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Response to the Critique of RAANismo

Editor's Note: This text was written as a response to an anonymous essay titled "A Brief Constructive Criticism of 'RAANismo'", which had appeared on anarchist websites three days prior. The entirety of that essay can be read in the Appendix to this reply.

10.10.10

This particular group of RAANistas is positively over-joyed at the fact that someone has taken the time to write a critique of RAAN. As far as we know, this is the first attempt by the larger anarchist scene to articulate or critique the beast that is the Red & Anarchist Action Network. This is not an official reply by the Network itself. The authors of this piece come from both the West and East coasts. This collaboration is for the purposes of explaining RAAN as we see it, and pointing out where the original critique is off.

On with the writin's...

All publicity is good publicity

We love the fact that we have been compared to the RCP, despite them being our fucking enemies. This is simply because people talk about the RCP. We'll explain this in a short while.

The authors of the critique accuse us of promoting the name of RAAN only, instead of trying to build political bases within the working class. This is a very common Leftist critique of RAAN and a lot of other insurrectionary (anarchist or communist) individuals and groups. It is a very logical argument; however we reject the idea that it is our duty to politicize the working class. Remember, we don't call ourselves a 'revolutionary organization.' How can we, when none of us have ever experienced anything other than the boring and destructive life of Capital?

Despite the illusions that a lot of the 'conscious-building' type people are under, the only people that ever join Parties or get involved in radical politics are people who already feel in their bones that every thing must change. These people have experienced something or a series of somethings and have realized on their own terms how fucked up society is. As of right now, these people often get sucked into the deadening activities of selling ISO or PSL or RCP newspapers, or doing whatever the IWW or NEFAC does, because these kinds of organizations are talked about. There is a connection made with "radical change/revolution" and "IWW" (you can insert whatever Leftist organization here, we are just using examples). From here, these people either get entirely consumed in the illusion that is Leftist activism, or they find themselves moving on to bashing their heads against the wall with what is the current state of Insurrectionary Anarchism (which to be honest, despite our love for many IAs, is just a form of 'very angry' activism).

We want to 'save' these people from ever having to deal with any of that. So, no, we aren't just throwing our acronym around just for the hell of it. The continued talk of RAAN within the anarchist scene is only to our advantage. As long as people are talking about RAAN then there will be that one group of people that are just like "Damn, what about RAAN?"

"Substitution" for the international worker?

We find the words of Fredy Perlman and Roger Gregoire to be very relevant here:

"One of the favorite arguments of "anarchists" and "libertarians" at Censier was: 'The workers must make their own decisions; we cannot substitute ourselves for them.' This is a blind application of an anti-bureaucratic tactic to a situation where this tactic had no application at all. It meant that action committee militants had no more of a right to tell workers what to do than a bureaucratic mini-party had. But the situation where this tactic was applied was not the one at which it was aimed..." ~ Worker-Student Action Committees

The accusation raised against RAAN, that we are trying to substitute our message for that of the international worker, is completely irrelevant to the action being talked about, and amounts to little more than typical Left anarchist knee-jerkery.

What really interests us, however, is that the author(s) go on to say that "the attack on the Democratic headquarters had somewhat of a significant potential in successfully serving as an act of instigation and consciousness-raising" and "[a] catchy or clever slogan connecting the rise of popular anti-DNC sentiment to the tradition of anti-capitalism and workers' struggle against the bourgeoisie would have been very effective." The idea that a revolutionary organization can raise worker's consciousness is, perhaps, the most vile and destructive mindset that has come out of the Left and has, clearly, inflitrated the insurrectionary milieu. We fail to see how this sort of behavior would have not been subsituting ourselves for the international worker. By attaching a "catchy or clever slogan" to the action, the RAANistas involved would have only ended up representing the "worker's struggle" (what worker's struggle? - Remember this action took place in the USA). RAAN only speaks for RAAN.

Don't you quote French communists at us...

We feel that the premise of your entire argument is flawed. RAAN is not, and can never be, a revolutionary organization. We feel the excerpts you pulled from The Coming Insurrection are excellent critiques of Leftist organizations and Parties, but due to the fact that RAAN is not a revolutionary organization, these excerpts are not relevant.

