Riffraff in the libertarian milieu - Argelaga

Riffraff in the libertarian milieu - Argelaga

A timely warning to the libertarians of Spain from the editors of Argelaga concerning an attempt (June 2015), instigated by certain elements in the anarchist camp sympathetic to “Platformism”, to form a citizens’ political party based on civil society slogans (“the people, “society”, and “the majority” vs. “the evil ‘elite’” or “the one percent”), transmitted via the telegraphic text-message-style communications of a “postmodern”, “upbeat” and “trendy” “lexicon”, crafted for an audience composed of “the pauperized and computer-literate middle class, students and local bureaucrats”, fodder for “reformist militantism of the trade union, municipalist, NGO or para-institutional type”.

Riffraff in the Libertarian Milieu1 – Argelaga

“Break out of the ghetto” is a refrain often heard in libertarian milieus, which—in view of the confused and murky situation in which social struggles are unfolding, struggles which are themselves marginal—only means that those who are singing this tune are ready to turn their backs on the truth about reality for the sake of an overdose of activism. While it is true that enclosing oneself in a short-sighted veganism, a merely verbal feminism, reading Foucault or involvement in the punk scene is just an innocuous way to adjust to a miserable reality, blind voluntarism or organic militancy is no better. It leads nowhere; it is bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. These are times of decomposition with hardly any movements, without lucid, angry majorities, and all we can do is to try to correctly analyze the present by highlighting the contradictions that might enlarge the cracks in the system and nourish revolt. The crisis follows its own rhythm, slow and frustrating, susceptible to the rise of all kinds of false illusions, the only kind of ideas around which majorities can presently rally. To close one’s eyes to past experiences and accept the consequences of flagrant nonsense in order to break out of one’s isolation and enjoy a substitute for real action does not solve the problem, but only makes it worse. Common sense is mistaken on this point: just because there are lots of us does not mean that we will get the last laugh.

We sincerely believe that the presence of refractory anarchists in social movements contributes to the radicalization of those movements. If, in addition, these anarchists are organized in affinity groups and federate with each other with more or less formal bonds, so much the better. They are the continuators of a historical tradition that was once fruitful. Self-managed spaces, cooperatives without shareholder-members or wage workers, and neighborhood assemblies are necessary instruments of struggle. But, unfortunately, if Teruel exists, so, too, does right-wing anarchism. It must be admitted that the results of the municipal elections of May 24, 2015 restored faith in government institutions among broad sectors of the population, which were more disillusioned in politics during the 15M movement. The more edifying variety of anarchism has ceased to be fashionable in certain alternative milieus. A considerable number of politically correct libertarians have been little less than traumatized at seeing their natural environment, the pauperized and computer-literate middle class, students and local bureaucrats, migrate to other pastures. Their reaction was not long in coming: in a multitude of meetings, those who were envious of the success of non-anarchist tendencies denounced “blinkered, short-term perspectives” [“cortoplacismo”]; generals without an army called for an “organized social anarchism” with “majority appeal”, and, finally, the most original of their comrades felt the burning need for “a major social initiative” that would lead us to the “conquest of a real democracy”. Such is the case with the authors of the manifesto entitled, “Construct a Strong Pueblo2 to Make Another World Possible”, a veritable pastiche of civil society ideas which has bedazzled the hundreds of supporters who signed it.

With regard to questions of imagination and craft, there is not much that can be said about this manifesto’s authors; only that, in the last analysis, in the era of liquid modernity, what matters is skill in composing text messages and using apps, rather than knowing how to write sentences more than one line long. And the manifesto’s title alludes to the slogan, “another world is possible”, made famous by the anti-globalization movement; we must recall, however, that the latter was referring to yet another kind of globalization, to another kind of capitalism, not to a “break-away model” with which “we can reconstruct ourselves as a free and sovereign society” by way of a “libertarian democracy of people, not of markets”. The manifesto’s analysis of the “transition” is as simplistic as the “once upon a time” of fairy tales: it could not be further removed from a sober assessment. “Democracy” is a word that is repeated ad nauseum, a patent concession to the indignados of 15M, in close conjunction with “our rights” and “the defense of our liberties and common goods” against an “elite” that “does not represent us”. What liberties, and what goods? Words such as “bourgeoisie”, “proletariat”, “class consciousness”, “ruling class”, “exploitation”, “misery”, “revolution”, “anarchy” and “self-management” are completely absent, which is normal if we recall that the manifesto is aimed at the lumpen-bourgeoisie and is written in the latter’s language, and that part of this lumpen-bourgeoisie has preferred to vote for “comrades” who “are opting for the institutional path”. What we have here is an attempt to manufacture an anarchist “brand” that appeals to the middle classes, and that is why the language used in this manifesto has been purged of terms that would seem disturbing and violent to them. The flashy anarchism of our liquid times does not arise as a theoretical expression of class struggle, urban revolt or territorial defense, but as the ideology of peaceful confrontation “in the streets and squares” between abstract entities like the “people”, “society” or “the majority” (which their political comrades call the “citizens”) and the evil “elite” or “the one percent”. It is a far-reaching civil society concept, and in no way contradicts its counterpart propagated by the civil society movement, since it is only trying to “instigate popular independence”, that is, it claims that it is trying to occupy the space that it abandoned in order to plunge into the electoral jungle.

