While I have much more important things to do, I will take the time to answer Bob Black's and Steve Booth's letters in Anarchy no. 51. I'm sure that no matter what I write, I will never convince either that their invented assumptions of myself or my politics are wrong. Still, the readers of Anarchy may find my comments of interest.
Bob Black claims that mass murder is "a tactic, not an idea." Interesting. So people who have tactics do not think about them? A tactic is an idea until such time as they do it, then it becomes an action. Clearly, Black is talking nonsense. He states he is "unable to imagine any ideas they [the Aum Cult and the Oklahoma bombers] might hold in common," which suggests a lack of imagination which is amazing. Perhaps the "idea" would be the tactics they were using? The ones praised in the "Irrationalists" article? No, surely not? Black is abusing the English language and the intelligence of the reader.
Bob argues that it would have been the "anarchist way of dealing with problems" to go ahead with the speaking tour and discuss face to face with GA the issues. Strange, then, that it was GA, not us, who decided to take our decision to postpone the tour as a cancellation and then attack us in their paper as "sheep," following our (GA appointed) leaders. And Black talks about "the shabby way [I] and my ilk treated the would be Green Anarchist visitors"! Yes, indeed, poor GA, having other anarchists hold them accountable for their politics! I wasn't aware that the anarchist way of dealing with problems was to simply switch off ones brain and not question the validity of decisions previously reached when new information appears.
I remember the meeting when the issue was first raised on whether to cancel the meeting or not and the decision to postpone it until such time as we could fully discuss the "Irrationalists" articles, the issues it raised and decide whether or not to continue with the tour. Next thing I see is GA writing in their paper that we had cancelled the meeting and that the Scottish Anarchists are all sheep (is that the anarchist way of dealing with problems?). Funny how a desire to think about GA's politics and our response to them rather than mindlessly do what GA wanted equates with being sheep. But as I said in my previous letter, any independence of mind by other anarchists quickly results in them being labelled as "sheep" by GA and their supporters like Black.
It also seems strange that Black thinks that my letter was just a "painfully long defence" of what happened in Scotland so many years ago. Rather, as the reader would soon see, the bulk of the letter was made up of a discussion of GA's politics and a reply to the distortions of "John Connor" on my politics and who I was, distortions which I notice Black considers as not worthy of comment. Does he have so little respect for his readers that he feels he can rewrite history so? Sad, really, but I do get the impression that discussing their politics is the last thing Black or GA desire. Rather, we must take their word as to the "consistent" and "committed" nature of GA's politics. Sorry, I gave up religion decades ago and I analyse what people say rather than accept it on faith.
It is interesting how Black portrays GA always as victims. Not only that, even when they advocate mass murder as the right idea, they are "more consistent and committed British anarchists" than people whose activities and politics Black probably knows nothing about. Sad, really, that Black has decided to show his ignorance of the Scottish anarchist movement.
Black's comment that mass murder was a "tactic" used by revolutionary anarchism during the Spanish Revolution suggests a desire to confuse the issue being discussed. Like GA defences of the "Irrationalists" article which equated the Aum cult and the Oklahoma Bombers with "Propaganda by Deed" anarchists, Black's pathetic analogy does damage not only to argument but also to the intelligence of the reader. If Emile Henry argued that "there are no innocent bourgeoisie", then Black and GA are arguing that there are no innocent people and so exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed, are of equal worth as regards acts of "resistance." Apparently, there is no difference between the killing of fascists and pro-fascists by the militia columns immediately after a military coup and the planned gassing of commuters and the blowing up of office workers and children. Sad, really, that one of the best minds in the US anarchist movement comes up with such rubbish. Obviously the Durruti column would have had the "right idea" if they had just shot everyone who crossed their path.
I find it funny that Black thinks we have "ex-communicated" GA from the anarchist movement. Sorry, no, GA managed to do that very successfully by themselves. And, of course, GA never, ever "excommunicate" anyone (and neither does Black, he just calls them "anarcho-leftists" regardless of the facts). All this talk of "leftism" is definitely not an attempt to use guilt by association to marginalise other anarchists. No, of course not. But then again, it is easier to call someone a name than actually address their arguments -- as authoritarians and authorities throughout history have known.
Black argues that "they had the right idea" was "a very poor choice of words on Steve's part." Looking at Steve's letter, published in the same issue of Anarchy, its clear that they were no such thing. It must annoy Black that he claims one thing, and then a GA member blows his argument out the water in the very same letters page. First it was "Tom O'Connor," now it is Booth.
