An explanation: I’ve been following Royce Christian and Keith Preston’s responses to each other, and after a while, I got so fed up I felt like I needed to jump in. I thank Royce for letting me post on his blog and accepting that I really do not want to get too entrenched in the cyber debate about Anarchism further than a forum post here or there, but felt like I had to weigh in. There has been name calling on both sides, from a demagogue in a black satin dress to a small-minded ideologue. I will try to avoid any name calling, which would supposedly give me some kind of upper-hand in the discourse, but I will bring attention to the fact that I am consciously refraining from doing so, which probably egotistically negates the action anyway. Similarly, I won’t be addressing any of the personal attacks launched against either party.
My objection to Third Positionism is that it first and foremost has an ahistorical approach inasmuch as it is leftist and only retroactively places itself there, using ideas and attitudes not formulated at the time of the conception of the left/right political spectrum. It claims to be neither left nor right and claims to be a synthesis of right and left ideas while rejecting the sole premise of left-wing ideology. Furthermore, it understands being anti-state as an ideological characteristic instead of a tactical characteristic; it would claim Anarchists and anti-government fascists are ideologically similar instead of correctly placing Anarchism as an ideology that opposes the state in the context of leftist politics. While it co-opts much of Anarchist rhetoric, it dismisses two key concepts: solidarity and community. Finally, it may not be an exclusively right-wing idea, but it provides an arena for people who oppose what Anarchists stand for to enter the conversation as legitimate actors and gives nothing back. I know little of Preston’s personal political background, and it is both irrelevant and hard to make the case that he is knowingly undermining Anarchism with his support of the Third Position. Regardless, his ideas have only provided a dangerous utility to the right that must be understood.
This will not be a line-by-line response.
The problem any anti-authoritarian is confronted with when introduced to Third Positionism is finding out whether or not it is truly a synthesis of ideas from the right and left or a semantically and/or socially constructed concept that is new to recent history. It is true that until recently the right has not been opposed to government. This does not, however, imply a synthesis of ideas. First, we need to look at the origin of the left/right political spectrum to broaden our view.
This first began in the French Parliament around the time of the revolution. Those who favored the monarchy sat in the right wing and those who opposed it sat in the left wing. The most radical opponents of Monarchism sat in a part of the left wing referred to as “the mountain.” Among them was PJ Proudhon, the first philosopher to describe himself as an Anarchist and to articulate what was most likely a widely held view (I phrase it this way because any adherence to a figure as the sole example of a philosophy is a failure of understanding, i.e. Proudhon was a sexist, but that does not mean sexism is inherent to Anarchism). So there we have the basic framework for what it means to be leftist or rightist in a historical context. The Monarchy opposed by the left has gone on to be Capitalism (in the case of socialists), racism (in the case of the black power movement among others), sexism (in the case of feminists), and so on. A colloquial way of phrasing it would be that the left is “anti-establishment.”
Next we need to understand the basics of the sociological study of social inequality. Sociologists generally use two umbrella terms about social inequality: the conservative thesis and radical antithesis, which divides thinkers into two groups: structural functionalists or conflict theorists. Structural functionalists generally claim that stratification is functional, perhaps inevitable, or even natural and good. Conflict theorists generally state that inequality is to some extent a social construct and must be destroyed or at least minimized. Now we come to a statement by Preston:
(Regarding the assertion that Anarchism is opposed to all forms of authority) I regard this as a revisionist definition of anarchism and one that is difficult to glean from the writings of the founding fathers of anarchism given a proper understanding of their ideas in relation to the context of their times.
It is perhaps ironic that Preston claims this to be the revisionist definition. Anarchists have been in no position to revise this definition. The works of Anarchist authors are readily available on the internet or in a library for any interested party and Anarchists have been in no position to alter them or destroy them. Is it happenstance that throughout history we see Anarchists aligning themselves with other anti-authoritarian movements? Every, and I say this with the utmost conviction, every Anarchist revolution, action, or moment of success has been intertwined with an opposition to all hierarchy (it should be noted that it escapes the scope of this article to explain in depth what “anti-authority” has meant to Anarchists. Obviously a shoemaker is the authority on making shoes. Anarchists have not and do not oppose that notion of the word).