OK. Since we have spoken enough about the stew, now we will speak of the cooks, for they are not exactly what you would call virgins when it comes to involvement in the libertarian scene. The authors of Mutual Aid’s manifesto are militants from various backgrounds, as are those who signed it. Mutual Aid is the Spanish version of Platformism, the most retrograde current of anarchism, characterized above all by organizational fetishism, the holy grail of the “program” and the utterly limitless opportunism of its practice. Despite having laid claim to a genealogy that goes all the way back to Bakunin himself, this carnival sideshow was born in Chile some fifteen years ago, dusting off the shopworn theme of the centralized, hierarchical and disciplined “anarchist party” with a single program. An “executive committee” was supposed to be responsible for “awakening” the masses from the outside so that they would unleash forms of “people’s power”, thanks to a “correct” leadership that would not hesitate to become entangled in political adventures. It is a leftism of Leninist reminiscences, which needs high levels of sectarianism and hallucinations to reinterpret, in a bureaucratic-vanguardist key, a reality that is very far removed from the authoritarian fantasies of the platformists. It is therefore a product of the cultural, political, economic and social disintegration of capitalism, truly hostile to the egalitarian dream, a spinner of tall tales, the natural offscouring of the fragments of the class associated with management that the system has jettisoned in its flight forward.

Platformism is the only current in anarchism that speaks of “power” and justifies without any qualifications the iron necessity of a mediating bureaucracy. The Spanish version is more “lite” and postmodern, as its trendy and upbeat lexicon demonstrates, and its vanguardism is more effectively dissimulated in a “network of militants” and a flexible “roadmap”. Just like its mentors, however, Mutual Aid views disorganization to be the greatest evil and the spontaneists as its greatest enemies. Ignoring all other considerations, all of the earth’s misfortunes are caused by a lack of organization, and, which is even worse, they are due to the absence of a “common program”, an absence that prevents “joint action”. According to Mutual Aid, we have to “put an end to organizational dispersion” and, thanks to an ingenious distinction between partial goals and final goals, we must “develop strategies and tactics that are thought to be practicable”, which will be translated into reformist militantism of the trade union, municipalist, NGO or para-institutional type. In accordance with the prevailing fashion, Mutual Aid postulates the need for a ruling bureaucracy which it calls the “organized people” that will administer “people’s power”. Its members have very good teachers in the anarchist figureheads who betrayed the revolution during the civil war; that is why they have to be in favor of the rehabilitation of the libertarian caste that renounced everything except the victory of their renunciations, engaging in a historiographical revisionism that is necessary for bolstering the image of a mythological past with its miserable features so carefully safeguarded: the party of truth transformed into the truth of the party. The manifesto sends a very clear message: the libertarian social democracy of good intentions has come to stay; the disoriented inhabitants of the ghetto and the riffraff who criticize organizational fundamentalism [lo organico] had better get used to it. Nothing outside the “organization”, everything for the organization! Down with libertarian communism! Long live “economic and political democracy”!

Revista Argelaga
June 20, 2015

Translated from the Spanish in June 2015.

Source: https://argelaga.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/de-la-caspa-en-el-medio-libertario/

See, for reference, Mark Bray, “Beyond the Ballot Box: Apoyo Mutual in Spain”, ROAR Magazine, May 22, 2015. A sympathetic article about the Mutual Aid group and its Manifesto, including an interview with one of the group’s spokespersons, available online (as of June 2015) at: http://roarmag.org/2015/05/spain-apoyo-mutuo-elections/.

  • 1. “Riffraff” is an attempt to translate the Spanish word, “caspa”, which can mean “dandruff”, but also something along the lines of “lowlife, scum, trash” [American translator’s note].
  • 2. The Spanish word pueblo, depending on the context, may mean “town” or “village”, or “people” as in the “Iberian people”, or “the working people” or “humble folk” as opposed to the rich [American translator's note].