Booth states that I express "knee-jerk pacifist disagreement." How he knows this, I'm not sure. I discussed whether mass murder of workers was "the right idea" or not and, of course, whether it is consistent with libertarian politics. No mention of the merits of non-violence as the only means of social change, but why let facts get in the way of a good rant?
He claims that the "Irrationalists" article was about "the possibility of armed struggle and armed resistance to totalitarianism." He states that the article aimed at discussing the "shape of possible anarchist armed struggle in the future, and how such actions resemble" violent events "in the present." Clearly, then, as the Aum Cult and the Oklahoma Bomber had the "right idea" then "anarchist" struggle "in the future" could follow this model. His attempts afterwards to distance himself from his original article fail as Booth, like Tom O'Connor before him, clearly thinks gassing commuters as a valid form of "resistance" ("resistance" to what, exactly? Working people? Are they the enemy?) and can be applied for libertarian ends (which makes you wonder how "libertarian" those ends could be, given the means).
He says that he wishes to provide an effective alternative for the "protest movements" which will make the "Irrationalists" irrelevant. Sorry, no, that does not work either as it still implies that actions like those of the Aum Cult and the Oklahoma Bomber can be considered part of the "resistance" movement. They are not -- they are part of the problem and they share the same authoritarian basis as any state's bombing campaign against civilians.
We can get an insight to Booth's ideas from another of his articles (as posted on the internet at: www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/irrationalists.htm). There he argues that "there are ideas and motives behind an action, and there are methods. These two things are separate. Do we blame tools for the use to which they are put?" He stresses: "I say only a fool refuses to learn lessons about effectiveness from their worst enemies." Needless to say, certain methods imply certain ideas and ends. The Bolshevik creation of a political police force (the Cheka) was very effective in ensuring the "success" of the Russian Revolution. It reflected Bolshevik ideas on the need for centralised power and party rule. It was very effective in ensuring the defence of Bolshevik power. Shame that it helped kill the revolution. Now, could there be an anarchist Cheka? Can this "tool" be effective for anything other than what it was designed for? Of course not.
Similarly for those whom Booth thought had the "right idea." The ideas ("tactics," "methods," "tools") in question were selected because they reflected the politics of the people who used it. They are not tools of liberation. That the actions were carried out by right wing authoritarians should come as no surprise as they reflected the anti-revolutionary nature of their creators. Moreover, they would remain so no matter the professed politics of the perpetrators (just as one-man management did not change its nature when it was inflicted on the Russian workers by the Bolsheviks rather than by the capitalists). But that should be obvious. Sadly, it is not for GA, which confirms my analysis of GA's politics as fundamentally authoritarian. Such actions cannot in any way be part of any possible revolutionary strategy. To argue that they could be shows not only a lack of revolutionary and libertarian politics, but also a lack of common humanity.
Ironically, if we accept Booth's analysis at face value, we would have to admit that the tools used by the "Irrationalists," unlike every other, were simply neutral and could be used for liberation rather than oppression! Will GA start arguing that techniques, like tactics, are socially neutral? That tools do not reflect the ideas and interests of those who create and apply them nor shape those subject to them? That would be amusing...
Booth states that I "think anarchists who use armed struggle are not anarchists" and I am a "dogmatic pacifist." Strange, but considering that I did not discuss the question of violence nor armed struggle by anarchists, I would say that Booth's comments that I am "merely calling on AJODA readers to share [my] dogma" is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black! How can I all upon AJODA readers to share a "dogma" (namely "pacifism") which I do not, in fact, hold? Like Tom O'Connor's sad remarks in his letter as regards my politics, Booth's comments indicate how little GA are interested in little things like facts and evidence when they discuss other people and their ideas.
Also of interest is Booth's assertions that I use a "common technique" of "Neoists and Neoists fellow travellers" and am grouped together with "Micah/Tompsett etc." As I said in my last letter, the lumping together of all critics into one camp is a useful way of muddying the waters and so obscuring the real issues of the debate. And has Booth "answered" the concerns raised by his original article? Clearly not, as he can still think of these actions as being compatible with libertarian "resistance."
I also love the "this Iain character" comment, very funny! How dare other anarchists question him! Sorry, I had better name myself after a fictional character from a movie before I can discuss politics with (sorry, get labelled by) GA...
All in all, I'm not surprised by any of this. The ability of GA members to avoid the issues and instead invent the politics (and associations) of those who dare question their politics was proven by Tom O'Connor's rants two issues ago. Can I expect another diatribe about what I do not think next issue? Perhaps rather than make up the ideas I hold, they could actually address the issues concerning their politics I raise? But that would be too much like hard work, far better to smear than think.
yours in solidarity