The Departure of Radical Pretense

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Black Badger
Joined: 21-03-07
Oct 25 2011 21:22
The Departure of Radical Pretense

The Departure of Radical Pretense:
A Critical Post-Left Response to Chris Spannos’s “The Coming Insurrection or the Arrival of Suicidal Nonsense?”1

by Lawrence Jarach

A Few Introductory Remarks
It may seem strange to use so much space for a critical response to a negative review of someone else's book, especially if that book is not wholly or uncritically embraced by regular readers and contributors to this journal (see the critical appraisals elsewhere in this issue2). However, the hatchet job from one ostensibly anarchist critic of The Coming Insurrection is full of the kinds of misreadings, distortions, caricatures, and bizarre imputations that are among the most notable instinctive and/or default positions of most Leftists (some anarchists included) when faced with anything even slightly outside their typical celebration of reformist mass movement politics. As such, we decided that a specifically post-left response would be a positive exercise in explaining and promoting the distinctions between that perspective and the usual Leftist absurdities epitomized by Chris Spannos’s apoplectic and delirious rantings.

Comrades (and other insults)
The Coming Insurrection (TCI), written by The Invisible Committee, has become quite the sensation across the political spectrum.3 Its anarchist and radical fans suggest that it’s a pivotal text of contemporary revolutionary thought, and while I don't agree with all that The Invisible Committee say, I can easily recognize them as allies, kindred spirits, accomplices. While those on the Right are predictably horrified by TCI, those who call themselves Progressives or Liberals or Leftists are similarly scandalized by the radical implications of TCI. Certainly this is a banal observation; we would expect nothing less from the guardians of the present order and its nauseatingly loyal opposition. What is perhaps a little surprising is the vitriol being unleashed against it by at least one self-described anarchist.4 Among the dismissals and insults (some occurring more than once) scattered throughout the negative reception from Chris Spannos of Znet are the following decidedly unfriendly descriptive gems:
counter-productive; having a negative impact on our Left movements; bad judgment and poor reasoning; misguided; negative; blatant callousness toward working people; indifference; incredibly sad—and destructive; nonsense; a strategy for defeat; Why would the authors ... not just crawl under a rock?; senseless and even harmful ideas; flavorless; mistaken; crude; dictatorial; disruptive; beneath contempt; nonsense; delusional; disrupting; attacking; useless; sectarian; debilitating...

Spannos’s incoherence begins almost immediately, with the establishment of his own supposedly radical credentials. His review is written “from the perspective of someone who desires the revolutionary transformation of society by self-organized sectors and involving long-term organizing and movement building, culminating in re-defining society’s institutions bearing on race, class, gender and decision-making to attain a classless and self-managed participatory society.” At first glance, this long-winded mouthful might actually seem compelling for an aspiring oppositional activist. Except that he has placed himself in an immediately hostile and adversarial position (the tone of which is evident above) with regard to TCI, its authors, and, by extension, anyone who finds the text the least bit interesting, attractive, or important. He wants his readers to believe that he has most of the same goals as The Invisible Committee, the better to correct their “misguided” positions. Spannos, however, cannot but fail in his mission since his positions are, in several important ways, the very opposite of those outlined in TCI.
If The Invisible Committee belongs to a broad field inhabited by post-leftists, insurrectionary anarchists, rioters, squatters, autonomous antifascists, anti-state communists, and others not so easy to identify with such constraining labels, then there's something a little askew about Spannos’s supposed insider credentials. While several criticisms can certainly be made about their rejection, “long-term organizing and movement building” are not usually on the agendas of those for whom TCI has resonance. And mightn’t “the revolutionary transformation of society” entail something slightly more substantial than “redefining” institutions? In the most exciting and historically conscious descriptions of various revolutionary experiments, isn’t there usually something about abolishing exploitation (economic, racial, gender-based, decision-making) that plays some small part in “revolutionary transformation”? With all the other cant tossed around, a thoughtful and critical reader might conclude that an additional vague or empty slogan could have been tossed in for good measure. Regardless, and this is an important point, there’s nothing inherently revolutionary about “self-organized sectors” (what’s a “sector” in this context anyway?); as the experience of the German council movement of 1918-21 showed, the middle classes and other non-proletarian “sectors” were perfectly capable of being “self-organized” as well.5

