A Communist Critique of Pittsburgh’s Anarchist Milieu

Submission from Denise Bosynak received on 07.12.21

A Critique of Pittsburgh’s Anarchist Milieu

In reading the recent piece submitted to Filler about murals motivated by socialist realism point to an ideology that is inherently reformist and demobilizes people, I could not help but feel that this was a strange (albeit very literary and beautiful written) vague post.

Anarchists locally have abdicated the responsibility of revolutionaries everywhere, which is to look at past defeats and failures with thorough scrutiny. It has been unable to grow and instead withers every few years, is replaced by new recruits usually coming to town as students, and then ebbs again. Rinse and repeat.

If Communism bears responsibility for heaping piles of corpses produced by Communist regimes, if Christianity is to be blamed for the Crusades, Inquisition and witch-hunts, then we likewise must look at the practical results in peoples’ lives and not by the pie in the sky promises of helping people “live communism.”  

What Responsibility?

This critique is not necessarily directed to the author of that piece or to Filler specifically, it is not to those whose political horizons extend no further than establishing either a “temporary autonomous zone” or a semi-permanent Bohemian enclave in the form of squats, distros, and bars where many frequent consistently. For many who cry about “red fascism” and “tankies,” it is clear that anarchism for them is less interested in overthrowing the existing oppressive order than of washing one’s hands with it. This concern with ensuring the passage of one’s soul to anti-authoritarian heaven can range from the obsessive efforts to perform a certain lifestyle that is “anarchist” to the sectarian refusal to join or work with any group or organization that shows any sign of being “authoritarian” in any way.

For the people, who believe in the need to overthrow the institutions and social relationships that stand in the way of realizing the majority of humanitys needs, this one is for you. Those who are interested in creating a movement from that point rather than presuming we are at that point and those few disparate and disunited individuals engaging in (some good, some bad) shoplifting, gardening, petty vandalism, and riots are already part of that living movement, this one is likewise for you. It may be possible that H.C., because of their references to civilization, is thinking that this oppressive society will collapse on its own without anyone needing to intervene, in which case, this may not even be for them. Hopefully it can be instructive to others who see similar problems.

If one thinks an authoritarian society can collapse on its own, or if they’ve succumbed to such an expectation that the people can’t possibly overthrow this government and that its more probable for society to fall apart, then they should question what was drawn them to politics in the first place.

Mutual Aid’s Lack of Mutality, Or How Survival is Not Automatically Revolutionary

Most anarchists in Pittsburgh have been able to involve more people than are in their immediate scene or proximity through mutual aid projects, usually revolving around free food, meal and/or clothing distribution. While this has perhaps fed some empty stomachs, it still perpetuates small groups working in isolation by creating very minimal political links with those that it is started to serve.

In the abstract politics of “solidarity, not charity” tables are set up at local parks and people are encouraged to come and grab what they need. This orientation of creating services for people to use can often serve to support struggles (of tenants, of youth, of workers, of prisoners, of queer people, and colonized people everywhere) and are thus undeniably important, but divorced of them actually supporting active struggles, it often appears as strangers in different geographic areas providing food items to people.. The interaction between these people is one of help, of being granted something that someone can use to survive, and then typically ends or is continued later on by future asks for additional help. But it seldom, if ever, leads to the initiation of a larger struggle.

This is because most “mutual aid” serves to suffocate class struggle, because instead of organizing people in a political class struggle to ensure that they don’t have an empty stomach in the first place (with those services as a support), it instead treats that support as an end in of itself. This thinking of ‘to survive is revolutionary’ exalts the individual and provides to their needs, but does not provide any road map to getting to liberation. Where have anarchists been for local rent struggles? Around workplace struggles?

This is because one, these services are provided in a way that does not threaten the state, two, because it has not arisen from a struggle, so it is not perceived by the people as the basis for fighting the current social order. In other words, even anarchist-led mutual aid projects do little to look different from any NGO project with funded staff. Its celebrity may win temporary support with the activist left, but results in making few friends with the mass of people who are struggling against the current order. We have a responsibility to note this and change course.

Objective Conditions

It is hard to understand what the Hell H.C. is talking about. Flowery language should be made more direct. As H.C. argues, the comrade-artist thinks the worker needs evangelism and the revolutionary education of the Party, and that the necessity of attacking one’s individual poverties is in contradiction to this, as the Party-teacher helps the workers slowly become aware and capable of governing society. The comrade-artist just does not understand that human nature is such that we are not bound by some convention of “historical determination” (does H.C. mean that Marxists are making up rules for what people are capable of doing? Who knows) and that what we’ve always been doing is out looking for some opportunity to create some sort of unnamed and non-territorial anarchist space. This drive has always been innate in all humans, besides those who have congenitally been drawn to joining authoritarian organization.

One thing is just facts: creating “anarchist spaces” is not some unconscious and spontaneous result of people wanting freedom, it is the result of the historical development of social antagonisms. While treating Marxism as an opportunist ideology that is pre-existing to and ultimately alien form the people and that is then popularized from the top-down by vanguardist parties, H.C. privileges their anarchist theory as being natural to how humans have always thought. Any time anyone regardless of their class background or social circumstance riots or goes on strike, they are “living” anarchy. The only time when anarchist is posed in opposition to some practical-activity is when it involves organizations which are “authoritarian,” in which case, abstracted, dehistoricized people have left this metaphysical area of existence for something which is then determined and external to the people.

