The Two Main Trends in Anarchism
Alternate Tendencies of Anarchism

Price, Wayne
Date Written:  2009-06-25
Year Published:  2009
Resource Type:  Pamphlet
Cx Number:  CX12565

The broad anarchist tradition of class struggle anarchism overlaps with libertarian interpretations of Marx.



To get to the real differences between the two trends of anarchism, it is necessary to look at the serious political differences between them—not at an nonideological “culture,” but at actual politics.

The broad anarchist tradition (class struggle anarchist-communism or Old School anarchism or whatever) has always been revolutionary. That is, its members have believed that the ruling class is extremely unlikely to give up power without resistance, a resistance which will center on its state. A vast movement of the oppressed and exploited must rise up and smash the state and dismantle the capitalist economy and all other forms of oppression. These must be replaced by new forms of popular self-organization and self-management. This does not contradict the struggle for present-day reforms and improvements, but sets a strategic end-goal.

Gordon is typical of the New School anarchists (or whatever) in that he rejects such a revolutionary approach. Traditional anarchists, he writes, used to argue about a how to organize society after a revolution. “Today, in contrast, anarchist discourse lacks both the expectation of eventual revolutionary closure…” or interest in visions of a post-revolutionary society (Gordon 2008; p. 40). Further, “anarchists today do not tend to think of revolution—if they even use the term—as a future event but rather as a present-day process…” (p. 41). Instead of changing all society, which may or may not be possible, he writes, anarchists should promote “anarchy as culture” which may include large events but also “fleeting moments of nonconformism and carefree egalitarianism” (same). Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones are cited, which, he says, might include a “quilting bee” or “dinner party”.

Not that nonconformism and dinner parties are bad; quite the contrary. But they are not a strategy for popularly overturning the capitalist state. Nor does Gordon worry about this. “The development of non-heirarchical structures…is, for most anarchists, an end in itself” (p. 35). Gordon never says right out loud that his tendency has given up on revolution, but I cannot read this any other way.

To sound radical, Gordon and other anarchists insist that it is un-anarchist to make demands on the state, to try to win benefits by threatening the state or the capitalist class. “…A ‘politics of demand’…extends undue recognition and legitimation to state power…a strategy far removed from anarchism” (p. 151). Instead, anarchists are supposed to create a better world by directly acting differently toward each other.

But anarchists have always made demands on the state, such as to stop waging specific wars or to release prisoners or to provide social benefits. It is one way to demonstrate to nonanarchists that the state cannot be relied on but must be threatened to win gains. And we have made demands on capitalists, as in fighting for union recognition or better working conditions. Refusing to make demands on the state or on the capitalists may sound very radical (as if they care whether anarchists give them “recognition and legitimation”!) but it is a reformist cop-out, an abdication of the struggle.

Gordon emphasizes “prefigurative politics.” Both “schools” of anarchism would agree on the importance of building non-heirarchical institutions in the here-and-now. But to Gordon and his tendency what matters is the interpersonal dynamics of informal networks of anarchists, whether or not they are effective for further purposes.

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