Posted By

Alias Recluse
Jun 30 2015 22:29


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Jul 1 2015 12:39

Many thanks to the author and translator, on behalf of the party of anarchy, of socialism, of communism.

Connor Owens
Jul 7 2015 10:35

If anarchism is to become more than just the sort of self-enclosed ghetto the author admits to being limiting, it's difficult to understand what their problem is with groups like Mutual Aid, or with platformism generally.

If anything actually libertarian in character is ever to be initiated on a large scale involving many people, then anarchists simply have to try to appeal to a mass audience - in other words, to people who wouldn't consider themselves anarchists - using popular language instead of the more particular terminology found in radical left circles. If not, it can never become anything more than (on one end) lifestylists marginalising themselves by retreating into squatted collectives and (on the other) workerists waving a few red and black flags at strikes and protests - all convincing themselves they're the ones really "doing something" when in fact having little to no effect at the macro level.

Also, maybe terms like "bourgeoise", "proletariat", and "class consciousness" are excluded for good reason: they reek of Old Left authoritarian Marxism, economism, and class-reductionism. I suspect the author's ranting at middle class anarchists may involve more than a little bit of projection. Workerism has usually been something imposed onto the "Working Class" (TM) than something that emerged organically from it (or rather them, as its a plural, not a singular).

I can never get my head around why people continually try to encourage every anarchist to become either a platformist or a compete spontaneist. We need both structured organisations and dispersed autonomous groups to balance each other out.

Jul 7 2015 21:44

I actually mostly agree with you Connor.
I'm defenitly also for class-struggle but I have the feeling often terminology, self-perception (of both communists, anarchists ánd the general working class) is very diffuse.

I'm also definitely about breaking out of the self-enclosed ghetto - hell its one of the major projects i'm currently working on. That means also finding new ways of identifying the position that we are in (the world changed since the 1900's). And this new situation also demands new forms of expression (words, vocabulary, appeal, looks etc.). On the other hand this also doesn't mean abandoning class-struggle and conciousness. But repeating words that - how sad it might be - don't say common people anything is also not bringing us any further.

Next to this I see a problem, at where I live, that the 'scene' (even that word shows where we currently stand), class-struggle is a low-priority issue, and lifestyle-ism is head-high, also workerism is one hell of a pit of isolation.

I think we need to find a healthy mix between on the one hand class-consiousness, and on the other hand the struggle for a ballanced day-to-day life. Where we keep fighting (collectively) to reduce our work week (globally), but also seek to satisfy our humanly needs for a proper and safe life - or how they in Germany so beautifully say: "Wir kämpfen fur das gute leben".

I'm support the idea of the anarchist universe where we have true freedom of association. Where people who want to see more formal structures can form those, and where informal struggle is wanted, people can form those. Not in conflict of truth, but in difference of approach with complementary effects, coöperation and mutual responsibilty towards eachother (that last one lacks often! especially also because of infighting and competition). That is of course, self-organized, revolutionary organizations and groups, not political parties.

Connor Owens
Jul 8 2015 08:20

Definitely. I can't emphasise enough that my comments above were not opposed to class struggle, only the terminology being used. I get the sense that most of those on the radical left (mostly Marxists, but also some anarchists) who use the terms "proletariat" and "bourgeoisie" and other such terms have no idea just how weird and out-of-touch they sound. Same with referring to everybody as "workers" instead of people. Most don't define themselves by something they hate doing.

There's something Malatesta once said that sums up pretty well what I mean (I'm paraphrasing here), there may be times where we have to avoid using the terms socialism and anarchism (along with other terms) but only when socialism and anarchism are being practiced. It doesn't matter what terminology you use to describe libertarian social struggle as long as people are actually doing it.

Anarchism has always been weakest when it's drifted too close to lifestylism at one extreme or workerism on the other - the former being too close to liberal individualism and the latter too close to Marxism - and strongest when it's found ways to integrate personal autonomy with social struggle.

In practice that means encouraging both (1) completely decentralised and spontaneous groupings, and (2) more structured organisations with a common program. Proponents of either shouldn't see themselves as being in conflict with one another, both have their unique strengths and weaknesses which can balance each other out when they collaborate.

Connor Owens
Jul 8 2015 20:32

There's nothing "scientific" about Old Left Marxian terminology. This silly pretence to be a "science" has created untold amounts of myopia and self-righteousness and led to radical groups marginalising themselves due to the public regarding them as relics from the Cold War. Nor have many of the "scientific" predictions gleaned from Marxism come true. It's track record shows it to be about as accurate in describing reality as the so-called science of intelligent design.

