What do we need to know

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Noah Fence's picture
Noah Fence
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Apr 28 2018 07:45
What do we need to know

I’m really a lurker rather than a participant on Libcom these days. I still check the forums on a daily basis though.
When I was new around here I was very interested to take part, ask lots of questions and really understand what anarchism of the communist variety was all about. It pretty soon became transformational to how I viewed, understood, and participated in the world and it was fascinating and invigorating.
Over time I became solid in my beliefs and really honed down my own particular angle on what it all means to me. This has effected many areas of my life in a pretty major way including how I earn my income, the food I eat, even the jokes I tell! This is something that I’m very happy about but suffice to say, whilst in most of the basics I fully concur with the accepted norms of the anarchist perspective, in certain things I’d say I’m in a very small minority.
Ok, so that’s the background, bringing things up to date I find my interest has waned enormously. Knowing practically nothing was an exciting position to be in and I hungrily devoured almost everything I came across. If I couldn’t get to grips with it(a particular thread about the dialectic springs to mind!) I would skip it and look at the next thing, there was always plenty more that I could grasp, even if it was with great difficulty. Nowadays though I find most of what I look at on here either too difficult to grasp or too boring to make the effort to grasp. Many of you guys are very smart and often pretty intellectual and I find myself pretty intimidated by your level of knowledge but then it was always thus and I found it exciting to be challenged that way in the past. The problem is that now I’m well versed in the basics and know where I stand but feel unable to move beyond this.
So the question is, does it really matter? What is there to gain by having an in-depth knowledge of political history and various ideologies? Will it help me to be a better(whatever that means) anarchist? Like I’m sure many others of you are, I feel frustrated and impotent, I don’t know what the fuck to do to make some sort of difference to the world and to help progress towards a revolution. At one time learning about libcom actually felt like I was doing that but now to force myself to suck up more information on history and the mostly dour and rather intricate thoughts of a bunch of sexist old beardy dudes seems utterly futile and unappealing.
I used to find it a useful strategy to join in with conversations on here where I wasn’t too sure of what my view was, it helped me to extract meaning from the views, knowledge and experience of you guys but I’m suffering with mental health problems atm which has badly affected my ability to concentrate and means that my confidence and self esteem are at a pretty low ebb, so I’m reduced to making a couple of comments about pizza toppings and then skulking back off into the outer darkness of the lurkers where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth! It’s a pretty poor state of affairs.
In conclusion then, how important is it for us guys to know our shit? Obviously a revolution does not require all of its participants to be well versed in theory and history but at this stage where anarchists are so few in number, is it a dereliction of duty not to furnish yourself with as much information as possible? And if it isn’t that important have any of you any suggestions on how I can keep interested and become more motivated? The nature of my work means that I have no opportunity to organise. My geographical location means I’m isolated - the nearest place to me where I know any groups to take part in is London which is well over a hundred mile drive or requires two trains which is impractical as the one that actually comes to my home town stops running at 9pm. However I were to get back from a meeting it just wouldn’t be practical when I need to get up at 05:30 for work.
Sorry for whining but I’d really appreciate your comments or suggestions, as well as feeling of little use I’m also unsure as to the value of the level of dissection of ideas on Libcom and even if I’m unable to take part in it I’d like to at least understand what purpose it serves.

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Apr 28 2018 08:02

Btw, the sexist beardy dudes comment was not aimed at anyone on here, although I guess it’s possible that some participants on here would fit the description!
I said it because I’ve recently started reading George Woodcock’s Anarchist Reader which was the first anarchist writings I ever came across. I was 16/17 at the time and as a high school drop out had a poor vocabulary and very little capacity for understanding of what I was reading so it nearly all went over my head.
This time I’ve been better able to understand it but apart from a piece from The Soul of Man I’ve found the sexist language of the time that much of this was written pretty infuriating and the incredibly serious tone very dull.
Even the exuberance and optimism of Kropotkin, which I used to love, is making me feel like making his beard get caught in some factory machinery and watching him get drawn towards some grisly end like a scene from a workerist version of an episode of Batman!
I dunno, maybe I’m just looking at the wrong stuff?

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Apr 28 2018 09:07

Unless you have an interest in history/theory in itself I'd say it's useful to know stuff that relates to whatever practice you have or want to have. It's also good to know enough that you can have conversations that have a bit richer foundations. As I recently found out whilst drunkenly failing to demolish Jordan Petersen.

