A longer reply to Bob Black


Dear Anarchy,

Bob Black thinks my "thousands of words" as "tendentious, pretentious, whimpering drivel." Nice to see he took the time to reply to such rubbish! He seeks to make me "afraid of criticism." Well, I doubt it given that his letter is little more than a string of inaccuracies and insults. As I will show, Black's criticisms are non-existent, simply attacking a series of straw men he hasinvented.

I do think its significant that Black starts off by insulting me by saying I have "earned the nickname Dolly II as the cloned Scottish sheep of Stewart Home, who claims that all anarchists are Nazis." As Black is well aware, I am nothing of the kind. When he previously labelled me a "sheep" of Home it was during an exchange of letters aboutGreen Anarchist (GA) magazine in which I noted that "I have to assume that GA think everyone who disagrees with them are 'Neoist' or 'tainted' with it. Nice to know. Useful, though, to group all criticism underone banner, regardless of the facts. It muddies the water even more, as intended I am sure." Looks like Black has taken over the amalgamtechnique of polemic practised by GA (and by leftists).

Am I a "sheep" of Stewart Home? No. Do I follow the decidedly anti-anarchist Home? No. As far as I am aware, I have never met him. I have read some works by him, such as his attacks on primitivism and anarchism (e.g., the silly "Anarchist Integralism" pamphlet). Given that I wholeheartedly disagree with Home on anarchism, it takes some stretch of the imagination to say I am his "sheep." We do share one thing in common, though. I have critiqued primitivism (in the letters pages of Anarchy and in Freedom)=2E Stewart Home has also critiqued primitivism (although from a radically different perspective). Therefore (according to Black's "logic") I must be a follower of Home. Shades of "Trotsky-Fascist" there, unfortunately.

But Black's smear has worked. Two paragraphs of my letter have been taken over to correcting an attack on me as an individual rather than the ideas I expressed. That is part of my life lost correcting a casual smear by Black, time I could have used to more fruitful and enjoyable pursuits.Sadly, this appears to be Black's standard approach to his critics. Someone should tell him that "criticism" does not mean "to insult."

And what of the actual issues I raised in my letter? Black takes exception to the parallels I drew between Lenin's vanguardist ideas and his claim that anarchism was not the product of working class people in struggle but rather the product of "Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin." He claims that these are "well known facts" which "should not be controversial." They are only "not controversial" if you are a vanguardist. They should be controversial if you are an anarchist. I even quoted Proudhon and Kropotkin to show how they considered anarchist ideas to be the product of working people's self-activity. Black,significantly, fails to mention this.

Instead, he claims that I have "obviously never read Lenin."Except, of course, I have and critiqued him at length. Lenin, Black informs us, "was discussing socialism, not anarchism." No shit, Sherlock! "What is to be Done?" was a polemic written as part of a debate within Russian Marxist circles (although that did not stopLenin bringing Proudhon into it to defend his position). As I said, Leninism rests on "the false notion that working class people cannot develop socialist ideas by their own effort." Ignoring the obvious factthat anarchism is a form of socialism (as noted by Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, etc.), I was drawing the parallel between that aspect of Black'sattack on the Platform with Lenin's argument. Replace (Marxist) "socialism" with "anarchism" in Black's essay and we have thecore of Lenin's argument.

The strange thing is, while Black huffs and puffs, he continues to agree with Lenin! He states that he ("unlike Lenin [!] and McKay")knows "anarchism did not originate in the Group Mind of a social class." Except, of course, I made no such claim about a "Group Mind." Rather I argued anarchist ideas have spontaneously developed from the self-activity of working class people. Anarchist thinkers have taken up those ideas and generalised them into a theory. This was what Kropotkin argued and the Platform repeated this. Black mocked this idea and, in the process, repeated Lenin's argument. He still does and happily admits it. Why is he wasting my time?

He says that I have "never identified the time and place at which the working class conceived of anarchism." Unlike Black, I see anarchism as an evolving theory, not at set of dogmas invented at a specific time and place by a few individuals. Anarchist ideashave spontaneously developed in many times and places. As Black knows, Igave a few examples derived from Kropotkin and Proudhon. I could go on, but I don't want to labour my point. It would be too boring for those paying attention.

Black states incredulously that he is "accused of falsification of the Platform for repeating passages quoted in Voline." Yet that is not what I claimed. I pointed out that Black had accused the WSM of falsifying the Platform by editing it (the WSM "without so indicating, omits several interesting passages from the Platform."). This, it goes without saying, is a radically different accusation.

