Anarcho to Bob Black

Dear Anarchy,

I do think it's significant that Black starts off by insulting me, saying I have "earned the nickname Dolly II as the cloned Scottish sheep of Stewart Home, who claims that all anarchists are Nazis." As Black is well aware, I am nothing of the kind.

And what of the issues I raised in my letter? Black takes exception to the parallels I drew between Lenin's vanguardist ideas and his claim that anarchism was not the product of working class people in struggle but rather the product of "Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin." He claims that these are "well known facts" which "should not be controversial." They are only "not controversial" if you are a vanguardist. They should be controversial if you are an anarchist. I even quoted Proudhon and Kropotkin to show how they considered anarchist ideas to be the product of working people's self-activity. Black, significantly, fails to mention this.

Instead, he claims that I have "obviously never read Lenin." Except, I have and critiqued him at length. Lenin, Black informs us, "was discussing socialism, not anarchism." No shit, Sherlock! (although that did not stop Lenin bringing Proudhon into it to defend his position). I was drawing the parallel between that aspect of Black's attack on the Platform with Lenin's argument. Replace "socialism" with "anarchism" in Black's essay and we have the core of Lenin's argument.

The strange thing is, while Black huffs and puffs, he continues to agree with Lenin! He states that he ("unlike Lenin [!] and McKay") knows "anarchism did not originate in the Group Mind of a social class." Except, of course, I made no such claim about a "Group Mind." Rather I argued anarchist ideas have spontaneously developed from the self-activity of working class people. Anarchist thinkers have taken up those ideas and generalised them into a theory. This was what Kropotkin argued and the Platform repeated this. Black mocked this idea and, in the process, repeated Lenin's argument. He still does and happily admits it. Why is he wasting my time?

Black states incredulously that he is "accused of falsification of the Platform for repeating passages quoted in Voline." Yet that is not what I claimed. I pointed out that Black had accused the WSM of falsifying the Platform by editing it (the WSM "without so indicating, omits several interesting passages from the Platform."). This, it goes without saying, is a radically different accusation.

He meekly states that it "turns out that these quotations were taken (unknown to me) not from the Platform itself but from" another document. It is nice to see that Black does admit this. Sadly, he does not bother to thank me for doing his work for him by finding that out. If you are going to accuse other anarchists of secretly editing a text you could at least check to see if the claim was true. I found the relevant facts out in ten minutes, obviously far too much effort for Black. And rather than apologise to the members of the WSM for smearing them, Black accuses Alexandre Skirda of exactly the same thing! Rest assured, though, rather than actually investigate the matter he glibly states that he "suspect[s]" Skirda of doing so! Given Black's track record on such matters, I won't share his (unsupported) assertions until I see the kind of evidence Black tends to eschew.

This does not stop Black saying the "quotations were true, not false. McKay's contrary statement is false, not true"! Except, of course, Black has just admitted that my statement was true. The Platform, as he admits, does not contain the passages he claimed it did. The WSM did not edit the pamphlet, as he asserted. And he then turns round and says my statement "is false"! And he writes that I have "either forgotten what I originally wrote or hopes that everyone else has"!

As part of this surreal experience, Black also quotes the original Platformists on "coercion" and freedom of the press. As for the former, he quotes them saying that decisions will be implemented "not through violence or decrees." Coercion without violence? He quotes that decisions "will have to be binding upon all who vote for and endorse then." So making decisions is now considered "coercion"? As for freedom of the press, he quotes the Platformists saying that "there may be specific circumstances when the press . . . may be restricted." Black, unlike the Platformists, does not say what these circumstances were, namely in a "civil war context" and the "role that enemy mouthpieces will be undertaking in relation to the ongoing military struggle." Outside these "extraordinary cases (such as civil war)" free speech and freedom of press, the Platformists stress, would be "the pride and joy of the free toilers' society."

Clearly Black is quoting out of context. Perhaps he is arguing that it is "leftist" not to grant freedom of press to people actively trying to kill you. If so, then fine. He should say so. And if it is non-anarchist to do so, then Emma Goldman will also have to be excommunicated from anarchism. She though it was "childish to expect the CNT-FAI to include Fascists and other forces engaged in their destruction in the extension of complete political freedom." (Vision on Fire, p. 228).