It's important to cut yourself some slack when there are periods of waned interest or lack of capacity. Our project is long term.

zugzwang
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Apr 28 2018 10:03

I guess I'm in a similar position. I just don't have the time to read anything while working on my professional life, and I'm also pretty isolated "comrade"-wise as well (really doesn't help having no support in that regard). Guessing most people here are in like their > 30s-40s, and are active politically, have been involved in groups, and so on, so I'm not too intimidated by everyone being more knowledgeable than me, but it does make it hard to follow certain discussions and to be involved. The whole communism thing is still appealing to me, though, which I guess is why I'm still sticking around here.

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Apr 28 2018 10:34

Well, I was never intimidated before, I guess that’s because I’m not in such good shape at the moment. When I was last involved on the forums here I was going through an absolutely extraordinary experience and my ego became rather inflated as did my frustration, judgement and lack of acceptance of certain viewpoints and positions of people on here. Whilst my views haven’t changed, I’m acutely aware that I was a bit above the odds, which is why I withdrew from the forums. That’s not helping me to engage either.
All that said, the only area where I’m even slightly active is in contributing to a project aimed at introducing communism to the uninitiated in a friendly and amusing way. It’s not enough for my conscience or wellbeing though hence this thread.

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fingers malone
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Apr 29 2018 18:16

Ok first of all I've never lived anywhere in the UK outside London so maybe my perspective is not useful in which case sorry.

My own experience is that there are usually more struggles going on than there are hours in the day and most of them need a lot of practical help and are crying out for more people. I don't know your area but if there are not anarchist groups, there will surely be strikes, issues around low pay, bad housing, 'Save the Library' campaigns and so on. For the last couple of years there has been this non stop media campaign about The London Bubble and how ignored many people feel in other areas of the country so organising outside the big cities should have lots of potential.

Some work areas with conflicts ongoing at the moment are the Picturehouse Cinemas, the universities, hotel and catering are organising with both Unite and BAFWU, there is a strike in some McDonalds branches on Mayday. If none of these are near you then housing is a major issue pretty much anywhere.

My whole family live outside London, most in small towns, and most of them are involved in politics in some way.

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2018 12:36
Noah Fence wrote:
So the question is, does it really matter? What is there to gain by having an in-depth knowledge of political history and various ideologies? Will it help me to be a better (whatever that means) anarchist?

1. If you enjoy reading history and/or theory, then you should keep reading whether or not there's anything to gain by it except your own enjoyment.

2. If you don't enjoy it, then unless you're planning to write about something (or unexpectedly get into an argument about it which is harder to plan for) you don't necessarily need to have read up on it.

3. The reasons it's useful can be:
- learning how things have gone wrong in the past
- examples which might inspire people tackling similar issues now
- being able to spot when other people are bullshitting (and explain why that's the case where necessary)

It doesn't necessarily help at all finding something to get involved with from the point of view of activism/organising, except at the level of "don't join Momentum and go out canvassing for Labour candidates" - which you would think was obvious but a lot of people appear to have skipped.

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Apr 30 2018 20:37

Thanks for the responses. I live in an extremely rural part of Suffolk and really have very few friends especially in this area where I’ve just moved to. That said, I remembered the other day that I’d met some comrades from a group called The DIT Collective who are focused on community projects, housing issues, support for prisoners and various other stuff. I’ve made contact with them and am hooking up with them at the weekend to see how I can get involved plus I’m meeting up with a couple of Libcom contributors at the Norwich Anarchist Bookfair on Sunday. Things are looking up!

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May 3 2018 15:38

All of the discussion so far has been from an individualist perspective. No, it doesn't matter that you, in the grand scheme of things, don't know your theory and/ or history.
It does matter that genuine revolutionaries are in a tiny minority.
If you're interested in why that is the case, you should look into Systematic Ideology, The Domain of Ideologies and possibly, to a lesser extent, Angles on Anarchism.

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May 4 2018 22:01
Noah Fence wrote:
Like I’m sure many others of you are, I feel frustrated and impotent, I don’t know what the fuck to do to make some sort of difference to the world and to help progress towards a revolution.

I often feel stressed out about not doing enough and sometimes get into a real freak out over it. Serious anxiety issues are an obstacle for me getting out there into the world and doing all kinds of things, activism/organizing included.