“Our Left movements”
Many of Spannos’s objections to TCI sound too similar to ZNet czar Michael Albert's authoritarian objections to anarchists, beginning with his annoyance at the actions of the N30 anti-WTO Seattle Black Bloc; they both invoke some species of activist democracy over and above the various subjective agendas of self-organized factions – or should that be “sectors”? – among a vaguely defined Left (or oppositional) movement. Both seem unable to conceive of the possibility that there might be some folks who are not interested in restructuring or “redefining” the current regime of capital and the state, that they might instead be interested in definitively dismantling it. Like Albert, Spannos cannot accept that anyone could be more revolutionary than he considers himself. The obvious conclusion, and one that is implicit throughout his rant, is that such autonomously organized people are more than merely “misguided” comrades or rivals; they are actually dangerous.
Spannos says that TCI gives “police an excuse and avenues by which to attack,” that the authors call for situations “that worsen conditions or alienate potential allies,” and that they promote “precisely the agenda of the police.” Imputing such a nihilistic, (self-) destructive, and counter-revolutionary agenda to the authors of TCI requires that Spannos misread the text – to say nothing of ignoring how the police act routinely – and also requires a deliberate misunderstanding of insurrectionary or autonomous discourse. Spannos might just as well call the authors agents provocateur. The allegation that one's ideological rivals and/or opponents are working for the cops or doing the cops’ job for them is the first (and facile and completely irresponsible) refuge of the scoundrel, a person devoid of the capacity to put forth a coherent argument.

Invisibility, Anonymity, and the Leadership Principle
Spannos decries the anonymity of The Invisible Committee. Anonymity is the prerogative of any author. If there is a desire to be recognized and celebrated (as what? a smart person, a leader, an influential militant?), there is an accompanying danger of making the project about personality rather than goals, methods, processes, and results. A “revolutionary transformation” is not a competition that requires a few people taking responsibility for their ideas; rather, it’s a project that requires a lot of people taking individual and collective responsibility for their actions. By making the project only about ideas, the (semi-)professional Leftist theoretician or activist makes it a project about prestige and leadership.
In relation to anonymity, Spannos writes: “To argue that oppressed sectors of society, and those that work in solidarity with them, should not organize and make their cause visible is to argue for those groups to not address their oppressions.” A decent enough point – except that this is not at all what the authors intend or say. The Invisible Committee bring up the problem of Leftist organizers making a Cause (the abstract) more important than the needs and desires of the individuals involved in struggles (the concrete) in order to gain prestige and influence for themselves (and/or the cadre, group, ideology, or Party) as organizers, rather than helping others to self-organize. Leftists constantly refuse to face consciously the threat to their own positions of influence and prestige if they deign to offer practical ideas rather than leadership. Instead, organizers most often retain the skills they have in making themselves indispensable to The Struggle, maintaining the division of labor between activists and organizers on one side, and followers on the other – which is precisely what the authors of TCI are getting at. One explicit area of criticism is the visibility of representation and leadership as well as a concern with the corrupting influence of power and prestige on (semi-) professional activists.6
This is also a classic case of psychological projection: Spannos is accusing The Invisible Committee of conflating their presumed leadership of a struggle with those in struggle. The authors of TCI are clear that if or when they choose to engage in public (or visible) struggles, they are doing so on an individual or affinity group-type level, integrated with their peers. They are explicitly opposed to any faction taking on a leadership role, and by extension, presenting themselves as authentic representatives of that struggle. Spannos, like other Left organizers, appears unable to conceive of participating in a particular struggle without becoming part of its leadership. And as everyone knows, democratic and/or participatory leadership is always responsible and transparent, never invisible or anonymous.
Spannos finds another aspect of anonymity quite troubling, and it might have been an interesting point to bring up, except that it is completely off-target and not a little bit hilarious. Attempting to provide some kind of preemptive antidote to a potentially dictatorial presence, he writes:
Beneath their hyperbole the core of the problem is that it is thinly veiled vanguardism, that not only assumes that the Invisible Committee knows what is best for all others by way of strategy and tactics, but that also removes the option of freedom and autonomy from others.
But TCI is not an organizing manifesto for a cadre or federation or Party; it’s a declaration of anonymous attack, which others are free to join – or ignore. There is no moralistic or coercive capacity inhering in The Invisible Committee or any other anonymous formation or caucus or clique; how could there be? The popularity of the text does not necessarily translate into the popularity of the authors' tactics or strategies (let alone analysis). It may give some people some ideas that may or may not follow a similar trajectory, but it is absurd to allege that popularity equals influence equals the Invisible Committee becoming a vanguard. Of what does this “vanguardism” consist? Is Spannos saying that the authors are trying to make themselves into the directors of an insurrection? If so, how can anonymous individuals have that kind of influence? Wouldn’t their very anonymity make such a thing impossible? Not only does Spannos deliberately misread parts of the text, but here he creates a truly bizarre inversion of its intention.