Black repeats his nonsense on how the Platform's call for a revolutionary army was "exactly" the same as the Spanish Republic's call for a People's Army. The Platform called for an army similar to the "detachments of insurgent partisans . . . during the Russian revolution." Yes, that was "exactly" the same kind of thing introduced by the Stalinists and Republicans. He states that the Platformists argued for "an authoritarian formal army" while, of course, they argued for a volunteer, class army based on self-discipline and explicitly denied that they wanted "a standing, centralised army." They did argue for a "common revolutionary strategy," but so did the CNT militias (and Voline, whose call for co-ordinated defence they dismissed as "aping" their ideas). I can only assume that Black is against the idea that the defence of a revolution should be co-ordinated. If he is, then he should say so and explain why.

Black says I invoke, "as holy all the great names of anarchism . =2E . in defence of Platformism without even once citing any evidence that any of them, except Makhno, advocated anything like the vanguard organisation espoused by the Platform." That is unsurprising, as I was not defending Platformism. I made that clear in my first letter: "as I am not a Platformist I will not defend it." What part of that did Black not understand?

He then moves on to assert that when I listed all these anarchists into the "defence" of a Platform I do not support I "did so in the face of the fact that Voline, Malatesta, Goldman, Berkman, Nettlau, Fabbri, Berneri - all the notable anarchists when the Platform was promulgated - denounced it." Except, of course, I actually wrote the following: "I will say this, Malatesta's critique of the Platform was substantially correct." I even ended my letter by saying "I hope that anarchists everywhere will avoid the problems of both "anti-organisationalism" and Platformism . . . Reading Malatesta's critique of the Platform would be a good first step." What part of that is denying that notable anarchists did not criticise the Platform?

And based on this he claims that I am "not even close" to being an anarchist!

Black then gets even more surreal (if that is possible). He states incredulously that Bookchin's "Listen, Marxist!" does "not espouse revolutionary organisation or, for that matter, anarchism" and so finds it amusing I "should claim" it "for organisationalist/workerist anarchism." Sorry, what planet is he on? Bookchin in that essay, as I noted, argued for "an organisation of affinity groups." He even stated there was "a need for a revolutionary organisation"! What part of that does Black have difficulty understanding? As for that essay not espousing anarchism that comes as a surprise given its explicitly anarcho-communist critique of Leninism.

Black ends by stating that I have "already renounced the substance of anarchism." In what way? It cannot be because I am a Platformist, because I am not. It cannot be because I failed to note that anarchists like Malatesta opposed the Platform, because I did. Can it be because I think a revolution will need organisation and co-ordinated defence? Is it because I think anarchists should organise together to spread their ideas? Or that I think workers like myself should organise together to fight for a better world? If so, then he excommunicates Malatesta, Bakunin, Goldman, Berkman, et al, along with myself. So that cannot be it.

I think its more personal than that. I think he excommunicates me from anarchism because I have pointed out Black's own mistakes. I think the real source of his bile is simply that I fact-checked him and shown him to be lacking. Perhaps it is also because I disagree with him? That may be it. After all, he calls me a "cloned Scottish sheep." True free thinkers obviously don't question Black's assertions nor check his sources and references to see if they support his claims.

But I am not alone in being excommunicated, so is NEFAC (and presumably all other neo-Platformists). As far as the latter goes, he does so apparently because "What Neo-Platformists most value in the Platform must be the model of a vanguard revolutionary organisation - the only novelty in the Platform, the Leninist import." Fine, bar one thing. Black does not indicate that any modern day Platform-influenced group actually implements the organisational model advocated in the 1926 document. From what I can tell, none does. If he bothered to talk to neo-Platformists, he would quickly find this out as well as what they really "most value" in that document. But I feel that actually listening to what others say is the last thing Black wants to do. It may force him to think rather than insult.

So Black excommunicates people from the movement based on what they do not support (in my case) and what a 79 year old draft document says rather than what anarchists today actually do (for neo-Platformists). Says it all, really.


Iain McKay

More writings from Anarcho