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Anarchist purges anarchist, no news at 11 by “Lefty” Hooligan

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It’s an infamous MRR cover. Number 130, March 1994. Tim Yo designed it, although I don’t remember who put it together. A slew of Marvel Comic style action figure characters surround the headline “Superheroes of the Underground??” A bald buff super skinhead labeled Hawdkaw Man, further marked with A.F. for Agnostic Front, growls: “I stomp da pussies wit an attitude as big as my 20 eyelet Docs!!” Str8 Edge Man, a caped Superman clone with Shelter on his chest, proclaims: “I convert the hostile flocks with a 1-2 punch of Religion & Republicanism!” Pop Man, aka Green Day, reveals: “I lull my opponents into complacency with dippy love songs!” And the snark continues with snide remarks from Metal Man (The Melvins), Emo Man (Still Life), Vegan Man (Profane Existence), Grunge Man (Nirvana), and Arty Farty Man (sporting an Alternative Tentacles logo).

Tim put this cover together for the issue in which he announced MRR’s Great Purge, in which Tim proclaimed that nothing but the most primitive, the most basic, the most raw rock and roll would be deemed punk. That’s how punk rock began in the mid-to-late 70s; two or at most three chords, distorted and undifferentiated, loud and fast. Ignoring the debate over whether punk first began in the UK or USA, and disregarding whether it was the Ramones or the Sex Pistols that started punk, punk did not remain primal or simple or crude for long. Musicians brought their histories and influences to the music, the music cross-pollinated and hybridized with other music, and both the music and the musicians got more sophisticated with time. By 1993, punk was a welter of styles, categories and scenes. And by the end of 1993, Tim had decided to purge punk rock down to its roots and to restrict the magazine he ran, MRR, to this limited musical content.

I’ve described when Tim Yo announced the firing of Jeff Bale at a year end General Meeting in December of 1993. I’ve called that the Great Purge when, in fact, the most contentious agenda item at that meeting for most of the shitworkers present was Tim’s decision to severely curtail the kind of music MRR considered reviewable as punk. And Tim’s Great Purge was indeed two-fold—firing Jeff Bale and purging punk music. Tim was by no means a raving Maoist when he ran MRR, but he’d had his political upbringing in the New Communist Movement of the 1970s. I remember Tim discussing afterwards his strategy going into the December 1993 meeting, and I’ll liberally paraphrase it from a previous column: “I combined an attack on the right with an attack on the left. I cut down the stuff we would review as punk, knowing that Jeff would be one hundred percent behind my decision. At the same meeting I took out Jeff. I played the right and the left against each other, just like Stalin did.”

That Tim Yo might have been involved with the RCP at one time, or admired Stalin, or even sometimes ran MRR as Mao might are such a small part of what the man was or what he did. But it does help me to segue into my broader subject. While it is hard to apologize for Tim’s overtly authoritarian tendencies, it isn’t hard to admire his appreciation for punk rock’s musical purity. The urge to purify, the impetus to purge an individual, organization, art form, culture, politics, or society of incorrectness, error, impurity, deviance, corruption, decadence, or evil; that’s what I’m talking about here. For a recent and particularly insidious example of this, lets turn to anarchist politics in the San Francisco Bay Area and the efforts of identity anarchists to purge post-left anarchists.

I have little sympathy for either of the two tendencies acting out this sordid drama. Post-left anarchism categorically rejects the Left, from the social democracy and Marxism-Leninism of the Old Left to the Maoism and Third Worldism of the New Communist Movement that devolved from the New Left, as well as any anarchism that is in the least bit influenced by the Left. This is not merely a refusal of the Left’s ideological content, but of its organizational forms as well, from meetings run by Robert’s Rules of Order to various kinds of party-building. But nothing unites post-left anarchism beyond this negation, leaving a disparate gaggle of personalities in Hakim Bey (ontological anarchy/TAZ), Bob Black (abolition of work), John Zerzan (primitivism), Wolfi Landstreicher (Stirnerite egoism), et al, to frivolously romp through post-left anarchism’s vacuous playground. In contrast, identity anarchism is all about a positive if problematic relationship with the Left, from its ideological borrowings from Marxism-Leninism (imperialism, colonialism, etc.) to its lineage on the Left (via the quasi-Maoist Black Panther Party). The lame debates within the heavily Maoist New Communist Movement regarding the staid National Question contributed to the formulation of a “white skin privilege” theory (by way of Sojourner Truth/Noel Ignatiev) which, when suitably tweaked by proponents of “male privilege,” conjugated a critique of patriarchal white supremacy fully embraced by identity anarchism. Thus, identity anarchism’s embrace of Panther anarchism (of Alston, Ervin, Balagoon, Barrow, Jackson, N’Zinga, White, Sostre, following the BPP’s demise) seems almost an afterthought, offering no serious counterweight to the Marxism, Leninism, Maoism and Third Worldism it enthusiastically embraces.