The Spanish Revolution of 1936 saw Social and Political revolution intertwined, with the Anarchists firmly declaring that neither supersedes the other. The Paris commune and French revolution saw Anarchists with convictions outside of opposition to the state. The student protests of Paris, May 1968 brought on a whole new approach to left struggles that were outside of the state and labor movement (and I believe now define the new left). This will all be explained in more detail later, the point being that it is overwhelmingly easy to glean that Anarchists have always been opposed to forms of authority outside of the state until the right retro-actively tried to place themselves in-line with the leftist thinkers of the past. Moreover, Preston has stated that he accepts:
“natural inequality of persons at both the individual and collective levels, the inevitability and legitimacy of otherness”
This places, at least, Preston himself in the position of the conservative thesis, the sociological side generally associated with the right, if not Third Positionism itself. If nothing else, it distances the entire notion of Third Positionism from Anarchism and the classical understanding of Libertarianism outside of the US. It is ideologically impossible to claim any lineage to Anarchist thought without the idea that social inequality is to some extent a social construct.
There is no doubt that old leftist ideas have gained popularity amongst western industrialized states. Public education and universal healthcare are just two examples of leftist ideas practiced by the state. This does not, however, place leftism firmly in the statist sphere of political belief. National Socialism, a clearly right-wing ideology, has seen itself manifested in the state. The state is not particular to ideology, but is instead a tool of ideology. Preston, to his credit, does understand the unique capability of the state.
“The state has unique powers of physical coercion and claims on a monopoly of violence that other kinds of institutions…do not have.”
On the left there is and has been an ongoing divide on the issue of the state. Most leftists, adhering to the conflict theorist understanding of social inequality, believe that the state is a tool that can be used to minimize or destroy social inequality, whereas libertarians and Anarchists believe that the state is a power structure in and of itself. Similarly, most of the right sees the state as a way to ensure that a system of stratification is as functional as possible, while as a recent occurrence people like Preston have come to understand that there are avenues outside of the state. The New Left is intensely critical of authoritarian statism (as Paris 1968 demonstrated), but does not leave behind old understandings of authority (class oppression, gender oppression, racism, etc.). If nothing else, Third Positionism does not lay in the same historical bed as Anarchism, it’s not even in the same bedroom. While there may be right-wing thinkers that see the state as a mechanism to ensure the functionality of a society and others who see it as a roadblock, neither the left or right necessarily see it as a tool that must be used. Without the understanding that social stratification is to some extent socially constructed, Third Positionism and ATS are squarely on the right of the ongoing political discourse, accepting that social inequality is inevitable.
This does not exclude Market Anarchists or Individualist Anarchists from the Anarchist movement (although it most certainly does exclude “Anarcho-capitalists”). The market, like the state, is a tool, a forum, a method. It is a tool by which Anarchists seek freedom from hierarchy and those on the right use to legitimize it. The Anarchist would claim, “The market will liberate all individuals from hierarchy,” while only the rightist would claim, “Any hierarchy as a result of the market is legitimate, fair, or natural and must be accepted since it is a result of the market.” The left seeks to reform or destroy hierarchy; the right seeks to legitimize it. The tools they use depend on the individuals.
The reason Third Positionism, the populist right in the USA, and other right-wing ideologies have recently become anti-state or at least garner harsh feelings toward the idea of government is easily understandable in a historical context. It is a relatively new phenomenon from my understanding that the right can be associated with anti-state sentiment at all. As the left gained support in the government via the labor movement, black power movement, feminist movement, etc. the government has adopted some ideas from the left while maintaining social stratification. Public education and healthcare are two examples of this. In this sense, the right is opposed to government because the government has adopted ideas that are diametrically opposed to its traditional beliefs. Inasmuch as the right opposes the current trend of governments, the alliance between Anarchists and the “libertarian” right is faulty at least, and most likely hazardous. ATS’ Statement of Purpose legitimizes and says it accepts the following schools of thought:
Being that some of the first Anarchist thinkers, let’s just use Proudhon and Baukunin as examples, lived in societies that had feudal, monarchist states it becomes increasingly hard, and as any further thought will prove impossible, to reconcile the term “anarcho-monarchism.” If Anarchism as a philosophy was first articulated in the face of Monarchist/feudal systems, how then could it have progressed towards them? Without retroactive defining that is completely delineated from Anarchism, it is impossible to give anarcho-monarchism any credibility. Still, Preston stated:
“(Regarding the assertion that Anarchism is opposed to all forms of authority) I regard this as a revisionist definition of anarchism and one that is difficult to glean from the writings of the founding fathers of anarchism given a proper understanding of their ideas in relation to the context of their times.”