Solidarity, Sabotage, and Sabotaging Solidarity
For those who don't know, one or more of the presumed authors of TCI were preemptively arrested and imprisoned by the French authorities. Spannos seems to be sensitive to the plight of the Tarnac 9, who consistently denied that any of them were involved in writing TCI. His concern for them and their supporters prompts him to find yet another problem with the anonymity of The Invisible Committee:
First, let's assume the “Tarnac 9,” who were said to be part of a “criminal association for the purposes of terrorist activity,” are innocent and were wrongly accused (all have in fact been released). This book is being used as evidence against them... If the authors are not among the accused and they are innocent of writing the text, then their spending time in jail and being wrapped up in related past, present, and future legal proceedings, as well as tying up the time, effort, and resources of others offering solidarity, is a basic example of how the actual authors have negatively affected the freedom of others.
Solidarity has somehow tied up “the time, effort, and resources” of those who've offered it voluntarily? Aside from having a strange idea of what solidarity actually means and looks like, Spannos blames The Invisible Committee for the arrests and jailing of the Tarnac 9. Yet the actual blame rests solely with the paranoid and desperate security forces of the French state. The cops were the ones who decided that Julien Coupat was the main author of TCI. The cops decided that the text was dangerous and acted accordingly – as typical cops. Bizarrely for a self-described anarchist, Spannos entirely omits the routine repressive role and function of the cops, especially as they relate to political dissidents. Are we really supposed to believe that The Invisible Committee has the ability to provoke or otherwise influence the decisions of the judicial bureaucracy of the French state?
Second, beyond the Tarnac 9, what about an act of sabotage7 that provides pretext for the state to further exercise its repressive mechanisms by using “anti-terrorism” machinations negatively affecting the greater population?
The state doesn't require any excuse to “exercise its repressive mechanisms”; repressive mechanisms are among the first and most important tools of any state, and repression is an inherent function of the state. Its agents constantly decide against whom, when, where, how often, and how intrusively those repressive mechanisms should be put into play. Agents of the state are the first among many who have a complete disregard for any negative affects of their actions on “the greater population.”8 Outside of obvious dictatorships, proffering public excuses makes repressive measures more palatable to the average uncritical law-abiding citizen and maintains the illusion of democracy and order; anyone with even the slightest understanding of how states operate day to day is more aware of what's really going on than Spannos the fake revolutionary. Spannos should have learned in his supposed anarchist education that a defining aspect of anarchism is the analysis of the state and its functions as wholly negative – precisely because its agents exercise coercive and repressive power and control arbitrarily and with as little regard for tedious irrelevancies like public opinion or highfalutin notions of social justice.
In any case, sabotage is not meant to build or strengthen “activist movements” – which is precisely why Spannos hates it. It is, however, an integral strategy of class struggle.9 Sabotage is a small way of recapturing some of the power and capacity that's continuously removed from workers and poor people; it is meant to embarrass and weaken those who oppress. A form of autonomous and anonymous active resistance, it is intended not to endanger the actor. The agents of law and order – and those on the Left whose identities are tied up with protecting what they consider the redeemable parts of capital and property – despise saboteurs precisely because anonymous attacks are impossible to prevent and nearly impossible to punish. Spannos and other Leftists despise anonymous texts for the same reasons: they sabotage their careers.
Leftists, interested in taking over the productive forces for their own use, are also against sabotage. One reason is that they don't approve of unsanctioned individual action (what Party Communists routinely condemn as “adventurism”); the mass – or even better, its substitute: the Party – is the only appropriate agent for restructuring and redefining institutions. Another reason is that, as authoritarians, they cannot support any act that takes place outside their influence, control, or approval.

Vandals and Know-It-Alls
Referring to the Greek uprising of December 2008, Spannos appears to support the widespread vandalism and property destruction that occurred in the wake of the police murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos, but then becomes quite petulant.
Standing outside the Polytechnic University ... anti-authoritarian comrades explained to us the negative effects of the shooting of a police officer by an armed revolutionary group... It was the second shooting targeting police at the tail-end of the uprising... Thus the unilateral acts of a few had negative consequences for the many.
Spannos is equating book publishing and sabotage with shooting a cop?! Seriously? This is nothing but bombast and offensive rhetorical excess, to say nothing of it being the kind of hyperbole one would expect from a right-winger. This stupendously unsavory equation, coming as it does from someone who sees himself as (patronizingly) concerned with some errant comrades, one who sees himself as wiser and saner, one who can – nay must! – impart his omniscient advice to his benighted comrades, is completely irresponsible and reprehensible. Vandalism and assault are not comparable, yet Spannos is willing to score ideological points against the authors of TCI by echoing the crassest pro-capitalist equation of property destruction with murder. This is totally unacceptable for anyone claiming to be a revolutionary.

