Liz Highleyman’s exhaustive account of the demise of Love & Rage (this issue, FE #343, Fall-Winter, 1993) is a sad but enlightening view of the internal process involved in the attempt to create a libertarian organization, something we have always opposed. Tommy Lawless’ remark that the transformation of L&R into a formal, programmatic organization was a “classic leftist coup” doesn’t go far enough in my estimation.
From its inception, the “network” functioned as a classic leftist organization, often unbeknownst to and despite the best intentions by the overwhelming majority of people involved in it. Like the mark of Cain, L&R never shook its imprint from the collaboration between Chris Day and the Minneapolis nucleus and the moribund Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL). In fact, Day first articulated the premise for L&R in the pages of one of the last issues of the RSL paper, The Torch.
Formal organizations and the behavior which emanates from them don’t seem out of the ordinary for most people, even anarchists, since the administration of the modern world is based on such activity. So, Liz’s vivid description of L &R’s internal nightmare of factionalism, maneuvering, sacrificial militantism, national programs, recruitment drives and an intricate governing bureaucracy probably seemed like the usual practice of politics to most people involved. It is, of course, but what differentiates that from any garden variety leftist organization or, for that matter, any capitalist party?
The outcome of the San Diego conference may have been just what Day and his cadre intended. Right from the beginning they desired a formal organization much like the one that now exists, but realized that it was not immediately realizable. In ideas & action, No. 13 (undated, but appearing in Spring 1990), Mike Kolhoff, a vociferous proponent of organizations for anarchists, gave this assessment of the then new L&R newspaper: “It was the position of Chris [D.] and Billy Falk [an RSL honcho] that a base for such an organization did not presently exist….Their approach to achieve this increased organization was the Continental Anarchist Newspaper Project. It was their belief that, in creating a semi-formal organization around the newspaper, we would lay the foundation for a broader organization in general.”
This is “leninism without Lenin,” as we said in our Summer 1990 edition commenting on this issue; create the newspaper and build the organization around it. Day and Co. get their organization but leave lots of burned out, sincere people in their wake who never knew about all of the back room maneuvering which had been going on.
Probably L&R introduced a number of people to anarchism who might otherwise not have known about it, but I wonder if the attendant wheel-spinning was worth the effort. The desire for some continental cooperation is a decent enough impulse, but it was not previously lacking. Collectives and projects around the country often coordinated defense of prisoners, had contingents and the like. Also, pre-L&R gatherings often attracted up to 3,000 participants, but attendance at their network conferences often fell below 10% of this figure.
I think there are lessons here for anarchists. The initiators of the formal membership-based groups which pop up from time to time see them as a way to spread the ideas of anarchy, feeling a more organized approach to politics would bring the philosophy more acceptance.
However, each time, attempts end in dismal failure, crashing around almost the identical issues which caused the L&R implosion. Rather than expanding the adherents of anarchy, people leave the groups discouraged and despairing of political activity. Ultimately, formal organizations attract the orderly-minded who need the formal trappings of a group to submerge themselves in; the free spirits always leave.
When I looked at the photographs of a Love & Rage banner carried by their militants at the Chattanooga anti-racism march (see p. 3), I was struck by how uncannily similar the gesture was to that of the Marxist-Leninist Party (USA) or some such group which comes to demonstrations hoisting their name on banners to hopefully attract recruits. It’s their gang and you are either inside or outside of it.
The same can be said of national “strategies”; although often involving worthy issues, such programmatic activity mainly functions as activity for the cadres and is motivated by the desire to enlarge the organization’s numbers. No matter how genuine the intent, it winds up being manipulative and instrumental, the hallmark of alienated politics.
Unfortunately, anarchy cannot be willed into being. It is like the wind; either it will blow our way or not. We can encourage it by living the way Liz suggests, but attempts to force it by emulating the rackets of the state and leftist gangs will surely end in despair and defeat.
Web archive note: Brackets are in the print original.