He meekly states that it "turns out that these quotations were taken (unknown to me) not from the Platform itself but from" another document. It is nice to see that Black does admit that the quote he claimed the WSM had edited out of the Platform is not in fact from that work. Sadly, he does not bother to thank me for doing his work for him by finding that out. If you are going to accuse other anarchists of secretly editing a text you could at least check to see if the claim was true. I found the relevant facts out in ten minutes, obviously far too much effort for Black. And rather than apologise to the members of the WSM for smearing them, Black accuses Alexandre Skirda of the same thing, namely secretly editing another Platformist document! Rest assured, though, rather than actually investigate the matter he glibly states that he "suspect[s]" Skirda of doing so! Given Black's track record on such matters, I won't share his (unsupported) assertions until I see the kind of evidence Black tends to eschew.

This does not stop Black saying the "quotations were true, not false. McKay's contrary statement is false, not true"! Except, of course, Black has just admitted that my statement was true. The Platform, as he admits, does not contain the passages he claimed it did. The WSM did not edit the pamphlet, as he asserted. And he then turns wrong and says my statement "is false"! And he writes that I have "either forgotten what I originally wrote or hopes that everyone else has"!

What is significant about this is what it says about Black's approach.He feels able to spout forth accusations without feeling the need to check out the facts (an easy task, as I quickly discovered). This is a sad indictment of his ethics and the quality of his work.

As part of this surreal experience, Black also quotes the original Platformists on "coercion" and freedom of the press, the latter subject I never mentioned. As for the former, he quotes them saying that decisions will be implemented "not through violence or decrees." Coercion without violence? He quotes that decisions "will have to be binding upon all who vote for and endorse then." Apparently making decisions is now considered "coercion." As for freedom of the press, he quotes the Platformists saying that "there may be specific circumstances when the press . . . may be restricted." Black, unlike the Platformists, does not say what these circumstances were, namely in a "civil war context" and the "role that enemy mouthpieces will be undertaking in relation to the ongoing military struggle." Outside these "extraordinary cases (such as civil war)" free speech and freedom of press, the Platformists stress, would be "the pride and joy of the free toilers' society."

Clearly Black is quoting out of context. Perhaps he is arguing that itis "leftist" not to grant freedom of press to people actively trying to kill you. If so, then fine. He should say so. And if it is non-anarchist to do so, then Emma Goldman will also have to be excommunicated from anarchism along with Makhno (and the Makhnovists, which the Platformists use to illustrate their argument). She though it was "childish to expect the CNT-FAI to include Fascists and other forces engaged in their destruction in the extension of complete political freedom." (Vision on Fire, p. 228).

Black repeats his nonsense on how the Platform's call for a revolutionary army was "exactly" the same as the Spanish Republic's call for a People's Army which destroyed the militias (I will ignore the insults, as these are obviously there to draw attention away from Black's stupidity). The Platform called for an army similar to the "detachments of insurgent partisans . . . during the Russian revolution." Yes, that was "exactly" the same kind of thing introduced by the Stalinists and Republicans. He states that the Platformists argued for "an authoritarian formal army" while, of course, they argued for a volunteer, class army based on free revolutionary (self-) discipline and explicitly denied that they wanted "a standing, centralised army." They did argue for a "common revolutionary strategy," but so did the CNT militias (and Voline, whose call for co-ordinated defence they dismissed as "aping" their ideas). I can only assume that Black is against the idea that the defence of a revolution should be co-ordinated. If he is, then he should say so and explain why.

Black then gets even more surreal. He says I invoke, "as holy all the great names of anarchism . . . in defence of Platformism without even once citing any evidence that any of them, except Makhno, advocated anything like the vanguard organisation espoused by the Platform." That is unsurprising, as I was not defending Platformism. I made that clear in my first letter: "as I am not a Platformist I will not defend it." What part of that did Black not understand?

He then moves on to assert that when I listed all these anarchists into the "defence" of a Platform I do not support I "did so in the face of the fact that Voline, Malatesta, Goldman, Berkman, Nettlau,Fabbri, Berneri - all the notable anarchists when the Platform was promulgated - denounced it." Except, of course, I actually wrote the following: "I will say this, Malatesta's critique of the Platform was substantially correct." I even ended my letter by saying "I hope that anarchists everywhere will avoid the problems of both "anti-organisationalism" and Platformism . . . Reading Malatesta's critique of the Platform would be agood first step." What part of that is denying that notable anarchists like Malatesta did not criticise the Platform?

Based on this he claims that I "and the Platformists are not even close to being anarchists"! Simply incredible. It would save so much time if Black actually bothered to read what his critics write rather than simply go into insult mode. But then, Black did say "denounce" rather than critique. Malatesta did not "denounce" the Platform, he criticised it and had a fruitful dialogue with Makhno (see Malatesta's "The Anarchist Revolution" for details -- the relevant documents are on-line thanks to the pro-Platformists of the WSM at www.anarchism.ws). Black's hateful bile is a thousand miles away from the Malatesta's criticism, criticism I remind Black I considered correct and urged comrades to read.