And some of the more popular terms being employed to mobilise people have nothing to do with capitalism. Participatory democracy identifies a real collective practice of self-organised collective emancipation. How this somehow originates from capitalists is just a bizarre notion.

Nor is the workplace the "beating heart" of capitalist society. Exploitation under capitalism is now far more dispersed and is achieved primarily through rents (of myriad kinds) rather than directly through wage-labour. The site of exploitation is now the lived social environment as a whole, not just the workplace. Meaning the class struggle against capital must be broadened beyond the capitalist enterprise alone and integrated with other forms of struggle. Indeed, this was always the case, but now more than ever.

Juan Conatz
Jul 9 2015 05:22

I posted this on the libcom Facebook page before reading, which I regret, because after seeing some discussion on this there are a number of things that are unclear.

At first, I thought it was the Red Libertaria thing, which I remember being a CGT thing. But apparently, Apoyo Mutuo is different, see this site here.

Is this an electoral initiative? A non-electoral alternative to Podemos? Where does the kinda sectarian stuff on platformism come from? Is this an initiative from Spanish platformists? Or is there just a Spanish platformist group that is backing this?

Jul 9 2015 10:53

I think there are multiple 'beatings hearts'. Where in the west it was a beating heart before too, I think that one indeed morphed. There are still I think important traces of it which it cannot without.

But, I think that your explanation here is highly 'Western'-centric. In Asia, Afrika and South America, so for actually a huge part of the world, the ways of production and profiting is still quiet similar as in the early days.

Jul 9 2015 10:56

I totally agree and I have not opted for abandoning this. It is exactly one of my main criticism against the lifestylism I'm being confronted with in my movement. Its in my opinion even a huge projectionism where anarchists hear all the time that anarchism is chaos and then start acting upon this... believing in it.

The same goes for the idea as if anarchism is theoretically pover. There is so much stuff being written that you can never even read it all. I think its convenient for our opposition to constantly repeat this, even when its not true at all.

Jul 9 2015 22:39

Here the official statement of Apoyo Mutuo.

blia blia blia.
Jul 9 2015 22:57
Is this an electoral initiative? A non-electoral alternative to Podemos?

With the 15M (the Sol Square Occupy) some people with different political backgrounds (or not background at all) got together and debated. It brought some interesting grassroots initiatives. Podemos came and seduced a lot of people.
I think that is not exactly about fighting Podemos, but about pushing grassroots movement autonomous from any political party. About grouping people with libertarian sensitivity that works in grassroots social movements.

In this line you have:
Procés Embat. http://embat.info/ (Catalonia). The oldest initiative, about a year and a half.
Apoyo Mutuo. https://apmutuo.wordpress.com/ (Madrid and the rest of Spain). Some months.
Aunar. http://aunar.org/ (Aragon). Today is its firs open assembly.

There are quite similar projects, friendly one with each other

Where does the kinda sectarian stuff on platformism come from? Is this an initiative from Spanish platformists? Or is there just a Spanish platformist group that is backing this?

I don't think that hey are "sectarian plattformism". I don't see red&black stars or pointing only to the working class. They say it came from "discussion in internet forums". Yes, they may use a kind of "insertion in social movements" concept, or talk about the need of analysis,... but i don't see them as plattformists.

The first part of the article have a basis, but the last one, talking about the cooks, "plattformisms" coming from no one plattform organization, simply, it's not fair. Is the typical straw man fallacy

Argelaga is an anti-develpment magazine, created by the former autonomous/situationist/anarchist Miguel Amoros.
This groups have done little noise. Nowadays discussion have no sense, We have to wait and see how they develop.

blia blia blia.
Jul 10 2015 09:30

In the original article they don't say "riffraff", they say that Apoyo Mutuo is "casposo". It's hard to translate, it's similar to "scurfy".

It's not a riffraff as nobody from Apoyo Mutuo has answered, and I think they are clever enough to not to answer.

I'm not from Apoyo Mutuo, I refuse to join any militant club that would have me as a member.
In Spain the student organization FEL (http://felestudiantil.org/) is influenced by Chilean FEL (https://twitter.com/fel_chile), or what it was some years ago. Some Spanish FEL members are in these new organizations. So more than plattformism they can be influenced in some way by latinoamerican especifism and latinoamerican leftists experiences.