I will use post-left anarchism and identity anarchism in the remainder of this column as convenient shorthand for generic categories, which means I will also overly simplify who belongs to what camp.

Post-left anarchism has a decent presence in the East Bay through Anarchy, a Journal of Desire Armed, the annual BASTARD conference, and the Anarchist Study Group. The Study Group has been meeting weekly at the Long Haul in Berkeley for over a decade. It is structured through reading and discussing agreed-upon texts, publicly advertises locally and online, and is open to anyone to attend. At the beginning of 2013, the Study Group embarked on several months of investigation into Maoism, focusing on the New Communist Movement, reading primary documents related to the RCP, MIM, the BPP, STORM, and a plethora of alphabet soup Maoist organizations. Needless to say, these post-left anarchists were highly critical of the NCM and Maoism. Aragorn! went so far as to publish a lengthy criticism on his self-titled blog based on their studies in mid-March.

A group of identity anarchists “intervened” during a regular Tuesday night Long Haul Anarchist Study Group meeting sometime after that blog post. Hannibal Shakur, an activist in Occupy Oakland’s Decolonization tendency who is fighting vandalism charges after participation in the Trayvon Martin riots, was prominent in the newly organized Qilombo Social Center in Oakland. He and his crew attended the Study Group meeting, it seems not merely to dispute their post-left anarchist critique of Maoism, the NCM and the BPP, but also to challenge their right to pursue such independent study at all. The identity anarchists harassed and harangued the post-left anarchists, and in the heat of the argument between the two sides, post-left anarchist Lawrence Jarach made a categorical statement so typical of orthodox anarchism. To paraphrase, Jarach contended that: “All churches must be burned to the ground.” An identity anarchist demanded: “But what about the black churches?” To which Jarach responded: “The black churches must be burned … all churches must be burned.” The disagreements only got nastier from there, with open acrimony escalating into implied threat.

At some point, passionate ideological disagreement turned into calculated sectarian purge. The annual San Francisco Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair set up operations at the Crucible in Oakland on May 22, 2014. The one-day bookfair gathered a multitude of anarchist tendencies, among them the AJODA/CAL Press vendor table and the Qilombo Center table. An “attack initiated by three people (and about ten supporters) from Qilombo began around 3:40pm when I was cornered near the restroom,” reported Lawrence Jarach, “and continued after I walked back to the CAL Press/Anarchy magazine vendor table, ending at around 4 when we decided to leave.” AJODA has since issued an Open Letter to Bay Area Anarchists protesting the Qilombo assault as well as the general anarchist apathy toward this successful purge. Those associated with the attack on Jarach in turn have communicated the following: “Qilombo was not involved in the altercation you mention that took place at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, and the space has no comment on the matter. Lawrence Jarach came by the Qilombo table and antagonized a few of our volunteers, so those volunteers took it upon themselves as autonomous individuals to call him out for something that occurred at an another venue, at another point in time, and requested that he leave the bookfair. If you would like more details, you will need to reach out to the actual parties involved.”

Tim Yo would have called this final evasion candy-assed.

Last column, I mentioned the feminist “intervention” at the May 9-11, 2014 Portland, Oregon Law & Disorder Conference and the increasingly acrimonious debate between Kristian Williams and the organizers of the event Patriarchy and the Movement, over the tactics of individuals and groups professing identity politics within larger leftist political circles. That the victims of patriarchal sexism and violence and their defenders are so outspoken in speech and print about the need to purge the perpetrators from The Movement only underscores the clarity of their actions. I suspect that, amongst themselves, Shakur and his identity anarchist/Qilombo brigade have summarily convicted Jarach of racism, exercising his white skin privilege, and supporting white supremacy in insisting purely on principle that all churches need to be burned down, even the black ones. Yet they won’t publicly cop to running him out of the anarchist bookfair for such reasons. That they haven’t openly taken responsibility for their thuggish behavior to, in effect, purge Jarach and AJODA from the Movement is low, even for Maoism masquerading as anarchism.

These concerted efforts to purge people from The Movement based on their ideology, or their behavior, are the self-righteous acts of those who would be judge, jury, and executioner. When Tim Yo made his futile attempt in MRR to purge punk rock back to its basics, the results were predictable. The magazines Punk Planet, Heart attaCk and Shredding Paper started publishing circa 1994 to challenge MRR’s definition of punk and hegemony over the scene, followed shortly thereafter by Hit List. However, I doubt that Qilombo’s attempt to purge Lawrence Jarach and fellow AJODA members will have similarly salutary effects.