Your first quote is interesting, particularly the part where the Invisible Committee seems to define a Party or organization as having "a history, a head office, a name, resources, a leader, a strategy and a discourse..." And certainly some of this is true of RAAN. Especially the part about having a history and a name. But we don't really see RAAN as having anything else in common with this definition of an organization. RAAN has often been accused of having a leadership (Nachie), but this is not true. RAAN is entirely defined by who is doing things in its name. This means that those who are taking initiative to get things done following the No Bullshit Policy are naturally going to become the face of RAAN. But this is not a problem nor is it indicative of us being the sort of organization you seem to think we are. Even in the larger anarchist scene, there are certain names that become the face of Anarchism simply because they are taking initiative (we are thinking of people such as Crudo, Texas, etc., and things like Fire to the Prisons and Modesto Anarcho).

Our strategy is whatever those who are defining RAAN make it to be. Our discourse is the same. We have no desire to be coherent.

We think a huge difference between RAAN and the larger anarchist scene is the No Bullshit policy. This means that you are not part of RAAN unless you are actively doing things as RAAN. It is odd that we should be attacked for this when it is something that allows us to safeguard against people who wish to use RAAN for their own personal gain without contributing to the project itself. Perhaps if the anarchist scene were to adopt this policy, then ya'll may be able to be something more than a group of people that is addicted to posting gossip online...

However, while we are on the subject of French communists, here is an excerpt we feel is particularly relevant to defining what RAAN is and how it works:

"To organize is not to give structure to weakness. It is above all to form bonds - bonds that are by no means neutral - terrible bonds. The degree of organization is measured by the intensity of sharing - material and spiritual.

From now on, to materially organize for survival is to materially organize for attack. Everywhere, a new idea of communism is to be elaborated."

The idea of RAAN is not something that the Invisible Committee has taken into account. The project as a whole is certainly strengthened by the number of people and crews acting as RAAN but on the local level the strength of these crews is only measured by the depth of their bonds and their ability to work together and take care of each individually. Therefore the actual strength of RAAN lies in the strength of the crews taking its name. We would go as far as to say that the point of RAAN in this stage is not to agitate the working class or even to really do political things but to orient itself for the survival of those taking its name. We wish to grow stronger in the TCI sense for the time when a crisis is upon us and there no longer any illusions around class struggle.

Your use of TCI and Call makes us feel that you are trying to play on its popularity within the North American Anarchist scene to possibly paint RAAN in a bad light. This is insincere. It's also strange to appeal to a book as if it is the end-all-be-all of radical discourse in America.

At this point, we would like to state that we are unaware of where the "breath of fresh air" is that you mentioned in the beginning of your "Stalinist anti Stalinism" section. As far as we are aware, the same bashing of one's head against an immovable wall that is North American Anarchism (Insurrectionary or otherwise) has been taking place for the last several years. It is taking this into account that we bluntly say that American Anarchists have not yet left behind activism. That there is still the desire to educate the workers or work toward "consciousness-raising" that you so eloquently put it. We feel that you are stuck within the nasty pits of Leftism if you are able to talk about raising consciousness and condemning RAAN for "distracting from the possibility of freedom on a pure conscious level" in the same essay.

On Lenin and the Left

The attacks on the Left by RAAN always seem to be the actions that come under the most fire. We do not understand this. The first attacks on RCP bookstores several years ago were done to establish a line in the sand to destroy any attempts by the anarchist scene to paint RAAN as "Leninist" or authoritarian because of the inclusion of "Red" in the name. To imply at any level that this is all RAAN amounts to is absolutely ridiculous, and politically dishonest.

However, we do feel that attacking the Left is the single most important thing pro-revolutionaries can do. And we also believe that we should not wait until they have poked their ugly faces into a struggle before doing so. We are not reactionary. If we understand that there is no one better than the Left at getting workers back to work during a crisis, and therefore one of the biggest threats to the communist project, then to attack them before they can gain a foothold in an area is of utmost importance. And to call this sort of attack on Leftists "sectarian" is to be blind. One has to be in the same sect as something before attacking it becomes sectarian [sic]. We are not on the same team as the Left.

It is true that a lot of the publicity RAAN has gained has been through attacks on Leninist organizations. We do not deny or shrink from this. However, as we have said, to ignore the fact that RAAN has done so many more things that even the most anti-organizational IA can appreciate is politically dishonest. But we do not feel it is our job to list everything RAAN has done, and if people are sincerely interested in looking at the sort of things RAAN has done then they will find ways to read the history section on the RAAN hub.

In Conclusion...

Your entire critique is off. We feel that you have not taken the time to examine the things that have come out under the RAAN banner, nor have you really taken the time to look at the history of RAAN. Indeed, it seems your entire essay is based off of the last couple months of RAAN things being on @news, which is a very, very small part of the Network's history. Your comparisons of RAAN and the RCP do not add up, and your appeal to certain texts only proves our point even further.