Leftism and Other Assumptions
Throughout his screed, Spannos shows himself to be so immersed in his own assumptions about the methodology of Leftist social change that he is blind to anything else. This is ideological thinking at its worst: blinkered, uncritical, and completely devoid of any self-reflection. Such undeserved self-assurance inevitably results in yet another misreading of the text: “building the new society requires new social relations and community where solidarity and mutual aid is felt and practiced. This requires openness and visibility not individualism and ‘invisibility.’”
Spannos reflexively enlists the perennial Leftist bogeyman, “individualism.” Spannos’s caricature is then portrayed as the opposite of a never-defined “openness.” He presumes that his readers will automatically understand what he means; unthinking use of activist jargon characterizes his relationship with Leftism.
What is Leftism and what do Leftists do? Spannos lets us know soon after, with another attack on the style of TCI, the only aspect he actually understands. He complains that “The entire text has an irreverent character attacking what is mostly important, not just for those who dominate society as you would expect, but also for serious Leftists, such as institution and movement building by activists who are working to transform the world.”
Apparently being irreverent is never part of transforming the world, at least not for humorless Leftists. Spannos’s definition of “serious Leftists” is accurate enough, but it’s still annoying that he believes that they are the only ones “who are working to transform the world.” His critique of TCI is most certainly Leftist; Spannos is explicit and transparent about that. He doesn’t recognize that any of his description of what “serious Leftists” and “activists” do might be a problem, yet it is abundantly clear from the tone and content of TCI that the authors find such things very problematic. That’s long been part of the conflict between anarchists and Leftists, but Spannos refuses to see it, despite the abundant examples enumerated throughout TCI – and elsewhere.
Spannos never explains how or, more importantly, why anarchists or other fans of TCI should be roped into some amorphous conglomeration he calls “serious Leftists.” In fact he never mentions what is specific about his understanding of anarchism that makes it overlap with the generic Leftist social justice activism he champions. Sprinkle in a “mutual aid” here or a “solidarity” there, maybe even spraypaint a circle-a somewhere, and – presto! – what do we get? Spannarchism? It doesn't actually require a neologism, since what he’s calling for is more of the same failed Left strategies of the past five – maybe more – decades of (attempted) Euro-American mass movement activism.
“Institution building by activists” could characterize anything at all, regardless of any particular political philosophy held by any group of activists, right-wingers included. So again, what makes it anarchist? What makes Spannos’s criticism of TCI anarchist? Is he even interested in a specifically anarchist criticism of it?
His insistence that there couldn’t be anyone who wants an anti-capitalist and anti-statist revolution who is not a Leftist constantly gets the better of him. Spannos asks naively of the Invisible Committee: “Are they part of the Left, part of an effort to win a better world?” Apart from his murky, vague, and competitive language (what do we actually win? Are there prizes?), the obvious answer to his rhetorical question – did he really expect anything different? – is No, they aren't. To anyone familiar with an anarchist critique of Leftism (which is certainly not the exclusive province of us crazy post-left anarchists10), it couldn’t be clearer, yet Spannos can only gape incomprehensibly.