Not knowing what to do or how to get started seems to be a feeling shared by pretty much everyone I know who have similar politics to me. Where I live it''s not that there are a shortage of things to do. But it's the question of, "Is this making a difference? Are we just spinning our wheels?"

Noah Fence wrote:
I remembered the other day that I’d met some comrades from a group called The DIT Collective who are focused on community projects, housing issues, support for prisoners and various other stuff. I’ve made contact with them and am hooking up with them at the weekend to see how I can get involved plus I’m meeting up with a couple of Libcom contributors at the Norwich Anarchist Bookfair on Sunday. Things are looking up!

Hurray! Keep us posted how it goes.

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May 4 2018 21:58
jondwhite wrote:
All of the discussion so far has been from an individualist perspective. No, it doesn't matter that you, in the grand scheme of things, don't know your theory and/ or history.
It does matter that genuine revolutionaries are in a tiny minority.
If you're interested in why that is the case, you should look into Systematic Ideology, The Domain of Ideologies and possibly, to a lesser extent, Angles on Anarchism.

Jondwhite, this is very interesting to me and I bet it is to lots of other people here. But I have to admit I don't think I'll be reading any books about it. Sorry if that sounds flippant or like I don't give a fuck, cuz I do, but you know how life is. I'm sure others are in the same boat.

Maybe I will read one or more of these some day but for now I'd love to hear a bit of a summary of some key points. If you have the time, that is. If not, no worries. (Don't wanna be that person who complains about not having the time to read and then insists that someone else take the time to summarize the thing they refuse to read!)

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May 5 2018 08:19

From a fairly insurrecto perspective, but the recently published zine "Conflictual Wisdom: Revolutionary Introspection towards the Preservation of the Anarchist Individual & Community" might have some relevance to the discussion here.
Other than that, I would broadly echo Fingers' points above, even if there's not much anarcho stuff in your area it might be worth checking if there's a Unite Community branch near you and if so whether they do anything worthwhile like strike support, campaigning against universal credit or similar. Disabled People Against Cuts are also pretty widespread, again I can't speak to the quality of each local group but they generally seem fairly direct action orientated.
Other than that, one big thing that isolated people can do to keep connected and scratch the "do something" itch is to take part in co-ordinated phone and email blasts - maybe email the IWW/Solfed/IWGB/UVW/CAIWU/IWOC/Smash IPP/End Deportations and the Glasgow Unity Centre (sorry for the alphabet soup there) and ask them to let you know when they're having a concerted effort to put pressure on a particular employer, landlord or the like?
Also, not to be that person who bangs on about prisons all the time, but corresponding with incarcerated comrades is something that you can definitely do as an individual, and will help both you and them feel less isolated.

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May 5 2018 19:23

Wikipedia summarises the theory of Systematic Ideology as follows;

Quote:
Its basic premise was that people’s assumptions and identifications (the factors making up their ‘ideology’) are not explicable in terms of material conditions in general and their relationship to the means of production in particular—and are never likely to be. Instead, there are persistent and distinct ideological groups in society, cutting across social classes and forming a series, with the largest groups being most typically guided in their thoughts and actions by a preference for family, authority, familiarity and tradition. Politically, these preferences find predominant expression in the ideas of the large number of so-called ‘non-politicals’ in society, and in Conservatism and then Liberalism (the strength of these preferences gradually weakening through the series).

As the series progresses further, the next, progressively smaller, ideological groups seek to repress these identifications and preferences in favor of dynamism, social change, logical thought and the pursuit of theory as a guide to decision-making, these being expressed politically in Labourism, more overtly still in Communism and then, in an ultimate and extreme form, in Anarchism (or ‘Anarchosocialism’, the purist variety of it allegedly expounded by the Socialist Party of Great Britain). The more an ideology represses the preferences for family, tradition, etc. in favour of social change, dynamism and the pursuit of theory as a guide to action, the fewer in number its adherents are likely to be, with anarchists (or ‘anarcho-socialists’) being the smallest of all

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May 6 2018 04:20

Thanks for sharing that. It seems very defeatist, though. Like, are we never gonna stop being in the minority? If that's true then revolution is impossible.

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May 6 2018 07:44
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Thanks for sharing that. It seems very defeatist, though. Like, are we never gonna stop being in the minority? If that's true then revolution is impossible.