It is not as hard as one might think.
Community, Solidarity, and Social Revolution
As I stated earlier, the past has seen Anarchists taking action with the understanding that the social and political are one in the same. Third Positionism and ATS states that this is not the case, and that it is of practical concern to create a broad alliance of all anti-state ideologies. Preston:
“all issues and matters of controversy must be evaluated on their own terms”
This is, perhaps, an agreeable condition for most Anarchists. There is, indeed, a plethora of Anarchist thought concerning how things should actually be done, and none should be disregarded before any other. However (and what an ominous word that can be!), when the “matters of controversy” are ideologies, or, people supporting and espousing ideologies that are diametrically opposed to those held by Anarchists it becomes an entirely different matter. It is simply illogical to fight alongside some one who may very well want to murder, beat, or rape you post-revolution. Perhaps the words “murder,” “beat,” and “rape” seem extreme, but they most certainly are not, especially when one places “Anarcho-nationalism” in-line with Anarchism. Nationalists across Europe, and fascists all over, have indeed murdered, raped, and beaten Anarchists throughout history inside and outside of the state. The idea behind Third Positionism is that two communities that oppose each other will not live together and go on to their respective communities post secession, but assume for a moment that these two hypothetical groups live in the same neighborhood. By the “anarcho-nationalist” point of view, if that neighborhood is rightfully theirs (say the majority of the neighborhood is anti-Semitic) then there is absolutely nothing to stop them from murdering, raping, and/or beating their Jewish neighbor.
The problem is that Third Positionism is utterly useless to those on the left and amazingly powerful for those on the right. Since Anarchists (leftists) all have a general consensus about what they are against and the only legitimate quibbles are about what they are for, there is no real reason to call for a broad alliance of them since it already exists. Instead of opposing forms of authority that the left has always been against, Third Positionism relegitimizes them and gives those on the right rhetoric by which they can legitimize their oppressive ideologies under the guise of free association and voluntarism. But this will be discussed later.
Let me now extrapolate.
Anarchists see the social and political as inseparable because the social dictates the political. In a community that has a violent group of racists that identify as members of this hypothetical community, call it community A, as well as a population of people of color (as many ghettos in the USA do) then without a social revolution accompanying the political revolution in Community A there is absolutely nothing stopping this violent group of racists from murdering, raping, or beating people of color. Yes, we should strive for civility in our discourse, but in order to do that we would even need a social revolution. The use of legitimate violence would have to be reexamined in order to ensure that racists and those they hate can have civil discourse. Moreover, when one group’s ideology is that the other is the scourge of the earth and must be destroyed, how can civil discourse occur? And if we’re going to go as far as a social revolution that creates civil discourse, why not create one that eliminates hatred based on unsound, ideological grounds? This situation is wrought with conflict because both groups identify as members of Community A, and both oppose each other. It is absolutely necessary that our social understanding be altered along with our political relationships. It is of the utmost importance that while fighting the political systems of oppression we see in the state, that we fight the economic systems of oppression we see in capitalism, and the social systems of oppression we see in sexism, racism, and the like. This now brings me to the necessity of understanding two key terms: community and solidarity.
Let’s start with a quote from Preston:
“A Tibetan Buddhist monastery is certainly “authoritarian” by left-anarchist standards, but membership in such an institution is purely voluntary, and therefore not a matter of political concern. A hospital certainly has a “hierarchy” and rightfully so. Surgeons do not consult with janitors and parking lot attendants on how to operate on patients. The opinions of a first year nursing student on how to treat diseases is fortunately not weighed equally with that of physicians with decades of training or experience.”