The Organizational Question and Questions about Organizations
The issue of organization is one of the most serious bones of contention within anarchist circles as well as between anarchists and Leftists. Spannos comes down squarely on the Leftist side, the side promoting mass organization. Questions concerning organizations are central to anarchists, yet for the alleged anarchist Spannos, there are only unsupported assertions. He insists that questioning the need for mass organization necessitates the rejection of all possibilities and forms of organization. He complains that:
The rest of the book repeats various arguments for isolating themselves, and others who share their ideas, from collective action and organization. For example, their declaration that, “Organizations are obstacles to organizing ourselves.” (Pg. 7) Once again, as satire, maybe—but there is no other justification for such absurdity, as is evidenced by their own rationale for this statement premised on such nonsense as, “In truth, there is no gap between what we are, what we do, and what we are becoming. Organizations—political or labor, fascist or anarchist—always begin by separating, practically, these aspects of existence.” (Pg. 7) Of course, there is no gap between “what we are, what we do, and what we are becoming” but organizations “always begin by separating, practically...”? It's as if they’re making it up as they go along.
Here's the rest of the paragraph, starting with the very next sentence:
It’s then easy for them to present their idiotic formalism as the sole remedy to this separation. To organize is not to give a structure to weakness. It is above all to form bonds—bonds that are by no means neutral—terrible bonds. The degree of organization is measured by the intensity of sharing—material and spiritual.11
There is a context for the parts Spannos cites, and as is crystal clear from the latter several sentences, the paragraph in question is not a stand-alone dismissal of all forms of organization. It’s as if he’s deliberately decontextualizing as he goes along…
The reality is that if there’s a nominally anarchist organization that already exists, other anarchists looking to engage in some kind of anarchist activity – especially if they are still harboring the liberal illusion equating numbers with influence – will gravitate toward existing groups even if those groups do not reflect the entirety of their goals. Rather than beginning with a few friends organizing into an affinity group and then perhaps federating with one or more other similarly organized and interested affinity groups, the temptation will be to join in with others who’ve already established some larger presence; this is the most serious obstacle to discovering the capacities of the self-organized group. If they propose to influence the existing organization in a direction more in line with their desires and goals, the most likely result will be friction inside the organization if those newer members’ desires are even minimally different from those of the older members. In this case, the statement from TCI makes perfect sense: saying that organizations are obstacles to self-organization is not satire, but a condemnation of a specific conception, model, and practice of organization.
This critical attitude might equally be the result of the painful experiences of being stuck in organizations that stultify the initiatives of individuals and smaller clusters of like-minded allies. Taking the existence of organizations for granted, there are a few more important questions that need to be asked:

1. Which is to take precedence? The Organization, or the self-organization of individuals and groups who can then choose to federate, or not? These options are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but there is usually some tension involved;
2. Does the Organization exist to further the struggle of those in it or does it exist as a self-perpetuating outfit, with a strategic trajectory that contains the potential for moving away from the desires and goals of the organizers – an institution in the worst sense of the term? (Again, not necessarily mutually exclusive, but there’s certainly a tension that should be recognized and addressed.) This might well be the most important question concerning organization – at least it should loom large for anarchists and others promoting self-organization, radical social transformation, and possibly even revolution. It’s only satire to Spannos because he believes that the (Mass) Organization is indispensable.
The proposition that organizations are somehow neutral, their importance or impact in social change being dependent only on the goals and methods of their members rather than their form and content – the way technophiles look at technology, and social democrats look at states – is implicit in yet another of Spannos’s assertions. He states, fully confident that he could not possibly be challenged, that “Rather than abolish organizations we should self-consciously redefine them for classless, anti-sexist, anti-racist, and self-managing objectives.” Can any revolutionary project be reduced to a question of redefinitions? What is it about changing the language and terminology that makes the change more radical than, say, changing the color or pattern of a flag? We're back to the issue of form versus function, of symbolism versus reality. “Redefining” an organization doesn't – and can't – change its fundamental characteristics.
But instead of this kind of self-conscious organization they propose “a new idea of communism” that is to be found in “the shadows of bar rooms, in print shops, squats, farms, occupied gymnasiums” and equally astonishingly propose that this is where “the truly revolutionary potentiality of the present” can be found. (Pg. 8) An occupied gymnasium? Are they serious?
Yep, they’re serious. How do I know? Because in France and in over 40 other countries around the world “gymnasium” means college preparatory high school.12 Clearly the responsibility for this clumsiness rests with the translator(s) and editor(s), who, in their probable haste to produce a decent English version of the text while the Continental controversy surrounding it was still fresh, might be forgiven such literalism. But if Spannos thought it was too ridiculous to avoid commenting on it, he might have done a quick Wikipedia search with the keywords “France” and “gymnasium.” The Anglo-supremacism of his deluded self-congratulatory (false) discovery is just embarrassing.