Essentially, we see RAAN as a way for like-minded pro-revolutionaries to meet up, and to organize materially. The only reason why we feel that RAAN is the solution to the cripple that is known as North American Anarchism is because NA Anarchists have essentially allowed themselves to be reduced to petty squabbles online and putting a meaner, harder face on activism. To refer to RAAN as an organization such as anyone has come into contact with before is to not understand the nature of RAAN. RAANistas are people who understand themselves as an obscure, practically irrelevant tendency within the larger body known as society. And as such, we are fully aware of our inability to impact anything. We do not wish to raise consciousness because we view that as impossible, and as something that regularly burns out extremely sincere pro-revolutionaries. We are not a revolutionary organization because we are not capable of creating or facilitating revolution. That sort of illusion we leave to the religious Leftists. We are not even a pro-revolutionary organization. We are simply a very loose network of pro-revolutionaries.

All that RAAN is or can be is a name which to attach to things done by people in order to meet up with other people.

As has already been stated, this is not an official reply from the Network. Something of that sort would be impossible due to the fact that we have no leaders or a central committee of any sort. We are just one group of RAANistas, and hopefully RAANistas elsewhere will reply to you as well, or even better, they will critique this critique.

Signed,
A few RAANistas


APPENDIX: A Brief Constructive Criticism of "RAANismo"

10.07.10

The Messianic Mission of RAAN

In their rhetoric we see the "RAANista" tendency emphasize the perceived singular importance of their organization, despite the admitted and seemingly deliberate lack of concretely defined parameters of their organization and its strategy.

At this specific juncture in our polemic we will refrain from judging this lack of concretely defined parameters as a specifically positive or negative attribute. Rather, we wish to highlight the obvious contradiction in a tendency that, on the one hand, boasts to be "not a fixed organization by any definition", "beyond ideological labels", "only be seen or analyzed as the totality of autonomous activity done in its name", etc. ("Culture of the Red & Anarchist Action Network", Aug. 22nd) and on the other upholds itself as the "only" path.

An example, from a recent denunciation of anti-IMF activists:

    "The RAANista model is the only proposal on the table right now that would allow for anticapitalist actions - at any level of intensity - to noticeably build upon each other and accumulate into a consistent momentum. [... obstacles] will never be surmounted without the conscious and widespread implementation of RAAN as an organizing model." ("Less Plattitudes, More RAAN", Sept. 11th) [emp. added]

And another, from a gratuitous lionization of minor propaganda action in New Brunswick:

    "those of you who still cling to the dead weight of the past - the activist scenes, the cliques, the authoritarian Left - have an important choice to make: abandon ship, die with the ship, or else swim to our island of refuge." ("East Coast Red & Anarchist Network Propaganda/Action", Sept. 2nd) [emp. added]

And a third, on a recruitment effort found on a web forum for discussion of underground heavy metal music:

    "[RAAN] is the only group where anarchists and (anti-state) communists can work together under the same banner" (posted on the Red Anarchist Black Metal forums, Sept. 2 '10) [emp. added]

This, somewhat ironically(1), conjures to this author's mind, the extensive critique issued of the "new synthesis" ideology of Bob Avakian and his devotees, issued by dissident Maoist Mike Ely under the title Nine Letters to Our Comrades.

According to Ely's analysis, the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, after a series of realistic setbacks, shifted its emphasis during the turn of the 21st century away from "charting the uncharted course" of forming "political base areas" among the "lower and deeper" ranks of working-class youth, and towards "appreciating, promoting and popularizing this rare, unique and special leader, [referring to Avakian] his body of work, method and approach."

This comparison is not offered as an insinuation that the 'RAANista' tendency has already achieved the comical levels of uncritical demagoguery and personality-cultism displayed by the Revolutionary Communist Party, but rather that they are currently engaging in the same mistake of confusing the goal of forming "political base areas" among the most marginalized and exploited sectors of the proletariat with the goal of "appreciating, promoting, and popularizing" the "rare, unique, and special leader[ship]" of RAAN's "body of work, method and approach".

Substituting the RAAN meme for the message of the international worker

An example can be found in the recent daring and heroic attack on the Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Modesto, California. The attack, while minor, must be commended as somewhat successful in drawing media attention. However, graffiti left at the site failed to connect the vandalism to any political statement, other than the promotion of RAAN.

