Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Restated: Why is it assumed that more anarchists is a good thing?

+3 votes
Why is it such a high priority to make more ditto-heads for the anarchist milieu? Are anarchists really that obligated to the idea that simply being a convinced anarchist—catching an interest for these strange ideas and political traditions—makes you more apt to be capable of or for… many, many things of great magnitude and complexity that anarchists talk a lot of shit about (like social revolution or critical thinking). Does it make you a better person? A more loyal person? Etcetera? Needless to say, I am confused.

See comments below.

edited by dot to fix tags
asked Dec 19, 2010 by madlib (2,730 points)
edited Jul 13, 2014 by dot
Restating the question:

Why is it immediately assumed that more anarchists is a good thing? It seems to forgo any aptitude at all for character judgment and complex relationships. For instance, I've often encountered the administrator of Infoshop.org frustratedly rebuking any skepticism that the anarchist milieu is smaller than, or otherwise the same as, it was before anti-globalization politics. Apparently the 90's were a dark time or some such before the light of popular protest. Likewise, I have more than once encountered anarchists feverishly attempting to edit merely single pieces of text (an essay or a brief summation) that were intended to be received outside of the milieu down to bare bones platitudes and "working-class friendly" vocabulary. Why? Those were only brief examples but even so, why does it seem to be such a *chore* for radicals to express themselves and why does the superficial and untenable relationship between propagandist and virgin-intellect always appear first?

I find the idea of a social revolution, or even a generalized upset, that centers itself around the values and principals of a political minority to be disturbing. Which is to say, if a social revolution is a human feat qualified as a radical reorganization of social relations then it would appear to be more correct to accept the appearance of as wide an assortment of human activities, and human qualities in general, as possible in that feat rather than it being regulated by a political establishment intent on preserving itself. Most anarchists seem to think otherwise and simply assume it would be good medicine, as it were, for their ideologies and convictions to take a place of leadership in society; they might deny that's what they mean, but that is exactly what they mean and are intent on realizing. There is no discussion of people's assimilation into a particular set of values and what it does to them, their intentions, the actual significance of being an anarchist in relation to the order of things, the troubles these people may face as they initiate themselves into a milieu with, apparently, a very compulsive and intolerantly defined mise en scène (that is, all the contents of a thing that make it stand out in its own way—in this case, the overall attributes of the anarchist milieu that are apparent to me), and the ultimately failed project of the far left. Etcetera.

Obviously, this all raises the question of "consciousness-raising". But I believe there is a difference between consciousness-raising that is sensitive to and focused on the milieu's own processes—radicalization and critique that actually not only has a chance of being registered among the individuals therein in a significant way, but also can have significant implications & consequences—and consciousness-raising as an instrument of left-politics' drive to become a preponderant institution with the capacity to deliberately alter productive relations in its own image. "Dual-power" and all that noise.

It's not so much a question of, "How do we eliminate this unsavory thing?". But rather, "Why is it like this?"

As for the shitty and foolish people:

That quip was just me denouncing the idea that there is any sort of inevitable causality between an influx of extremist polarities conducive to far left frameworks and values and (irreproachable) qualitative changes in people as, well—people. I'm not really sure where I was meaning to go with it. I mean, I'm not saying all anarchists are shitty and/or foolish people for simply being anarchists.

I'm probably being very unclear still.

EDIT: My use of "canonization" was erroneous. See the paragraph above to understand what I was trying to convey (if very poorly at first, or even still for all I know).

4 Answers

+3 votes
hmmm. this is either a question i still don't understand, or it is a question that i have already (albeit crazy briefly) answered in my response to your question on "the movement."

that is, people believe in numbers. we have been deeply infected with the idea that a) democracy is correct, b) big numbers of people are what make [good] change, c) the majority is (more likely to be) correct.
so in order to change the world appropriately, people want the reassurance of lots of people on their side, *and* believe that no real change will happen without those lots of people.
that doesn't seem like a particularly deep or confusing point, which is why i think i must be misunderstanding your question still.
answered Dec 22, 2010 by dot (50,630 points)
+1 vote
As anarchists and revolutionaries it is our task to push every tendency towards revolution.  We can do this by agitating and pushing local movements in a more militant direction, or by engaging more people in the work we are currently doing.  The more people we can subvert away from a belief in the grand narrative (love for country, the american dream type shit), the more might we will have in every explosion of class tensions.

I agree that just looking for "numbers" is misguided.  What the movement needs is energy:  we need imaginative and bold people who can act as an inspirational spark.  The further we have laid the groundwork, the further and faster our fires will go.

Anarchist should:
1) push to crisis all those who think the system cares about them
2) inspire all those who are dissatisfied with the state of things.  Inspire people with a vision of victory - with a way out of capital's disaster.
answered Dec 22, 2010 by Taigarun (1,740 points)
i'd be interested in your reaction to reading Nihilist Communism all the way through.
but have an upvote for an answer that reflects a strong tendency in anarchist thinking.
my friends weren't letting me read NiCom for a while, but now they are telling me I have to.