“Even If They Don't Believe It,” or Making Leftists Look Stupid
The following section not only showcases one of Spannos’s oft-used tools (specifically, denying the self-understanding and self-definition of The Invisible Committee), but it’s also so fraught with assumptions about the superior worth of Leftist strategies, and the concomitant inferiority of those expounded in TCI, that it deserves extensive quotation throughout.
The message they deliver, even if they don't believe what they are saying, translates to “go where most people are not, don't bother to interact or organize, lower your standards for revolution away from society-wide classlessness and participatory self-management. Isolate yourselves, don't make demands, don't have program or strategy, don't try to build the seeds of the future society in the present, don't talk about racism or sexism, etc. Remain disorganized and fragmented.” Not only is it a strategy for defeat, it is a rhetoric that whether intended or not, makes Leftists look both uncaring and stupid. (my emphasis)
TCI notwithstanding, some would make the case that many, if not most, historical and contemporary Leftists are indeed uncaring and stupid. Spannos can’t figure out that the authors of TCI don't consider themselves to be part of the Left (whether defined expansively or narrowly). This is not the only strawman Spannos sets up in his criticism of TCI, but it is paradigmatic. It is both arrogant and authoritarian to impute opinions and intentions to others they don't have. He assumes that there is only one way to organize for revolution: his way, the Leftist way, the Mass Movement way.13 This, despite the century-long history of Leftist distractions, dead-ends, failures, and betrayals.
Of course this is nonsense and dismisses gains of the woman’s, gay, and civil rights movements, not to mention struggles even of recent years such as those in Argentina, Greece, Bolivia, and Venezuela—among other places—that have generations of political struggle, consciousness, tradition, organizing, and movement and institutions [sic] building behind them, and which the Invisible Committee seems to completely disregard.
They do not disregard these things; they challenge the idea that certain of them have revolutionary potential (forget about actuality) rather than being ways of further (re)integrating dissent into the mechanisms of the state and politics as usual.14 The phenomenon Spannos points to is usually called reformism, which is fine strategy if all you want to do is make people's lives a little more bearable but not fundamentally challenge or concretely alter their living conditions and relationships. This gets to the heart of the differing strategies of reformists and revolutionaries. But then we'll probably start hearing something Albertian about non-reformist reforms...
...however misguided, to avoid long-term movement and institution building to counter the structures that now dominate society, or to avoid creating new structures organized on gender equity and cultural diversity, classlessness, self-management, and participatory empowerment. However, it is an insult to overlook those efforts in other movements or to imply that organizing against oppressions like war and occupation, among others, is wrong.
It's not that it’s wrong, but that it’s not revolutionary. For The Invisible Committee (if I may be so bold as to presume to speak for them), it is a descriptive question rather than a strategic question. Once again, Spannos is starting from a vastly different set of assumptions, which will therefore yield vastly different goals and strategies. In addition, his projection of moral reasons onto the opposite of what he imputes as the intentions of the authors of TCI is absurd.
What could possibly be the logic for this call to retreat from the Left? They are deliberate in this rejection — however badly misguided it is. To reject classless, anti-racist, and anti-sexist movements and organizations is to embrace class rule, racism, and sexism. And even though the authors would probably deny it—the denial would have no basis.
It's not a retreat – it's a rejection, as Spannos clearly recognizes. A retreat is when you abandon a position and/or your allies; a rejection is when you decide that the positions are untenable and your ostensible allies are not really your allies after all. If anyone is to take him seriously or at least listen to what he has to say, Spannos needs to remind us of or teach us about the (few? several? many?) revolutionary victories to point to as reasons to justify embracing the Left and its strategies. Where are the models of actual classless, anti-sexist, and anti-racist movements and organizations coming from anywhere on the Left? Retreating from actual projects that provided models to follow or improve upon, unsuccessful projects that were clearly destroyed by external opponents (rather than internal so-called supporters), projects that indicated an overall Leftist commitment to anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian methodology... that would be tragic. Based on the historical record that indicates a glaring lack of any such projects, however, the case for a revolutionary (anarchist or otherwise) rejection of the Left is rock solid.
Spannos’s assertion that to reject the Left is to embrace all the inequalities of the capitalist status quo is based on an exclusive polarized dualism. The same faulty logic leads to the conclusion that to reject the former Soviet Union is to embrace capitalism; to reject communism is to embrace fascism; to reject national liberation movements is to embrace imperialism, etc. This is the logic of entrenched Leninism; from an authentically revolutionary perspective, such binaries are self-evidently ludicrous. Spannos’s stale, Cold War-era argument is laughable. Embracing such dualities allows no possibility for transcending the limitations of a Leftist worldview, a transcendence that post-left anarchists have been explicitly promoting for at least the past dozen years or so.15