Juan Conatz
Jul 11 2015 07:06

On the amazingly still functioning Ainfos, I found Mark Bray's interview with Dilia Puerta, the woman on the left on the picture of this article. From this, it sounds like Apoyo Mutuo is the part of 15M that wasn't convinced that going the Podemos route of exclusive parliamentary focus is the way to go.

Someone on Facebook pointed out that this kind of just arguing over terminology, when that isn't really the most important thing here. A similar thing happened with Occupy here, with some radicals condemning the '99%' term or even using the word 'Occupy' within the context of a colonial-settler nation. I dunno, I agree with Nate here when he says

I'm not religious but I think the christian 'tower of babel' myth fits with our moment somewhat. Over time, people build a similar language and use that to collaborate on common projects (and to fight with each other, for sure). And in building something people continue to refine their common language. When those projects get big enough, those in positions of official power respond. The tower of babel got knocked down in a way that broke up the shared languages people had built. I suspect that this has happened multiple times over history, so that after the tower fell and people’s political languages splintered, over time the working class has learned to speak across its different vocabularies and to form a new vocabulary in order to start building again.

To be clear, I think any political vocabulary probably always involves conflict over the meaning of core terms, as part of conflict among people who speak that political vocabulary. (I got into a bit of this in this blog post.) My point is not that we should hope for a vocabulary where everyone agrees all the time on what all the words mean. Rather, I mean that I think that arguing about what to do and what we should think is important is made more difficult by simultaneously arguing about what terms to use to conduct the argument, and simultaneously arguing about what the terms should mean and why.

In my opinion arguing a lot for or against any given tradition in an exclusive way is like, after the tower falls, being like “speak my language!” I think instead the more pressing task is to find ways to talk across our different languages (our different political vocabularies and traditions), as part of the larger project of the working class building itself a vocabulary that is more broad and which helps us start building the tower again. That is, we should think of political traditions as like languages, so that we should be aware that recommending one tradition over another is kind of like recommending one language over another – it rarely works. I think one of the things that happens over time is that the working class and the left develops common vocabularies and traditions.

Along similar lines, fighting over language, or not fighting over language, I’ve argued with some comrades about the Occupy Wall Street vocabulary of the 99% vs the 1%. I don’t like the metaphor of the 99%, personally. At the same time, it’s a metaphor and its meaning is really open. It’s a matter of the ideas and the stories that people see their lives reflected in. I don't think that anything works along the lines of we get the ideas all worked out then the practice follows, but I do think that one of the many areas of work for radicals in relation to Occupy is in the milieu's collective intellectual life. I think this should involve not arguing *about* the metaphor – “not the 99%, not Occupy, but some other term” – so much as trying to shape the meaning of the metaphor. There's too much verbal inertia right now, the metaphor's not going away any time soon, and a lot of people are seeing their experiences reflected in that metaphor. In my opinion one goal should be to expand people's understanding of who they are and what they belong to. (I got into this in another blog post.)

I think we should also keep in mind that past struggles have taken up ambiguous terms which were messy at the time (most political terms are ambiguous and a field of conflict). This includes core historic left terms like 'working class' (much of the working class hasn't worked for wages, historically, and the working class has always included conflicts over access to wages - moves by adult men to push and keep women and children out of waged work, for instance) and 'proletariat' (the term comes from a category of roman law about census taking, military service, and citizenship; Marx called the proletariat under capitalism 'rightless' and owning nothing but this too was a metaphor - literally speaking, the proletariat does have rights and does have property, it has rights to own its wages and means of subsistence, it lacks the right to productive property). I do think that some uses of the 99% metaphor papers over different people’s experiences. I tried to get into this in another blog post. But that is a social practice that can happen in most any vocabulary. The issue to my mind is more a matter of expanding the meaning of metaphor rather than dismissing it.

Flava O Flav
Jul 30 2015 16:07

I find the attack on platformism here quite odd, other than the fact that as others have pointed out, there doesn't seem to be any clear route linking this group to platformism; The thing about origins in Chile - what, the platform? It has it's origins in Ukraine in the 1920's. The bit about Leninism and organisational fetishism can only come from someone who has no experience of life inside of platformist organisations. There are no executive committees.

"Platformism is the only current in anarchism that speaks of “power” and justifies without any qualifications the iron necessity of a mediating bureaucracy." What??? If you're going to throw around statements like that, back it up with some quotes - either from a platformist organisation or from the platform itself.

This is a terrible article.

BTW I hadn't heard of this group before and don't know anything about them but I know the guy on the right of the photo, kind of, I interviewed him once for an article in the Irish Anarchist Review, he used to be a member of Solidaridad Obrera.