With the nose-dive decline in popularity of "Obamania" and many disillusioned "Obama progressives" turning as a realistic possibility towards the radical left, the attack on the Democratic headquarters had somewhat of a significant potential in successfully serving as an act of instigation and consciousness-raising. A catchy or clever slogan connecting the rise of popular anti-DNC sentiment to the tradition of anti-capitalism and workers' struggle against the bourgeoisie would have been very effective. However, this potential was not maximized and was in fact squandered, as the only message of the vandalism was a cryptic and oblique (and somewhat prideful) reference to an obscure political sect. It is safe to assume that many were left confused and bewildered rather than galvanized by the attack.

This practice stands in stark contrast to the erudite words of RAAN's leadership, who assert correctly "there is no practical use in creating another 'revolutionary organization' just for the sake of having it" and claim that RAAN is "not throwing another acronym into the alphabet soup to watch it float."

The Alphabet Soup

The recent strategic orientation of RAAN is - simply put - to promote RAAN. For a faction that supposedly represents the anti-formalist, anti-party, and post-left ultra-extreme, there is little critical discussion of why RAAN exists, what purpose it exists for, what practical benefits RAAN grants to those who participate in the project, what its immediate and long-term goals are as an organization, when and if RAAN as a formal organization will no longer be necessary, etc.

Instead what we have is a quixotic attempt to gain "street cred" by advertising RAAN through fliers, petty hooliganism, and Internet trolling. What results is a cultural expression that resembles less and less a serious political project and more and more the "forced memes" of the 4chan subculture.

The informal network of friends and acquaintances that exists around this mission to 'promote RAAN' should instead focus their attentions towards coordinated efforts to address local issues and authentically and sincerely engage with like-minded individuals in their day-to-day lives as a starting point for building a coherent infrastructure to resist state power on a local level.

Instead we have a misplaced focus on utilizing the Internet to recruit teenagers who post on RevLeft(2) into the newer, better clique of RAAN. Embryonic anti-capitalist sentiment is not cultivated in a way that's meaningful and is instead squandered with arcane and irrelevant distractions.

Stalinist anti-Stalinism

An increasingly popular notion among anarchists, given so many past examples of positive social projects which squander their liberatory potential and cement new forms of bourgeois domination, is to reject entirely the sanctity of formal parties and hipster/activist cliques in favor of a reinvigorating affirmation of the liberatory potential of singular individual experiences and singular social relationships.

when freed not only from loyalty to the bourgeois establishment, but also from any loyalty to bureaucratic parties and activist/hipster milieus, one is left only to gasp a breath of pure and fresh, free air. (The author says this at the risk of being overly poetic)

In that moment before the breath of fresh air occurs, groups like RAAN butt in, co-opting this extreme egoist, anti-party, anti-clique sentiment, to promote the smog of a new party, a new clique, under the guise of, and as a substitute, for the nameless singularity of total non-servitude.

In The Coming Insurrection, which is now super-trendy among English-speaking anarchists, there is the following open-ended denunciation of "organizations":

    "It's not uncommon, in the course of a significant breaking of the social bond, to cross paths with organizations - political, labor, humanitarian, community associations, etc. Among their members, one may even find individuals who are sincere - if a little desperate - who are enthusiastic - if a little conniving. Organizations are attractive due to their apparent consistency - they have a history, a head office, a name, resources, a leader, a strategy and a discourse. They are nonetheless empty structures, which, in spite of their grand origins, can never be filled. In all their affairs, at every level, these organizations are concerned above all with their own survival as organizations, and little else. Their repeated betrayals have often alienated the commitment of their own rank and file. And this is why you can, on occasion, run into worthy beings within them. But the promise of the encounter can only be realized outside the organization and, unavoidably, at odds with it."

To which the RAANista will agree, and add that the only escape from the organizations is RAAN.

Our French comrades immediately go on to issue a doubly damning denunciation, (which could comfortably apply to RAAN) of "milieus":

    "Far more dreadful are social milieus, with their supple texture, their gossip, and their informal hierarchies. Flee all milieus. Each and every milieu is orientated towards the neutralization of some truth. Literary circles exist to smother the clarity of writing. Anarchist milieus to blunt the directness of direct action. Scientific milieus to withhold the implications of their research from the majority of people today. Sport milieus to contain in their gyms the various forms of life they should create. Particularly to be avoided are the cultural and activist circles. They are the old people's homes where all revolutionary desires traditionally go to die. The task of cultural circles is to spot nascent intensities and to explain away the sense of whatever it is you're doing, while the task of activist circles is to sap your energy for doing it. Activist milieus spread their diffuse web throughout the French territory, and are encountered on the path of every revolutionary development. They offer nothing but the story of their many defeats and the bitterness these have produced. Their exhaustion has made them incapable of seizing the possibilities of the present. Besides, to nurture their wretched passivity they talk far too much and this makes them unreliable when it comes to the police. Just as it's useless to expect anything from them, it's stupid to be disappointed by their sclerosis. It's best to just abandon this dead weight."

