Anarchism in Interesting Times
(Author’s note: As of 11th August 2015, this post has in the region of 20,000 views, several thousand shares and still gets regular traffic. If, at the time I had realised it was going to get that much attention, I would have expanded more upon what I think the problems of modern anarchism are and what my politics are. If you want some context to this piece, I would suggest you have a look at this follow up piece that I wrote soon after and perhaps this first post on this blog. I don’t outline the broad scope of my politics in any one post, so for a broader overview, have a look at the posts in the communism category).
A lot of my friends on social media have been sharing, and apparantly chuckling at a webcomic called “If Modern Anarchists fought in Spain” (IMAFS), which lampoons the modern anarchist movement by contrasting it with the “serious anarchists” of yore. Far from being an amusing satirical comment on the state of anarchism today, it’s neither funny, nor clever and it sides with power over the oppressed.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, those anarchists need to lighten up; it’s just a playful dig; It’s just like ‘Great Moments in Leftism’ (GMIL); and hey, it’s kind of true, right? But here lies the problem with the strip, it doesn’t actually tick any of those boxes.
Here are five reasons why:
(All images are from ‘RednBlackSalamander‘ on Deviantart and link back to the original.)
1. Fat is a class issue
In 1936, it was perfectly fine to label capitalists as “fat cats”. The rich ate the finest foods in whatever quantity they desired while the workers and poor lived from hand to mouth, and you could tell by looking. Today, obesity is common within the working class, because the cheap processed foods that many can afford, and have the time to prepare, are laced with transfats and refined sugars. At the same time, working class people are bombarded with images of slim super-rich celebrities with bodies they are supposed to aspire to. TV shows that poke fun at working class overweight people are often followed by shows featuring those svelte celebrities who we’re supposed to worship. In 1936 calling someone a “fat cat” wasn’t about body-shaming but about pointing to their wealth. People don’t give a shit what weight others are when their priority is how they’re going to feed themselves and their kids. The underlying message in this cartoon is that it’s stupid to object to “body shaming”, and the “serious anarchists” of the CNT in 1936 were above such feminist trivialities.
2. The CNT would not have let people unknowingly face violence
This isn’t the first time that RednBlackSalamander has poked fun at trigger warnings, but it’s just as silly as their previous attempts. The suggestion is that the militias that went to fight at the front in the Spanish Civil War were far too serious to be warned of the violence they were about to face, but, think about it; Would the CNT have allowed people to go to the front without letting them know there was, er, a bit of fighting going on? Moreover, would the artist think it was okay to walk up behind a veteran of the war and set off fire crackers behind their back? Might need a trigger warning, no? As one commentator tweeted a while back, “why don’t we get rid of nutritional information on food packaging too?” Television channels have had content warnings on programmes for years and no one objected.
3. It pokes fun at the oppressed
This strip isn’t funny, for the same reason that Little Britain isn’t funny. The BBC comedy sketch show poked fun at the disabled, the working class, trans people, overweight people and generally anyone who didn’t have a platform to respond. The above strip takes aim at anyone who objects to transphobia. Getting past the rather silly suggestion that modern anarchists would divert troops from the front to “investigate a transphobic comment”, the artist forgets that there were actual struggles against oppression within the anarchist movement in Spain. The Mujeres Libres (Free Women) was founded for the precise reason that “for all their commitment to equality, the boys/men would not treat girls/women as their equals”. But hey, lets not get distracted from the serious man business, eh?
To rub things in, number nine equates oppressor and oppressed, the rights of an activist victim of, say, sexual assault, with the rights of a fascist officer. This is one key area where IMAFS fails where GMIL succeeds. GMIL consistently takes aim at power within left organisations and those who follow orders, such as those in the SWP UK and the ISO US who tried to cover up the sexual assault of a female member by a man in a position of power. A strip depicting RedBlackSalamander getting called out by members of the Mujeres Libres for their shitty cartoons might be more appropriate.
4. A “black blocker” would jump at the chance of using a weapon
Seriously, did RBS think this one through? If you think that smashing windows is fun, you’re probably going to enjoy firing a weapon. Moreover, this suggests that if you put a brick through a window, that’s all you’re ever going to do. Calling out transphobia and body shaming and organising are not mutually exclusive, and neither are bricking a window and organising. Context is everything, and this strip lacks context.
5. It has no depth, the characters are cookie-cutter people
IMAFS fails as comedy. There is no story, no build up to the punchline and no depth to the characters. But, hey, these are just little comics, I’m expecting too much, right? I don’t believe so. The aforementioned Great Moments in Leftism successfully builds story and character in both single panel and multi panel strips, and is nine times out of ten, searingly satirical, even when taking aim at anarchists.
RedBlackSalamander claims to be an anarchist, claims that there is something to be salvaged from the anarchist tradition, but if they think that anarchism should be pared back to “important man stuff” and that everything else is a distraction from the class struggle, then their anarchism is not my anarchism. You can call for the socialisation of the means of production, for organising workers and communities to fight capitalism, without being a massive dick. Anarchism is a prefigurative politics, our means should match the ends, and activists have struggled for decades to address some of the inconsistencies within the movement. RBS it seems wants to turn back the clock. There’s nothing to chuckle at in reactionary drivel like this.
(Note: If you’re planning on leaving a comment, make sure you familiarise yourself with my comments policy and read the other comments, I’m not approving any more comments that repeat points I’ve already answered).