Possibly not, but at the very least, it's a reality check that getting through to vast majorities of conservatives, self interested and the strongly apolitical is the main obstacle that an insurrection won't fix.

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May 6 2018 08:39

I never thought of insurrection as a way of getting through to people, and very few communists/anarchists have this view. Most of us believe that we need to get through to people first.

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May 6 2018 14:38

These activities probably won't fix it either

Quote:
strike support, campaigning against universal credit or similar. Disabled People Against Cuts are also pretty widespread, again I can't speak to the quality of each local group but they generally seem fairly direct action orientated.

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May 6 2018 15:03
jondwhite wrote:
These activities probably won't fix it either

Given that this was a response to a thread started by someone who mentioned feeling isolated due to their location in rural Suffolk, what activities would you recommend as being more likely to fix it while also being accessible to someone in rural Suffolk?

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May 6 2018 17:31

Fair enough as a response to feeling isolated due to their location in rural Suffolk, but the title being what do we need to know, I'm addressing what I think is more important.

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May 6 2018 18:01

Relax friend, take some time away from communism/socialism/anarchism. Your interest will come back. We all go through it.

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May 6 2018 21:04
Redwood wrote:
Relax friend, take some time away from communism/socialism/anarchism. Your interest will come back. We all go through it.

I’ve had too much time away, that’s part of the problem Redwood.
I guess we have to face the fact that there’s not much of a working class movement and simply do whatever little we can, eh?

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May 6 2018 21:06
R Totale wrote:
From a fairly insurrecto perspective, but the recently published zine "Conflictual Wisdom: Revolutionary Introspection towards the Preservation of the Anarchist Individual & Community" might have some relevance to the discussion here.
Other than that, I would broadly echo Fingers' points above, even if there's not much anarcho stuff in your area it might be worth checking if there's a Unite Community branch near you and if so whether they do anything worthwhile like strike support, campaigning against universal credit or similar. Disabled People Against Cuts are also pretty widespread, again I can't speak to the quality of each local group but they generally seem fairly direct action orientated.
Other than that, one big thing that isolated people can do to keep connected and scratch the "do something" itch is to take part in co-ordinated phone and email blasts - maybe email the IWW/Solfed/IWGB/UVW/CAIWU/IWOC/Smash IPP/End Deportations and the Glasgow Unity Centre (sorry for the alphabet soup there) and ask them to let you know when they're having a concerted effort to put pressure on a particular employer, landlord or the like?
Also, not to be that person who bangs on about prisons all the time, but corresponding with incarcerated comrades is something that you can definitely do as an individual, and will help both you and them feel less isolated.

Excellent suggestions R, I will be looking deeper. Thanks very much.

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May 7 2018 16:04

I read the Conflictual Wisdom piece. It got right in amongst me R Totale, it’s always invigorating to the spirit to see your own feelings put into words by another so thanks for posting.

Mike Harman
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May 8 2018 14:08
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Thanks for sharing that. It seems very defeatist, though. Like, are we never gonna stop being in the minority? If that's true then revolution is impossible.

Martin Glaberman (and generally a lot of post-war ultra-left/councilist writers) can be a bit of an anti-dote to this: https://libcom.org/library/working-class-social-change-martin-glaberman - i.e. that mass strikes can happen despite the majority of participants not having communist ideology.

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May 8 2018 14:46

No shit! Mass strikes aren't revolution though. The working class will always run out of food before the ruling class in a strike situation.
We've gone from suggesting the OP doesn't need to know much, only be active (direct action etc.) to suggesting nobody needs to know much (class-unconscious mass strikes).
Back in the old days, revolutionaries were expected to know their stuff and a revolution would require others to know too.

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May 8 2018 14:53
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Back in the old days, revolutionaries were expected to know their stuff and a revolution would require others to know too.

Could you define what ‘the old days’ and ‘know their shit means please?

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May 8 2018 15:06

I'll probably write something more on this later, but I think the problem here might be that you seem to approach "knowing stuff" and "learning" as prior to and separate from "doing stuff", whereas I think most libcommers would see them as related, so that the experience of going through a mass strike, for example, might be the sort of thing one might learn from, and perhaps come up with some new ideas as a result of. Don't make me start spouting cliches about the miners going on that pride parade because I will absolutely start spouting clichés about the miners going on that pride parade.