Representation and its Discontents
The crude analysis ... is extended into ‘assemblies suffering from the bad example of bourgeois parliaments,’ about which they propose as legitimate activity for leftists to:
Sabotage every representative authority. Spread the talk. Abolish general assemblies. (Pg. 80)
The question of the legitimacy of representatives and representational authority is definitely a part of what separates Leftists from anarchists. General assemblies seem to me a good idea; however, I accept the critique of them as a potential location of separation of decision making from decision implementation as well as potential locations of manipulation by authoritarian cliques. As such, they could easily become self-perpetuating institutions of alienation, a mirror of bourgeois parliaments, and definitely worthy of abolition. The dearth of actual general assemblies as part of the history of American radical politics is perhaps one reason why Spannos is so scandalized by the suggestion to abolish them; most American Leftists (and many American anarchists) remain committed to representative democracy and parliamentary procedures regardless of the many problems inherent in that form of organizing and decision making.
Assemblies should not simply be vehicles for resisting the oppressive society that we know today and under times of crisis. They should eventually expand into forms of self-managed control over neighborhood and community decision-making in a revolutionary society. Not where consensus, one person-one vote, or majority rule automatically dominate, but where people decide themselves what is the best method of decision-making for arriving at classless outcomes that affect them in proportional ways. Such assemblies can act as bodies for self-governing law-making and adjudication (two things the Invisible Committee would probably wrongly reject). And they should serve alongside decentralized worker and consumer councils for participatory economic decision-making allocating the material means of life throughout society, with accompanying emancipatory changes in other spheres of life too. (my emphasis)
Why would The Invisible Committee, explicit anti-statists, be interested in two of the most fundamental functions of the state? The creation of a system of laws and the resolution of conflicts based on those laws is the veneer of justice that obscures the oppressive and repressive arms of the state. Spannos insists that the authors of TCI “probably wrongly reject” them, yet he is unwilling and/or incapable of explaining why these institutions should be replicated (and “redefined” no doubt) in the first place – let alone how they could be replicated in a non-class based, anti-sexist, anti-racist way, when the history of all states and all quasi-state-based institutions of legislation and adjudication have always separated groups and classes of people into categories precisely along those (and similar) lines. Spannos’s rejection of any radical pretense is now explicit; his commitment is to the creeping statism and authoritarianism of Michael Albert’s Parecon racket. Not only The Invisible Committee, but virtually all self-conscious anarchist and other anti-state revolutionaries would correctly reject this program for institutionalized hierarchy, the creation of criminality, and an implicit embrace of mechanisms of enforcement and punishment (how else would “adjudication” be meaningful?).
And indeed, the authors would likely reject these criticisms... [about] important questions that should be dealt with consciously and collectively.
The Invisible Committee, in arguing for The Commune, explicitly promote conscious and collective activities. Spannos’s lack of interest in discerning what the authors of TCI are actually getting at is perhaps his greatest failing – a failure of imagination and conceptual ability. His objections are all based on ideological assumptions about control and representation (and their enforcement). In short, Spannos is a champion of bourgeois political science and its primary concern: statecraft. The Parecon swindle to which he subscribes implies nothing less.16 Self-organized and self-managed exploitation is still exploitation; self-organized and self-managed statecraft is still statecraft; self-organized and self-managed hierarchies are still hierarchies – no matter how obliquely their cheerleaders might “redefine” them.17

Affinity, Alliance, and the Delusion of Wrecking
In TCI, the authors give examples of projects and education that would be useful and indispensable for the creation of autonomous communes. None are particularly surprising if we are looking to build small-scale, face to face communities based on affinity and friendship as a foundation for larger formations of cooperation. Yet Spannos believes that promoting such things is “delusional.” He is more than scandalized by the suggestions; he opens himself up to allegations of his own delusional – if not fully paranoid – thinking:
If those are the steps they see as central to winning a better world—fine. They should go and do those things. Take karate. Work for a locksmith. Get medical training. Study electrical engineering. Set up street kitchens—for the unemployed they are unmoved by. Practice shooting, and so on. But please, go do it somewhere truly anonymous rather than parading the suicidal rhetoric publicly while maintaining personal anonymity and disrupting the efforts of Leftists either overtly or by attacking their organizing or indirectly giving police an excuse and avenues by which to attack. (my emphasis)
Spannos must believe (with his Marxist-Leninist forebears) that anyone engaged in actions that are attractive or relevant to any of their target demographic unsanctioned by their august stewardship are the work of counter-revolutionary wreckers and saboteurs. While he does not explicitly call The Invisible Committee agents provocateurs, he explicitly accuses them of opening up Leftists to police attack – once again totally ignoring the fact that the cops never need an excuse to do their jobs.