To which the RAANista may say, yes! And the only escape from the cliques is through RAAN!

The increased attention being given to these ideas is not used as an opportunity for a mature and critical-minded assessment of strategy but instead offered as a contorted pretense for slave-psychology.

We are reminded (and the author admits to extreme hyperbole) of the example of the Rengō Sekigun of early 70s Japan in which party dissidents were tortured to death as "Stalinists" after they admitted, under circumstances of forced confession, administered by party leaders Hiroko Nagata and Tsuneo Mori, to thinking about exploiting and attempting to control the party for personal gain. We are of course not comparing RAAN to this historical organization in terms of severity, what we are attempting to address is a parallel; the Trotskyist critique of Stalinism, and the impromptu trials of alleged "Stalinists" for supposedly attempting to control and exploit the party, was a distraction by the real efforts of Nagata and Mori to exploit and control the group. Similarly, trendy and ideological misinterpretations of autonomist and insurrectionist ideas may lead to the One Universal Party as the only salvation to an otherwise hopeless terrain of lesser parties and cliques

Thus, we believe RAAN is simply a new ghost in the head, distracting from the possibility of freedom on an pure conscious level.

Against the left?

The less popular A Call, issued by the same group that anonymously authored The Coming Insurrection, has this to say about "post-leftism"

    "In these times this position is asserted as a double secession: secession first with the process of capitalist valorisation; then secession with all the sterility entailed by a mere opposition to empire, extra-parliamentary or otherwise; thus a secession with the left. Here 'secession' means less a practical refusal to communicate than a disposition to forms of communication so intense that, when put into practice, they snatch from the enemy most of its force." [emp. added]

This was written in a different spatial and temporal context, in which groups like ATTAC drew a great deal of social and political water in metropolitan France. Similarly, Bonnano's Armed Joy, authored decades earlier, was written in a time of a vibrant Marxist-Leninist left in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Other authors devoted to attacking the left, such as Kazcynski, were personally entrenched in economic and political subcultures such as academia, where such a critique would, at the very least, hold some sort of intimate and immediate significance.

In the US in 2010, with the self-proclaimed mission of building a red and anarchist "street presence" among the "hooligans" of the poorest rungs of working-class youth, one must question the tactical importance of attacking an almost non-existent "left" given the significant popularity of other distractions. (Television, alcohol, etc.)

What we're left with is a naked pretense for sectarianism and uncritical witch-hunts against "Leninists"...

We must tread carefully, while as it may be necessary to attack the capitalist left as it emerges in the US, it is also true that in the recent past the US "post-left" descended down the spectrum of third positionism towards reactionary tendencies such as national anarchism. (Hakim Bey, Bob Black, et. al)

Hooliganism

Among insurrectionist and post-left tendencies in the US, not just RAAN, there is an over-emphasis placed on the glorification and romanticism of hooliganism.

In Pacifism as Pathology, Churchill writes:

    "An even more sophisticated approach was taken by West German counterterrorism expert Christian Ludtke in his advocacy of factoring a certain (containable) quantity of violence by the opposition into elite calculations of the costs of maintaining the status quo. His point was that the functioning of the modern state inherently generates such responses, and at least tacit support of them across a fairly wide spectrum of the public. By absorbing an 'acceptable' level of activity by small clandestine groups [...] without reacting in an overly repressive fashion, he argued, the state security apparatus could fashion a useful sociopolitical venting mechanism which serves to preempt more threatening forms or degrees of antistatist violence"

Hooliganism, (smashing parking meters, etc.) like shoplifting and dope-smoking, is a reasonable response by workers to the psychological stresses of capitalism. We must stand with our fellow workers when they are arrested for petty acts of property destruction, just as we must stand with them when they are arrested for possession of marijuana. But to confuse this sort of base, instinctual hooliganism for advanced political resistance is akin to the White Panther Party's call for "[t]otal assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets".

Instead we must uphold, not only the hooliganism of the broken window, but also the hooliganism of the underground soup kitchen.

------------

(1) The irony is that the RCPUSA is frequently held up as a strawman for "autoritarian Leftism" by spokesmen of the RAAN milieu.
(2) A political web-forum which is a haven for Hoxhaism, Dengism, Eurocommunism, National Bolshevism, etc.


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