What is an Anarchist-Politician?


Certain Marxists sometimes make the following argument against anarchism: anarchists and Marxists both seek the same goal - a stateless, classless society - but they just have two different means of attaining this goal.  These Marxists acknowledge that there must be an intermediate period in which a state (or, "semi-state" as Lenin put it) is necessary, after which the state will "wither away".  But, they say, anarchists, in their foolish idealism, wish to jump straight to the final stage without going through this necessary intermediate step, as though one could wave a magic wand and have the world change into a magical place that is exactly whatever one desired.

This is a strawman argument, and not even a well-constructed one.  When Marxists make this kind of argument, they are usually arguing against imaginary anarchists, rather than real, flesh-and-blood anarchists.  Or in some cases, the people who make this argument may be people who identify as Marxists now, but previously - most likely in their youth - considered themselves anarchists.  And they are arguing not against any actual external anarchists, but against their former selves.  Perhaps this explains their condescending tone, as though they were speaking to children.  Either that or they are arguing against trolls on the internet who make silly, bad faith arguments for fun.  

Of course real-life, adult, mature anarchists are not such ridiculous caricatures and don't imagine that one can instantly go from the present state of the world to perfect anarchy without any intervening action - and indeed, many anarchists recognize the potential usefulness of government action toward furthering their goals.  For instance, Noam Chomsky, who is perhaps the most famous living exponent of the libertarian left, has argued for universal, single-payer healthcare, provided by the government, long before this was politically mainstream.  In his most famous book, Manufacturing Consent, co-written with Edward Herman, he famously criticizes the way that media outlets parrot the government line, so that they effectively become a means of propaganda.  But one of his solutions for this is publicly-funded news outlets.  As he puts this at the end of his chapter on "Conclusions," "The steady commercialization of the public owned airwaves should be vigorously opposed.  In the long run, a democratic political order requires far wider control of and access to the media.  Serious discussion of how this can be done, and the incorporation of media reform into political programs, should be high on progressive agendas."  And many anarchists are similarly committed to all sorts of pragmatic government programs as temporary measures toward the realization of a stateless society.

Once one has grasped this, it is but a small step to imagine anarchist politicians.  A politician is an agent of the spectacle, a specialist in appealing to a certain base in order to organize politically.  It's quite understandable that certain politicians would specialize in appealing to anarchists, and could develop quite a successful career this way. What matters in judging a person's skill as a politician is not what they believe, deep down inside - this is unknowable, anyway - but what effect they have in the world.  A politician that specializes in appealing to anarchists need not subjectively believe in anarchism.  That is an idealist abstraction.  What matters is their actions and their objective effects.  A politician that is capable of working for the material interests of the anarchist bloc, or at least who represents himself as such, or at the very least manages to represent himself as strategically closer to the material interests of anarchists than his political rivals, and represents himself as such successfully enough to thereby gain power, is by this definition an anarchist politician.

To clarify, I am not making any kind of moral argument here, but only an observation and a definition of terms.  If you held me to the wall and demanded, "Which side are you on?" I would reply that I have an "all of the above" attitude towards these kinds of concerns, depending on material conditions.  I don't notice any clear a priori absolute moral principles that determine that one strategy is always correct and another is always wrong.  In some cases, in some places and at certain historical junctures, one kind of strategy is effective, and in others, another may be effective, and quite often - the majority of the time, I would guess - it's necessary for different people to  employ multiple strategies and tactics simultaneously for historical change to occur.  So supporting a politician, or indeed being a politician, may be occasionally strategically useful, and at the same time using non-state forms of political action is often absolutely crucial.  Therefore, when I, for instance, call Lenin an anarchist-politician, as I do, this is neither praise nor condemnation.  By calling someone an anarchist-politician, I am not morally judging them in either a positive or negative sense.  I am simply making an observation on strategy.


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