Real Dialectics
So what are the authors for if they are against organizing, movement, and institution building, and working to provide the ground work for the new society? Their answer is ‘Insurrection.’ They write, ‘Take up arms. Do everything possible to make their use unnecessary. Against the army, the only victory is political.’ (Pg. 84, original italics) Is writing in ways that can mean anything and nothing at the same time supposed to be productive?
Here's a fascinating complaint. If the writing in TCI is characterized by the intentional transgression of standard dualistic binaries (which has already annoyed Spannos prior to this quote), then it makes complete sense, within the context of TCI and on its own terms, to make what at first glance might appear to be internally contradictory declarations. But really this is just a more sophisticated dialectic than what Leftists are accustomed to. When confronted with a complex (i.e. non-binary) dialectic, one that might actually reflect reality instead of existing in some rarified philosophical salon (or on ZNet), Spannos, like other Leftists, is completely beyond his ken.
Spannos’s own attempt to create a more subtle dialectic fails miserably. Taking a stab at the lowest common denominator again, he writes,
The authors propose an urgency that most would agree with but also an argument for sectarianism that most would not:
‘It’s useless to wait—for a breakthrough, for the revolution, the nuclear apocalypse or a social movement. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.’ (Pg. 63, original Emphasis)
And yet clearly the sides are precise and simple: for revolution or against it. This is perhaps an oversimplified binary, but it is not necessarily sectarian. Perhaps Spannos is ultra-sensitive to that possibility since he sees TCI’s authors as his rivals – or worse, his competitors – for revolutionary allegiance. The problem with this supposition is that, according to the discourse running throughout TCI (as well as my analysis of his objections to the text), Spannos’s allegiance to revolution is false.
But in the face of urgency the solution is not to act in ways that worsen conditions or alienate potential allies by saying “we must choose sides” where the sides are between choosing waiting without organizing or choosing insurrection. No one should wait without organizing. Everyone should organize. So the solution is to get to work with others, develop shared ideas about not only what we are against, for example, capitalism, racism, patriarchy and authoritarianism—but what we are for. Once we know where it is we want to go, we can then act with the urgency needed to organize and build institutions and movements able to win change and create the necessary foundations for a future society.
How does an insistence on choosing sides “alienate potential allies”? How can it possibly “worsen conditions”? Without any kind of evidence, or the merest suggestion of a characteristic or analogy, Spannos’s allegations are more than a little silly; indeed, they make no sense whatsoever. The choices that Spannos imputes to The Invisible Committee are similarly false. I have already established that Spannos is incorrect to state that the authors of TCI recommend waiting without organizing, and that it’s a question of what kind of organizing we’re talking about. Since the concept of insurrection18 is not attacked with an explanatory analysis or, indeed, any substantial objections, we don't know why Spannos has a problem with it; all we know is that Spannos thinks its opposite can only mean “waiting without organizing.” What about self-organizing to destroy – rather than “redefine” – the current situation, without a clear goal for what comes after such a definitive rupture? Too nihilistic? Too scandalous? Too alienating? Does not having a plan for the future actually “worsen conditions”? It has been argued that this is precisely the situation that led to the most oppressive actions of various socialists in power (from Lenin and Trotsky to Mao, Castro, Hoxha, Kim Il Sung, et al.); when objective conditions didn’t line up with their plans, it wasn’t the plans or their power that changed...
According to the contextual internal logic of TCI, organizing for anything less than the destruction of current conditions inevitably leads to their “redefined” replication, a replication that Spannos insists upon, with his commitment to legislative and judicial institutions, his adherence to Leftist principles of organizing and movement building. If the authors of TCI are correct that sides must be chosen, then it’s clear which side Spannos is on.

The Problem of Linguistic Flourishes
Spannos’s final objection (a reprise of his taking offense to its “irreverent character”) has to do with the language, tone, and style of TCI. He laments the difficult language, believing it to be an obstacle to regular people (you remember: our potential allies, instinctive but perhaps uncommitted Leftists, the ones we’re not supposed to alienate) getting the message – himself included apparently. Once again he invokes a lowest common denominator strategy: “No matter how well meaning we may be, our language needs to be user friendly so that everyone can help shape our vision and strategy.”
The language of TCI may be florid, elliptical, saturated with hyperbole and difficult metaphors (not to mention complex dialectics), but it is also passionate, emotive, imaginative, poetic, and most of all, enjoyable. In all these ways it is significantly unlike the stodgy Leftist organizational mantras, pleas for democracy, and false dichotomies liberally sprinkled throughout Spannos’s review.

Published in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed #70/71