The latter example, that of the hospital, is simply a matter of defining authority, a matter that goes far beyond the scope of this already lengthy article. A doctor obviously has more understanding of how to treat patients than the janitors. That is not to say the janitor might not have an interesting insight, but for the most part the doctor does know best. Such is a result of his training, not any kind of unalterable social relationship. It is a quantifiably explainable fact. The doctor knows more on the subject and is logically the one who is consulted on the subject before the janitors. The first example, that of the Buddhist monastery, is what I’ll be dealing with more in-depth.
It is true that plenty of Buddhist monasteries are hierarchical as a result of the group’s social status. That is not, however, of any concern to Anarchists if they do not identify as both Buddhist and a member of a particular hierarchical Buddhist monastery. Buddhism, as an ideology, does not have a history of domination or expansion, or rather there is not an historical trend that suggests a Buddhist community will dominate and control the community in which it exists. Buddhists have historically voluntarily moved away from the communities in which they sprung up with no intent on overtaking that society. When a state (China) tried to make a claim to being the only legitimate authority on Buddhism a faction of them moved away and continued to practice in opposition to, but not violently, that state. The Tibetan Buddhists have identified as Buddhists before Chinese and Tibetan before Chinese. Herein there lies no conflict. Other religious factions throughout history, including Christianity, have seen the same trend in separate factions.
The problem arises with the Third Positionist lack of understanding of community and solidarity. Let us first examine community. A general understanding of location in relation to culture is what gives rise to the concept of community. Anarchists in Barcelona identified as Barcelonians as much as the fascists did, or rather the fascists identified as Spainiards, an identity including the domination of Barcelona. This is where the Third Position’s idea of a common goal becomes faulty. Imagine that the fascists did not seek to take control of the government in Spain, but instead sought an anti-state method of gaining prominence in Spain as the Anarchists did. Would this have stopped the Anarchists from revolting? Would this have stopped any fighting between Fascists and Anarchists? Of course not. The two ideologies are diametrically opposed, and while the Anarchists sought the liberation of their communities alone, the fascists sought to dominate as they always have throughout history. It is integral to fascist ideology. There is probably racism, sexism, and classism in an Anarchist’s given community and it is within their community that they fight it. It may be worrying to an Anarchist that there is a hierarchical monastery in Tibet, but being a squarely anti-colonial ideology, there is little reason for an Anarchist outside of Tibet to infiltrate the monastery in hopes of creating a revolution there. This brings us to solidarity.
Say there is a Tibetan Anarchist who was dropped off at this Monastery as a child. He/she now identifies with the community he/she lives in, but cannot help his belief that the organization of the monastery is wrong. He/she talks about it with some friends and they all agree. Soon, there’s a faction of Buddhist monks that wish to reform the organization of their monastery. Does an Anarchist across the planet now turn the same indifferent eye towards the monastery?
Solidarity is a key concept of the left. It does not imply colonial intervention outside of one’s environment, nor does it imply blind adherence to anything under the same label. It provides a system of connection between two parties, individuals or groups, which benefits both of them through mutual support without compromising the beliefs, values, or social relationships of either. Anarchists show solidarity as a gesture of mutual understanding. The fight against oppression is international, local, and individual.
Now imagine for a moment that ATS called for solidarity with anarcho-monarchists instead of a “broad coalition” of anti-statists. It would be laughable. This may seem contradictory, the notion that Anarchists fight for their liberation (communal, individual, or otherwise) while ignoring others, but should show solidarity beyond their environment while rejecting those who have some similar ideas (such as anti-statism). Coming back to the earlier part of this article (that is, if you’re still reading), solidarity as a tactic becomes much clearer. Those on the right accept social inequality, reject the notions of authority that the left has, and usually wish to dominate and suppress leftist struggles. Those on the right are not fighting the same fight. The left should not be concerned at all with the fate of an anti-state white supremacist group, and should act against them if it threatens them. To due away with one problem, the state, while providing legitimacy and support for all the others (and there are many) is counter-active. As I stated, the state is a tool. Imagine a murderer that is against the use of guns as murder weapons favoring the slow, painful stabbing and twisting of a knife, and a pacifist that is completely against violence (including the use of guns). Should the two then work together and show solidarity for one another? No, of course not. Here’s another metaphor including ideologies that ATS has stated should work together: say you’re an anarcho-syndicalist, and you and some baker friends occupy a bakery. In return the capitalist owner offers you a cake. This brings us to one of my favorite Anarchist sayings,
“WE DON’T WANT A CAKE. WE WANT THE WHOLE FUCKING BAKERY!”
