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Why are anarchists critical of/opposed to activists/activism?

+2 votes
In one thread on here, someone defines an activist as a person who specializes in other people's struggles. I'm missing why this is a problem. Sure, some (or many) activists might commandeer and reroute a struggle to fit their own ends and that's fucked, but couldn't activists that work in-step with the marginalized just be considered helpful allies? Many activists come from privileged backgrounds that don't leave them much to struggle with themselves, so I'n wondering what's so taboo about them trying to help those with more immediately pressing issues. That's just a pretty specific point of criticism and I'd like to hear more.
asked Mar 3, 2014 by anonymous

2 Answers

+2 votes
The first problem is that there is no possible background that would make it impossible for a person to find their own reasons for rejecting capitalist society (and all the various systems of domination that form it).

The second problem is that any fight "on behalf of" someone else is necessarily representational politics. If you're not fighting your own fight, you're just hijacking someone else's (even if you're doing so from the perspective of making a moral/righteous sacrifice).

This ties into the point that "activism" tends to come from a place of moral righteousness or guilt or some other abstraction that allows for people to feel good about themselves when they make a token contribution (or sacrifice) for whatever, but without really throwing themselves into it because they aren't fighting for their lives.

Generally I think it's better for people to find and articulate their own reasons for doing things rather than just "doing the right thing".

EDIT: Wow, yes, Dot reminds me that I think I forgot an important point - activism tends to assert this idea that everyone who fits into the same category of oppression (by race, by gender, etc) necessarily wants the same things or feels the same way about the problems/solutions. This is a problematic assumption for a number of reasons.

Particularly, consider the idea of being an "ally" to a "marginalized person" who is dogmatically liberal or nationalist or Marxist-Leninist.
answered Mar 3, 2014 by Rice Boy (8,610 points)
edited Mar 4, 2014 by Rice Boy
On the other hand, you could consider situations like that in Israel/Palestine.  I am active in the struggle for Palestinian freedom (freedom from being bombed being the primary one) even though I'm not Palestinian (or Israeli, or even from anywhere in the region).

I'm not trying to force my opinions onto others (except the Israeli leadership) and I don't attempt to hijack the cause for my own ends.  I do it purely because people are being slaughtered and I am very much against that.  Or should I just walk away and say it's the problem of the people of Palestine, let them struggle on alone without any realistic means of ending the oppression and killing?
+4 votes
RB's first sentence is spot on.
the problem of specialization has to do with who defines what the problem is and what the solution is.
what someone's background is has very little to do with this issue. (edit: except insofar as someone's background makes it easier or harder for their definitions to be accepted or rejected by other people, which is where privilege might/does come into the issue.)

your question assumes the logic that is part of the problem, by talking about "the marginalized" as if it is a thing. "the marginalized" is all of us, and none of us, and everything in between. it is not a homogenous group that can be accurately represented or allied with.
none of us know who agrees with us in real life or even what "agreement" looks like from one situation to the next, nor do any of us know how to fix anything but the most superficial of the problems facing us. (this sentence is a bit of a tangent, but my point is that activists/organizers/politicians act like they know and act like it's knowable.)
the presumption of unity, the idea that, for example "i like other anarchists", or other allies, or other marginalized people, or that i hate statists, etc., is a result of generalities that may make day to day life easier to bear (as they provide an outline for my expectations of myself and the world), but have little basis in practice, and little usefulness in theory. and those generalities have been (are being) used by people who manipulate us every day.

edited to flesh out ideas, format, and delete a comma.
edited again - funky, hope this doesn't screw with your yeses! :)
answered Mar 4, 2014 by dot (50,630 points)
edited Dec 25, 2014 by dot
yes, yes, yes and yes!!!!   plus an upvote.