The facts are that people belong to classes, where people are from and what their relationship is to others in society creates certain forms of thinking and modes of being, and that this determines ones social and political line of combat. Another is that if everyone was spontaneously anarchist or if spontaneous rebellion alone could construct a revolutionary society needed for our liberation, this would require no intervention by anyone. Given that people have taken the time and pains to label themselves anti-authoritarian and anarchist, one can presume that they want others to assume this political label and to “evangelize” the necessity of this. If one does not think its important to talk about this idea with people, then maybe they should just shut up, because if everyone has some inherent revolutionary potential to them, then there is no need to openly talk about what we believe in. Such propaganda is evanglization and we need none of that, says the anarchist.

H.C. creating a boogeyman of democratic centralism is ridiculous for this reason, anarchists have created their own distinct political circles and like any other Marxist wants others to see the world as their small group does, so as to create one that is free like they want it to be. They are their own “vanguard” without actually taking the responsibility of creating the world that they purport people to need. Leninists, likewise as smaller group, see that there is a relationship (can I say “dialectic” instead of relationship without being fined?) between the mass knowledge people have and the class knowledge of the Marxists, the latter which fuses with the former by the militant participating in the spontaneous movement of the people in order to develop a political program.

The anarchists see the Marxist understanding there needs to be a voluntary intervention on the basis of spontaneous antagonisms in order to create a political party of the proletariat at this point as inherently authoritarian. Whereas their smaller group that is likewise comparing their subjectivity in the form of the affinity group, “crew,” etc. to the people and the organizations they participate in are not authoritarian because they do not dare to encourage them to take leadership. Keeping an invariance from the people allows them to stay pure.

Anarchism in One Neighborhood? One Squat? One workplace?

Under what we are to presume anarchy to be, one can “live anarchy” in just about any space that people temporarily illegally occupy. This does not make sense and is not revolutionary for two reasons, one is economic and the second is militarily.

Capitalism is a world system, meaning no one anywhere is self-sufficient. Obviously some countries have more or less potential for self-sufficiency, but certain problems are effectively universal. Neighborhoods, as a consequence of their population, simply can not hope to meet their own food needs. Some countries, as a consequence of their underdevelopment under colonialism, don’t have the means of producing manufactured goods (clothing, tractors) on which they depend. Another thing is revolution and revolutionary spaces erupted unevenly, because different parts of the world are exploited and face oppression more, so they are required to make decisions in their sociological space that require concessions.

The point here is that there can’t be the eventual creation of a self-sufficient economy (whether one created under conditions of gradual collapse by a vanguard of crust-punks who take upon seizing increasingly re-wilded spaces for the people) within a particular small area, but rather than the economies that revolutionaries inhereit are not self-sufficient and the severing of links with one another will have very disruptive consequences.

The practical answer inevitably is that dependence on the world market and on larger economic systems is reduced in steps. Whether the administrative apparatus is a “federation of free collectives” or a “worker’s state” does not matter, must be able to retain some element of capitalism and of a structure in which decisions are made that may not be voluntarily accepted by one group or another. Good intentions or flowerly language are feeble.

Likewise it is impossible to repel the police or the military on ones own. Making war, even a war of resistance, involves a certain authoritarian logic. In every guerrilla war today, from Colombia, to Philippines, to Vietnam or Cuba in time’s past, there has to be decisions to kill people and send some people off to die so that others may live. Anarchists sometimes claim that decentralized, non-authoritarian structures are inherently so much more efficient than centralized ones and that, as so, this can be applied to military operations. Yet when it comes to day to day planning and operations of war, whether it be in a street battle or in a massive theater of war, decisions of how to strike the enemy can not be decided by a simple up and down vote or by consensus. There has to be an element of surprise and the ability to swiftly strike an enemy, there likewise needs to be internal discipline to make sure there is no defections.

To Marxists, these questions are far more simple. People can not be expected to defeat the enemy in one day, we all (including the comrade-artist’s political organization’s members) must gradually learn how to, and must do it under leadership that creates a relative centralism necessary to manage the economy and to win in a war. I have my own criticism of PSL but to ignore the work that they have done in getting people to understand this is wrong. The responsibility of seeing the cultural gutters most anarchists have put themselves in as dead-end in achieving liberation for the people must be grasped.

Martyrdom, Or Why “Join An Organization” Is Better Than Being An Anarchist

The prevailing anti-Communism on the Pittsburgh left has meant that most people who consider themselves anarchist find themselves uncritically tailing whoever has the courage to make themselves a leader. “Reflections on Leadership and Collective Autonomy” calls for good leadership but ultimately ceded it that day, as it has again and again and again.

Most anarchists in Pittsburgh talk about “fuck left unity” but end up showing up to rallies organized by other “authoritarian” groups and then inevitably feel betrayed or like the people have been policed when the rally organizers do not do something that they think matches the revolutionary credentials of opening up ground for autonomy.

When they have marched with groups who permitted direct action or more illegal forms of struggle, they have acted sectarian towards these groups, baptizing themselves with sectarian behavior and distancing in order to feel cleansed of having to actually engage in something. The truth is many individual anarchists in this city are capable organizers and, yes, leaders, but because of their attitude to political organization and to those who are not anarchist, they find themselves being more friendly with liberal and social democrats who likewise have a preference for handing out lukewarm vegan burritos because of how nonthreatening it is, then to get their hands dirty with Marxists and other revolutionaries willing to take an arrest.

Denise Bosynak, July 2021

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