I'll read it next time I'm in jail.
you have friends who prevent you from reading certain books? how?
It was mostly a joke.  But they did recommend against it.  :p
What's "capital's disaster"?
0 votes
[This is something I wrote, "Anarchy and the Burden of Proof". I think it brings up some of the problems with being a social anarchist in relation to your question about the value placed on 'more anarchists'. Maybe not an answer to the question, but thoughts that may touch on other aspects of the same or a similar phenomenon]

There are a number of perspectives one can entertain when thinking about anarchy, anarchism, etc. There is one in particular that I think is generally useful to consider even if it may fly in the face of the history of anarchist thought (some of it). I intend to outline some of the features of this perspective although I doubt that in the space of this text I will sufficiently build upon the basics of it. Though it is a simple perspective, it does lead to some problems that perhaps account for some other perspectives. I think I will be able to at least reach that point of this topic.

I suppose a decent way to begin elaborating on this perspective is to demonstrate its main features. The first of which is to doubt the legitimacy of authority, dominance, hierarchy, etc. In short, to suppose that the burden of proof is on those who wish to dominate or position themselves as an authority: that they must prove there is a legitimacy to their power. What this entails does not necessarily need to be formally reasoned, just a simple doubt. It is to cast doubt on the claims of a right to power by clergy, landlord, statesman, gods, bosses, and other authorities. It is a demand from them to prove that there is a reason why in ones maturity, they ought to submit to the control of such figures (or systems). The second feature of this perspective is the critique. That since those in power as a general rule attempt to prove the legitimacy of their power, it becomes necessary to disagree with their attempts at proof… to critique their logic.

I believe that it is not this initial doubt which becomes problematic, but the proceeding critique. It is common for people of all types to doubt the notion that some other person is competent to determine their situation for them. This goes back far beyond capitalism and the State to so called biblical times. The Jewish holiday Passover, for instance, encourages the reading of a particular story of three children… one of which is heretical and doubts the authority of God. Of course the story is meant to demonstrate that it is foolish to doubt the authority of God, it also demonstrates that the burden of proof is not on human beings but on God: to show through might or right that His authority is legitimate. Similar rituals exist under the rule of any authority, even if its a mere display of force that is used to persuade the ruled of authorities legitimacy.

But doubt isn’t good enough! I can doubt the legitimacy of my boss all I want to but until I can critique the boss, their power still holds sway. This isn’t true because critique is a necessary prerequisite for dismissing power, but because the power between me and the boss is not equivalent. If it were just me and this other person, and they were to insist that I subject myself to their control… doubt would be adequate for me to refuse their control. Even down to the power of force, doubt is sufficient for me to refuse the orders of someone stronger than me, better armed than me, more powerful than me. But, power doesn’t rely on the persuasion of me personally, it relies on the persuasion of as many others as possible. And it is here, at this point of the capacity for others to be duped by power that critique demonstrates its necessity.

To further this perspective though, I feel compelled to question the nature of critique itself. If my doubt isn’t sufficient because my power isn’t sufficient to effectively disable so many institutional powers that wish to determine the course of my life… I am in the position of needing to posit this doubt formally and to infect others with it so as to disempower institutionalized authority. Perhaps the nature of an anarchist critique is to articulate this doubt. But we know that anarchists take things further: they posit alternatives, they organize, and they attempt to demonstrate the superiority of anarchy to domination!

Perhaps this absurd?

But it isn’t…

Our doubt is rejected and we are further moved to investigate the reasons why any human being would support their own domination. The critique expands to an analysis of power, authority, and the particular sophistry employed to convince the others that their position is a legitimate position. This is extremely problematic. Suddenly, the burden of proof is on the anarchist to demonstrate that systems of domination are inferior to social life without them. The doubt becomes wanting of an affirmation, but the affirmation is so plain, common, and visceral that it is almost ridicules to  entertain the need to prove that we (or myself personally) are better off without being dominated. And that is the ultimate catch…

No one affirms the legitimacy of those that dominate them until those that dominate them also dominate others whom they believe require domination. The individual accepts their own subjugation because they fear the absence of the general system of subjugation: they accept the legitimacy of authority over others. This is the crucial aspect of anarchist theory… not to prove that our own doubts and critiques are adequate; but, to prove that the liberty of those others is legitimate as well. Magically, we no longer face proving our own competence to decide for ourselves… but face proving that others are competent to decide for themselves. This is how power shifts the burden of proof onto us, the doubters.
answered Dec 25, 2010 by Squee (2,450 points)
I could probably just sum this up in saying that since the idea isn't whether or not me, myself, and I need systems of government, but is more saying that no one does... That a big part of how authoritarians justify their positions of power and such is to rely on the way many people are willing to conceptually degrade the Other: I accept my rule because the same thing that rules me is ruling those who I have been taught will destroy me. So maybe "more anarchists" is perhaps assumed to mean more people that understand the rejection of the State, Capitalism, Authority, etc. as something that extends beyond a confidence in ones own (or ones own communities') capacities for self-determination, but also recognize that my own (and my own community's) liberation depends on destroying this perception of the Other as an inferior and dangerous being that my rulers are protecting me from even if I also find these rulers disagreeable.
0 votes
I've generally thought more anarchists is a positive because it allows more to be done. With more people, more positive social change can be accomplished, and the more presence the movement has in the minds of the public. However, simply having a lot of anarchists isn't enough if these anarchists lack any sort of real knowledge or commitment.
answered Mar 15, 2011 by vaguelyhumanoid (390 points)
Personally, I'd like to see more direct action (in the orgional meaning of the term) then more anarchists persay.

edited to make into a comment.
It's nice to simply see more people think for themselves.