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One response to “Anarchist purges anarchist, no news at 11 by “Lefty” Hooligan

  1. shakeses

    Dear Whoeverthefuck Is Reading This,
    In what can only be described as another absurdist screed by Lefty Hooligan, I found more of the same bullshit I’ve come to expect; white power masquerading as “rational thought”.
    I’m not writing just to insult him though. I’m writing because the crap that Lefty Hooligan wrote for his blog and for Maximum Rock n Roll (“anarchist purges anarchist; no news at 11”, issue #375) is irresponsible, ill-informed, poorly researched and full of way too many parenthesis and quotation marks!
    I generally believe that unless you were at some event or another you shouldn’t attempt to report on it or analyze it UNLESS you have done your homework, reached out to as many people who were there as possible, verified facts, checked on quotes, etc. Apparently Lefty Hooligan heard a story, heard another story, heard something else and then formulated some half-assed theory about it, and that is not anything that hasn’t happened since the beginning of time, or at least, since the beginning of social networking on the internet, however, it was incredibly irresponsible.
    The problem is that Lefty Hooligan used someone’s name and then indicated that said person “took part in a riot,” which is possibly damning for a person fighting charges and trying to stay out of jail. I don’t expect that Lefty Hooligan would know anything about that, but still, there it is.
    Hooligan goes on to claim (using as his sole witness the accounts of Lawrence Jarach) that people from Qilombo space assaulted Jarach. This is also incredibly irresponsible. Not only does this implicate these unknown others in random acts of violence, but it also upholds the narrative of some white guy as correct while the explanation given by folks from Qilombo space (a space run primarily by Black and Brown people in Oakland) as “candy-assed”. Further more, Hooligan goes on to accuse the person he named in his column “and his brigade” of “purging the movement” and of “thuggish behavior”. Do you see what he just did there? Hooligan continues this attack on “identity anarchists” (remember my careful clarification) when he accuses them of attacking Lawrence Jarach at the Anarchist Bookfair this past year.
    This kind of easy racism is what seeps into and back out of the pores of everything and everyone in the u.s. It’s the kind of thing that only people who are forced to be vigilant around these things ever call attention to.
    Throughout the rest of his column, Hooligan attempts to make distinctions between what he terms “post-left anarchists” and “identity anarchists”. While he claims no affinity for either, he definitely makes it known that he considers “identity anarchists” the more irredeemable of the two. This notion of “identity anarchists” is also highly problematic and is a way of discarding any analysis by any people of color as “divisive” (I see you, Rebecca Solnit). Let’s be clear that in the context that Lefty Hooligan is using, “identity anarchists” really means Black and Brown people.
    Hooligan uses an incident where one group of folks challenged the notion from another group of folks that all churches, even Black churches should be burned as a place from which to attack “identity anarchists”. He doesn’t investigate – even in theory – why people would find that position to be problematic. Since he wouldn’t give it a thought, allow me to summarize the position; Black churches have long been places where the Black community can come together safely and for the most part, unhindered. There is no other institution that exists within Black communities and neighborhoods that serves that function. The Black church is far more than a house of religion. But, if you’re just a white person existing in your all-white fantasy world, that would never have occurred to you.
    Attempting to describe very real riffs and divisions within “the Movement” by using a poorly strung together anecdote about a punk rock magazines growing pains in the early 90’s is yet another example of how hoplessly inept Hooligan’s column is. Unless you have any idea what Maximum Rock n Roll is, or who the fuck Tim Yo was, or why punk rockers spend so much time talking about what is “really punk”, then the analogies made within the article are completely useless, unless again, you’re speaking to your all-white fantasy world.

    Let me briefly recap:
    Using someone’s name and publicly implicating them in some type of crime or another is irresponsible.
    Doing that to a Black person is doubly irresponsible.
    All other points can be found above.
    Sincerely,
    Melissa (or Shakes)

    Addendum:

    The assertion that talking about the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc are marxist in nature is definitely part of the “white people created all of the things we think are useful” narrative that sweeps through academia and the intellectual class. The fact will always remain that “the Movement” has consistently needed these voices in order to propel it forward. The derision of “identity anarchists” in this column does exactly what white people in “the Movement” do when they feel threatened by Black and Brown analysis of classical anarchism (or classical marxism, leftism, etc).

    Some lunatic called me a bitch and told me to fuck myself and equated me with nationalists because of what I wrote above. I’m excited to see where this conversation leads next!

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