05 October 2009


And there I was thinking I was all unique and cool because I realised that the "activist lifestyle" was the enemy. Some French libcoms got there already 40 years ago:

One cannot help being struck by the innumerable resemblance's which bring together militancy and religious activity. The same psychological attitudes can be found : the spirit of sacrifice but also the intransigence, the will to convert yet also the spirit of submissiveness. These resemblance's extend to the domain of rituals and ceremonies : sermons on unemployment, processions for Vietnam, references to the sacred texts of marxism-leninism, the cult of emblems (red flags). Don't the political churches also have their prophets, their great priests, their converts, their heresies, their schisms, their practising militants and their non- practising sympathisers! But revolutionary militancy is only a parody of religion. The richness, the insanity, the excesses of religious projects are beyond it; militancy aspires to seriousness, it wants to be reasonable, it believes that in exchange for this it can win a paradise here below. It doesn't even achieve this much. Jesus Christ is resurrected and ascends into heaven. Lenin decomposes in Red Square.

Although the authors hilariously demolish the pomoposities of the activist culture of the time, both Leninist and anarchist, the problem was that their organisation (the OJTR) never actually managed to perpetuate itself or play a role in the class struggle. So let that be a warning - here's an aphorism for you, the only valid criticism is constructive criticism. Anyone who offers criticism without offering a practical alternative is working for the forces of inertia and despair.

Here's some other anarchists talking about the problem with the "activist lifestyle". I am particularly intrigued by an argument that "radical activist" is an identity produced by capitalist society, just like being a cop or a priest or a teacher. I suppose "Magus" or "witch" is as well - the counter-culture is always-already implicated in the dominant culture, which of course could be seen as a source of strength and connected, if "activists" and "magickians" weren't too busy trying to persuade everyone that they were speshul li'l snowflakes.


  1. Wanna know a weird coincidence? That second anarchist piece (actually libertarian marxist, or so the author considered himself at the time), was written by someone who's a reader of this blog and has even posted one or two comments here -- me. I wrote it under the name J.Kellstadt for a publication called The Bad Days Will End, then it was picked up and reprinted in several places as part of an ongoing debate around the time of the "anti-globalization movement" (Seattle and all that). I had a two-year spell among the anti-Leninist "ultra-left milieu" as a reaction against my prior time (quite brief but very dispiriting) in the Sparts, which twisted my view of Leninism/Trotskyism (i.e., I believed their schtick that they were "genuine" inheritors of the mantle etc etc etc). Later I came to my senses and returned to an un-Spartified Marxism that values the contributions of Lenin & Trotsky without, I hope, reifying them... Anyway, it's a weird flashback to see that old article, which I no longer stand by, linked to here... Truly there is something cosmic going on at Chaos Marxism!


    Seriously - you were a Spart? I'm so, so sorry. I have a friend who's ex-IBT (Bill Logan's crew) and I don't think he'll ever recover. What part of this article don't you stand by any more? I think it's pretty convincing in its essence, never mind the anarcho-boilerplate.

  3. I don't stand by the anarcho-boilerplate. I like some of the article, though, in the sense that I was trying to school the anarchists in some marxism (using their sympathy with situationism as a way of luring them in...).

    My Spart time: I was living in a town with no organized left at all, but there was a bookstore that carried Workers Vanguard for some reason. I read for a couple of years and thought it was the real shit. Finally when I moved to a city that had a Spart local (Boston), I joined up. Little did I know (cue Twilight Zone theme). It took me a while to learn my lesson, though -- even though I dropped out of the Sparts before a year was up, a little while later I joined Norden's breakaway Internationalist Group for another year, thinking they would Spartacism purged of its worst excesses (never had much of a hard-on for the IBT for some reason). I still have some residual fondness for Norden and the IG, but they and the whole ICL "family" is truly sectarian.

  4. I come from the same town as Bill Logan, would you believe. My first experience of organised Marxism was his youth group running a stall at my university. I glanced at the first leaflet - "Abolish all age of consent laws!" - and was successfully put off Marxism for more than a decade. But I read their website for the lulz - they're just as sectarian as the Sparts but not as nasty about it, if you get my drift. As to Norden's mob, I think the IBT have a point that their analysis that everything was just fine in the Sparts until it was their turn to walk the plank is obvious nonsense - but then, it's only a more refined form of the psychosis that has afflicted small-group Trotskyism since Trotsky's time.