positions in an obscure
caste than our ability to articulate what is on the mind of the

Growing old isn't all that it's cracked up to be. While there
being a decided lack of controversy over the weekend was a
positive, in terms of not chasing people away and not tilting
windmills over semantics, there did seem to be a decided lack
of passion in the room. Maybe more name-calling was
necessary to inspire the kind of energy that would translate
into taking the spirit of the weekend onto the streets.

Organization. The organizers (I speak of myself most
pointedly) did not have facilitation in mind which allowed for
certain individuals to talk for far too long, to dominate the
direction of the conversation in exactly the ways that we were
attempting to challenge (i.e. leftist), and for certain experts to
talk again and again about subjects many other people could
have spoken (even without quite the authority of the expert).
The wrong balance was struck between being open and
accommodating and getting shit done.

1. Acronyms. No one denies that acronyms are both clumsy
and the quickest way to chase people out of the room that
aren't already convinced that they should be there. That said,
seeing Anarchist Study Group, Anti-State Communist, or
Post-Left Anarchist repeated over and over again is mind
numbing and repetitive. Acronyms are used to simplify and
that is what they do here.

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