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May 8 2018 15:08

It's the difference between Colin Ward and Russell Brand.
Generally it's better to avoid a strike.
I've a low opinion of 'learning' through experience, as this is the Bolshevik model for workers.

Mike Harman
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May 8 2018 15:09
jondwhite wrote:
No shit! Mass strikes aren't revolution though. The working class will always run out of food before the ruling class in a strike situation.
We've gone from suggesting the OP doesn't need to know much, only be active (direct action etc.) to suggesting nobody needs to know much (class-unconscious mass strikes).

That's not what anyone said. It's more that there is not a strict relationship between theory and action, but the two can feed into and sometimes contradict each other.

jondwhite wrote:
Back in the old days, revolutionaries were expected to know their stuff and a revolution would require others to know too.

Quite a few counter-revolutionaries knew their stuff too.

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May 8 2018 17:19
jondwhite wrote:
It's the difference between Colin Ward and Russell Brand.
Generally it's better to avoid a strike.
I've a low opinion of 'learning' through experience, as this is the Bolshevik model for workers.

No, the difference between Colin Ward and Russell Brand is that Russell Brand never designed any houses, while Colin Ward never presented Big Brother's Big Mouth or made any obscene phone calls to the bloke who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers. What I'm talking about is the difference between Marx and Engels and, uh, probably Fourier or Saint-Simon or one of those other dead French fellas who are mainly remembered nowadays for the fact that Marx was mean about them.
But if we're playing the calling each other Bolsheviks game, I'd say the essential point here is that both you and the Bolsheviks see theory as something that exists prior to action, in the heads of the teachers, while I think that the ideas we hold in our heads have any value only insofar as they're constantly tested against and adjusted in light of the constantly-changing conditions that exist in the outside world.
So, for instance, things like the wave of self-organisation (including but not limited to strikes) among workers employed by apps like Uber, Deliveroo, Foodora and so on have value not because they give The Workers a chance to learn the class struggle facts that us revolutionary brainboxes already have memorised off by heart, but because they allow all of us, those of us who have aspirations to be theoreticians or anarchists or socialists or whatever as much as anyone else, to learn about the relationship between new technology, changing forms of work organisation, and the potential for workers' struggle, knowledge that we could not have anticipated prior to those events taking place.
I think I'm in line with Marx and Engels here, or at least with what they said in that preface to the Communist Manifesto where they wrote "all the stuff we said about the state was goofy as all heck, paying attention to the experience of the Paris Commune taught us that actually the anarchists were definitely right all along."
So with reference to the question "what do we need to know?", I have to give the zen buddhist/Donald Rumsfeld answer and say that we don't, cannot, know what it is that we need to know - anyone can look backwards and say what The Lessons of 1917, or 1936, or 1984 or 1871 or whatever are, but what we can't say with any degree of certainty is what the key issues of 2018, or 2019, or 2028 will be, let alone what the answers to those questions will be, any more than Marx & Engels could have predicted the experience of the Paris Commune back in 1847.
I could go on, but this is a pretty long comment already - in short, I think there's a fundamental difference between seeing anarchism/socialism/communism as being a perspective that emerges from the development of the class struggle vs seeing it as a philosophy that exists outside it, and all kinds of consequences follow from that difference.

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May 8 2018 18:34

I never thought for a moment that knowledge precedes action or vice versa. The idea that everybody involved in a revolution needs to have an in-depth knowledge of history and theory is plain daft. I asked the question in the context of current times as one of the remarkably few citizens of the world that actually believes in communism and wishes to apply its principles as far as is possible in the culture that I live in, as well as advocating those principles to others that I come into contact with.
I’m already sure that so long as you have a foundation in ideas of equality and non governance, how you apply and how you present those principles is more important and effective than how much you know.
Anyways, knowledge out of context doesn’t carry anywhere near as much weight as experience, especially in its presentation to the uninitiated. Speaking of which, I think I may be in conflict with many comrades in my belief that an important part of my being an anarchist or communist is for me to try to spread the ideas and principles to others. To do this I really don’t think much beyond the basics is required as anyone that takes any real interest is going to do their own research and find places like Libcom for themselves, heavily jargoned in-depth analysis just ain’t gonna cut the mustard with the newly interested.
Thanks for all the input you guys.