An Impractical SynthesisPreston noted that leftists are generally the ones to dismiss the Third Position while those on the right understand and accept it. I paraphrase as technical issues mean I cannot locate the original quote. The reason for this is simple. The Third Position offers no utility to the left. While the right may have a more rigid understanding of what authority is, the left has an understanding of oppression that spans far beyond the state and stands in opposition to the anti-state right.
The Third Position allows the right to delineate itself from the right-wing movements of the past. Hiding behind the guise of libertarian rhetoric, an anti-government National Socialist could espouse their oppressive ideology without much reference to Hitler or the actions of the Nazi states of the past despite having a direct ideological lineage to those states. Meanwhile, the left explicitly opposes the ideologies that Preston has asked us to align ourselves with. The coalition adds nothing to the left. The right gets to add new rhetoric to their ideology and hide some of its ugly history while the left would have to give up some of its core principals in order to accept the alliance offered by Third Position. An “anarcho-nationalist” could claim a philosophical lineage to the Anarchist resistance of fascism in WWII and place itself in opposition to its own history. Clearly, nationalism draws much more from the fascist states of the 20th century than it does from those who opposed them.
And where is the left in this? The idea is that after all these independent communities secede we will go on to work out our internal conflicts. The problem is that if an Anarchist must align himself or herself with those in the community that oppose their beliefs, the ensuing conflict afterward will be magnified. It will bolster both the Anarchist’s and the Nationalist’s identity as members of that particular community. After fighting for independence both will feel they have given something to the community and both will want something back. This broad alliance gets us nowhere. By claiming that the state in its uniqueness is a problem that must be dealt with before anything else, Third Positionism gives credibility to the power structures that already exist beyond the state. I do not know why this is the case, but my hunch is that there is a general lack of understanding about what power and authority is. While the exclusive right to use force is one way in which power can be manipulated, the Third Position and right-wing ignore the ideas of exploitation, manipulation, segregation, brainwashing, media influence, and all other systems by which one can influence the greater society’s thoughts and actions.
While I do not know enough about Preston to say he is for sure right-wing, he seems to be, and regardless of his own beliefs, Third Positionism creates opportunity for the right while asking for compromise on the left.
It is no surprise that the left has been unreceptive.
Q.E.D. (Quite Easily Done)
As I write this, I realize a particular bias towards the collective understanding of Anarchism. I by no means wish to disregard individualist Anarchism or its thoughts. I come from the collectivist/syndicalist tradition, so I realize my rhetoric favors that tradition.
This article has been lengthy. I have no interest in getting sucked into some internet flame war hiding behind a façade of philosophical discourse, and I think I have succeeded. The reason I have written such a lengthy response with such an in-depth (and honestly the rabbit hole goes so much deeper) analysis of the historical origin, the past struggles, and the implications of Anarchism, is because I want to nip this in the bud.
The community I organize in has yet to see Nationalists hiding behind Anarchism, and the nazi punk scene has been relatively quiet. I would like to keep the debate an exchange of ideas. I know what the nationalist scene can do. I know what they have done. By giving them a way to hide their true face, the Third Position directly threatens what I do in the place I live. Third Positionism obscures the ideas behind Anarchism and the historical context in which it was and has been articulated. It paints us all with the same brush, implicating that the relationship between right and left can be beneficial. While there may be Anarchists who are more to the left or more to the right in relation to each other, in the grand scheme of things Anarchism lies to left. It’s in “the mountain.”
We should not lose sight of our ideological heritage. The Third Position may not be inherently right wing, but it provides a rhetoric by which the right may align itself with our movement in a way that is beneficial to them, at least useless to Anarchists, and probably detrimental to all the strides we have had.