Anarchism and Duopoly Ideology

In a post on 'understanding ideology' at American Power, Donal Douglas relays a graph from Conservative Resources depicting the left-right ideological axis from communism to fascism:

Douglas writes: "I teach ideology, and most textbooks in comparative politics include some version of the graphs above." What caught my eye in this particular diagram was the duplication of 'anarchism' at both ends of the spectrum, directly preceding each of its extremes and literally interrupting the straight line from the center to the left and right with a bracket or brace. How can we make sense of this ambiguity?

Though many if not most self-described anarchists in the US today may undoubtedly be considered part of the political left, the ideology of anarchism is nonetheless difficult to categorize politically because it is both anti-capitalist and anti-statist. For instance, anarchists are in agreement with libertarians insofar as opposition to the state is concerned, but they part company on the issue of free market capitalism. On the other hand, opposition to capitalism puts anarchists in agreement with Marxists, but the Marxist goal of seizing state power and implementing a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is incompatible with the anarchist's anti-statism. This antinomy can be traced through the history of anarchist thought, and is perhaps best represented by the distinction between individualist and collectivist anarchism, symbolized, respectively, by Max Stirner and Mikhail Bakunin in the European context as well as Henry David Thoreau and Emma Goldman in the American tradition.

As an ideological formation, anarchism is strictly at odds with the duopoly system of government if only because it is at odds with all systems of government. With respect to the duopoly, principled anarchists would necessarily oppose the Republican and Democratic Parties as the representatives of both the state and corporatist interests; and would view the two-party system as the means by which this power structure is maintained. It is thus no surprise that anarchism is for the most part incomprehensible to ideologues of the duopoly: conservatives see anarchists as violent socialists, while liberals view them as libertarian vandals. The figure of 'the anarchist' thus functions as a kind of ideological Rorschach test, onto which both conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, project their image of the political other, mediating their respective relations to the extremes on both the left and the right.

Though each misunderstands anarchism in a different way, they both nonetheless agree in their association of anarchism with violence. It is worth noting, however, that anarchists are just as likely to espouse non-violence as they are direct action, while some have adapted the practice of non-violent direct action. Whether violent or otherwise, American anarchists have nonetheless been consistent in their opposition to the two-party state over the last twenty or so years, as evidenced outside the WTO meetings in Seattle during the Clinton administration and in the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention in 2008. In 'the anarchist,' the duopoly parties thus rightly perceive a common enemy.


Samuel Wilson said...

My guess is that the graph plots anarchism at both extremes because the author identifies both communism and fascism with the absence of a "rule of law." It probably isn't a reflection on Anarchism as a historic ideology, but it something of an unintentional smear.

d.eris said...

Indeed, it also functions to insulate the interior portion of the spectrum, from socialism to libertarianism, from each extreme, paradoxically equating the total state with lawlessness.

AnarchyJack said...

I would argue that there is little ambiguity with anarchism; simply put, anarchy means "without rule." Confusion arises when a continuum is assigned in the attempt to model a false dichotomy, hence imposing a binary explanation for a multivariate spectrum of political thought. It is therefore not surprising at all that anarchism evokes such a visceral reaction from both the right and the left, for our very existence undermines not only their model, but exposes glaring inconsistencies within both ideologies:

If the Republicans believe in fiscal responsibility, then why has the bulk of deficit spending occurred on their watch? Don't believe in socialism? That's rich, considering how Reagan rescued Chrysler from what was to be certain extinction in the 1980s. Perhaps most amusing is the right's vocal enmity toward Keynesian economics, given how the military industrial complex has been the primary locus of deficit spending since the Reagan era. Democrats pro-labor? I have a bridge I want to sell anyone who believes that Clinton's NAFTA and disastrous trade treaties with China were "pro-labor." Add to that the largest transfer of public wealth into private hands under the Obama Administration, and it seems fairly obvious that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is supposed to be doing, and vise versa.

And what about the Greens? How, indeed, can a party be both pro-labor and pro-environment? Are coal miners and steel workers unwelcome? The Libertarians are concerned deeply with freedom, but stop short of curbing corporate power, which, we have seen, can be merged with government power as it has since FDR; did we defeat fascism, or simply import it? And what about fascism, which found its expression in the National SOCIALIST German Workers' Party (NSDAP)? Curious how the Hitlerian regime is widely considered an extreme of conservatism, yet workers under the Reich often joked over full lunch boxes that "under Hitler, they no longer had the freedom to starve." This is, of course, in stark contrast to peasants under Stalin, who were not only permitted to starve, but forced to do exactly that.

I disagree with Samuel's comment. Unless the author failed to take into account the nature of both communism and fascism historically as police states, it is unlikely the an "absence of 'rule of law'" motivated its placement just outside libertarianism and socialism, respectively; nor could it be to the left of communism or the right of fascism, as this would indicate a cycle, rather than a continuum; rather, it's ambiguous placement indicates, as I have expressed, the limits of political ideology as expressed in binary.

d.eris said...

You make some good points Jack. I would add that 'anarchy' can also be understood to mean 'without leaders,' which supports both the individualist and the collectivist variants of anarchist thought.