Anarchy after Leftism by Bob Black

Beginning in 1997, Bob Black became involved in a debate sparked by the work of anarchist and founder of the Institute for Social Ecology Murray Bookchin, an outspoken critic of the post-left anarchist tendency. Bookchin wrote and published Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, labeling post-left anarchists and others as "lifestyle anarchists" - thus following up a theme developed in his Philosophy of Social Ecology. Though he does not refer directly to Black's work (an omission which Black interprets as symptomatic), Bookchin clearly has Black's rejection of work as an implicit target when he criticises authors such as John Zerzan and Dave Watson, whom he controversially labels part of the same tendency.

For Bookchin, "lifestyle anarchism" is individualistic and childish. "Lifestyle anarchists" demand "anarchy now", imagining they can create a new society through individual lifestyle changes. In his view this is a kind of fake-dissident consumerism which ultimately has no impact on the functioning of capitalism because it fails to recognise the realities of the present. He grounds this polemic in a social-realist critique of relativism, which he associates with lifestyle anarchism as well as postmodernism (to which he claims it is related). Ludic approaches, he claims, lead to social indifference and egotism similar to that of capitalism. Against this approach, he advocates a variety of anarchism in which social struggles take precedence over individual actions, with the evolution of the struggle emerging dialectically as in classical Marxist theory. The unbridgeable chasm of the book's title is between individual "autonomy" - which for Bookchin is a bourgeois illusion - and social "freedom", which implies direct democracy, municipalism, and leftist concerns with social opportunities. In practice his agenda takes the form of a combination of elements of anarchist communism with a support for local-government and NGO initiatives which he refers to as Libertarian Municipalism. He claims that "lifestyle anarchism" goes against the fundamental tenets of anarchism, accusing it of being "decadent" and "petit-bourgeois" and an outgrowth of American decadence and a period of declining struggle, and speaks in nostalgic terms of "the Left that was" as, for all its flaws, vastly superior to what has come since.

In response, Black published Anarchy After Leftism which later became a seminal post-left work.[18] The text is a combination of point-by-point, almost legalistic dissection of Bookchin's argument, with bitter theoretical polemic, and even personal insult against Bookchin (whom he refers to as "the Dean" throughout). Black accuses Bookchin of moralism, which in post-left anarchism, refers to the imposition of abstract categories on reality in ways which twist and repress desires (as distinct from "ethics", which is an ethos of living similar to Friedrich Nietzsche's call for an ethic "beyond good and evil"), and of "puritanism", a variant of this. He attacks Bookchin for his Stalinist origins, and his failure to renounce his own past affiliations with what he himself had denounced as "lifestylist" themes (such as the slogans of May 1968). He claims that the categories of "lifestyle anarchism" and "individualist anarchism" are straw-men. He alleges that Bookchin adopts a "work ethic", and that his favored themes, such as the denunciation of Yuppies, actually repeat themes in mass consumer culture, and that he fails to analyze the social basis of capitalist "selfishness"; instead, Black calls for an enlightened "selfishness" which is simultaneously social, as in Max Stirner's work.

Bookchin, Black claims, has misunderstood the critique of work as asocial, when in fact it proposes non-compulsive social relations. He argues that Bookchin believes labour to be essential to humans, and thus is opposed to the abolition of work. And he takes him to case for ignoring Black's own writings on work, for idealizing technology, and for misunderstanding the history of work.

He denounces Bookchin's alleged failure to form links with the leftist groups he now praises, and for denouncing others for failings (such as not having a mass audience, and receiving favourable reviews from "yuppie" magazines) of which he is himself guilty. He accuses Bookchin of self-contradiction, such as calling the same people "bourgeois" and "lumpen", or "individualist" and "fascist". He alleges that Bookchin's "social freedom" is "metaphorical" and has no real content of freedom. He criticizes Bookchin's appropriation of the anarchist tradition, arguing against his dismissal of authors such as Stirner and Paul Goodman, rebuking Bookchin for implicitly identifying such authors with anarcho-capitalism, and defending what he calls an "epistemic break" made by the likes of Stirner and Nietzsche. He alleges that the post-left "disdain for theory" is simply Bookchin's way of saying they ignore his own theories. He offers a detailed response to Bookchin's accusation of an association of eco-anarchism with fascism via a supposed common root in German romanticism, criticising both the derivation of the link (which he terms "McCarthyist") and the portrayal of romanticism itself, suggesting that Bookchin's sources such as Mikhail Bakunin are no more politically correct than those he denounces, and accusing him of echoing fascist rhetoric and propaganda. He provides evidence to dispute Bookchin's association of "terrorism" with individualist rather than social anarchism. He points to carnivalesque aspects of the Spanish Revolution to undermine Bookchin's dualism.

Black then rehearses the post-left critique of organization, drawing on his knowledge of anarchist history in an attempt to rebut Bookchin's accusation that anti-organizationalism is based in ignorance. He claims among other things that direct democracy is impossible in urban settings, that it degenerates into bureaucracy, and that organizationalist anarchists such as the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo sold out to state power. He argues that Bookchin is not an anarchist at all, but rather, a "municipal statist" or "city-statist" committed to local government by a local state - smattering his discussion with further point-by-point objections (for instance, over whether New York is an "organic community" given the alleged high crime-rate and whether confederated municipalities are compatible with direct democracy). He also takes up Bookchin's opposition to relativism, arguing that this is confirmed by science, especially anthropology - proceeding to produce evidence that Bookchin's work has received hostile reviews in social-science journals, thus attacking his scientific credentials, and to denounce dialectics as unscientific. He then argues point-by-point with Bookchin's criticisms of primitivism, debating issues such as life-expectancy statistics and alleged ecological destruction by hunter-gatherers. And he concludes with a clarion-call for an anarchist paradigm-shift based on post-left themes, celebrating this as the "anarchy after leftism" of the title.

Bookchin never replied to Black's critiques, which he continued in such essays as "Withered Anarchism," "An American in Paris," and "Murray Bookchin and the Witch-Doctors." Bookchin later repudiated anarchism in favor of a form of direct democracy he called "communalism".

Anarchy after Leftism
Black - Anarchy after Leftism.pdf5.79 MB