Black then states that his position is not a "matter of antagonism or indifference towards the working class." That is nice to know, although I did not accuse him of any such thing. He then places me among the "leftist workerists" who "always suppress and sometimes denounce . . . the scandalous prospect of the abolition of work, because the abolition of work implies the abolition of workers and then there would be no workers for the anarchist organisers to organise." I'm not sure I know how I've "suppressed" this prospect? Perhaps by quoting, as I have, from Black's essays "The Abolition of Work" and "The Libertarian as Conservative"? As for seeking to "organise" workers, well, as I worker (like most anarchists) I know how important it is for us to organise together to fight against our bosses. I also know that this self-organising is the only way in which we can abolish work. As a worker I'm all in favour of abolishing class society (and so the working class), so I'm not really sure what Black is on about.But then again I feel that most people probably get that impression whe nBlack's bile gets in the way of his thinking.

Perhaps Black could do me a favour? He calls me a "leftist workerist." I know I'm not a leftist, as I know what that is (Black may call himself a "post-leftist" but his debating technique is still rooted in leftism, as far as I can see). I'm still waiting for a definition of "workerist." I don't think I will get one as its usefulness as an insult would be harmed if it is defined.

Black then gets even more surreal (if that is possible). He states somewhat incredulously that Bookchin's "Listen, Marxist!" does" not espouse revolutionary organisation or, for that matter, anarchism" and so finds it amusing I "should claim" it "for organisationalist/workerist anarchism." Sorry, what planet is he on? Bookchin in that essay, as I noted, argued for "an organisation of affinity groups." He even stated there was "a need for a revolutionary organisation"! What part of that does Black have difficulty understanding? As for that essay not espousing anarchism that must come as a surprise to all those anarchists, like myself, who have read it and urged others to read its explicitly anarcho-communist critique of Leninism.

Black then states that Bookchin "repudiates class analysis and class struggle - to an extent that I [Black] find unwarranted" in his essays on Paris 1968 in "Post-Scarcity Anarchism." Except Bookchin did no such thing (his second letter focuses on industrial workers, for example). Even if it were true, it would be irrelevant to the work at hand ("Listen, Marxist!"). As Black is surely aware, in response to critics of that essay Bookchin stressed that it did not repudiate "class struggle" and "class analysis." He states quite clearly (in "A Discussion on 'Listen, Marxist!'") that he considered "Listen, Marxist!" to be "permeate[d]" with class analysis and that he thought that the "class struggle does not centre around material exploitation alone but also around spiritual exploitation." Bookchin did question whether this expanded understanding should be called "class struggle" but he did not deny it. It was a case of struggle against oppression as well exploitation- a position all anarchists I know hold. I wonder why Black makes such claims about Bookchin when the evidence to refute them is so readily available?

Black ends by stating that I have "already renounced the substance of anarchism." In what way? It cannot be because I am a Platformist, as Black suggests, because I am not. It cannot be because I failed to note that anarchists like Malatesta opposed the Platform, because I did (and indicated my agreement with that critique). It cannot be because I said Bookchin argued for an organised anarchism, which he did. Can it be because I think a revolution will need organisation and co-ordinated defence? Is it because I think anarchists should organise together to spread their ideas and influence struggle? Or that I think workers like myself should organise together to fight for a better world? If so, then he excommunicates Malatesta, Bakunin, Goldman, Berkman, et al, along with myself. So that cannot be it.

I think its more personal than that. I think he excommunicates me from anarchism because I have pointed out Black's own mistakes and stupidities. I think the real source of his bile is simply that I fact-checked him and shown him to be lacking. Perhaps it is also because I disagree with him? That may be it. After all, he calls me a "cloned Scottish sheep." True free thinkers obviously don't question Black's assertions norcheck his sources and references to see if they support his claims.

But I am not alone in being excommunicated, so is NEFAC (and presumably all other neo-Platformists). As far as the latter goes, he does so apparently because of the organisation the Platform advocates. As he puts it:"What Neo-Platformists most value in the Platform must be the model of a vanguard revolutionary organisation - the only novelty in the Platform, the Leninist import, an idea alien to even the most organisationally minded anarchists." Fine, bar one thing. Black does not indicate that any modern day Platform-influenced group actually implements the organisational model advocated in the 1926 document. From what I can tell, none does. I know the WSM does not and I gather NEFAC does not. If hebothered to talk to neo-Platformists, he would quickly find this out as well as what they really "most value" in that document. But I feel that actually listening to what others say is the last thing Black wants to do. It may force him to think rather than insult.

So Black excommunicates people from the movement based on what they donot support (in my case) and what a 79 year old draft document says rather than what anarchists today actually do (for neo-Platformists). Says it all, really.

Yours,

Iain McKay


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