Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Liberals Red-Bait Conservatives

by MARK GRUETER

As a consequence of the shutdown drama, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats and liberals such as journalist Jonathan Chait are now describing their fiercest Republican adversaries in the House as “anarchists,” on the grounds that the latter supposedly oppose government. This accusation is bogus on many levels — for instance, where would Republicans be without corporate welfare? — while it also produces the rather absurd spectacle of liberals actually red-baiting conservatives.

Though the shutdown is temporarily over, charges of “anarchy” against the Tea Party are not likely to go away any time soon, so let’s explain what’s wrong here. Reid made the following comments in September, which he repeated on several occasions over the last couple months:

“When I was in school,” said Reid, “I studied government, among other things, and prior to World War I and after World War I we had the anarchists…they [Tea Party] have the same philosophy as the early anarchists: they do not believe in government.”

For one thing, the comparison overlooks the non-trivial fact that the anarchists of the period he mentions were exclusively leftwing revolutionaries: anti-capitalist and anti-military, in addition to being anti-government. Moreover, for the anarchists, capitalist governments were mere puppets of the banking and financial class, the real rulers. In short, anarchist Emma Goldman could not be any further away ideologically and culturally from…Ted Cruz.

As most CounterPunchers are aware, anarchism emerged as a part of the broader international socialist movement in the latter half of the 19th century. By favoring immediate revolution while simultaneously rejecting calls for the seizure of state power, anarchists were positioned not only to the left of liberals and reform-minded socialists but also, arguably, to the left of Marxists and other socialist revolutionaries. Goldman — nicknamed “Red Emma” by a hostile press — and her anarchist comrades saw government and business as inseparable allies, colluding against the interests of ordinary people.

Anarchists organized labor strikes, denounced industrial tycoons, and took part in many other acts not calculated to warm the hearts of conservatives. As a result, powerful interests began targeting anarchists and other Reds, culminating in the period in American history during and after WWI known as the First Red Scare, where leftists (esp. foreign radicals), namely socialists, anarchists, Wobblies, and communists were subjected to official persecution.

In addition to state persecution, vigilante mobs of “superpatriots,” such as the American Defense Society and the Ku Klux Klan, gathered to attack radicals on the streets. It would be much more accurate to say Tea Party Republicans are the intellectual and spiritual descendants, not of the anarchists, but of these vicious reactionaries who sometimes literally tarred and feathered anarchists and other leftists.

Reid’s silly remarks should have been dismissed, regardless of what one makes of the actual tenets, practices, and history of the anarchist movement; instead, liberals ran with them, turning Reid’s folly into something like official party talking points. Republicans in Congress who shut down the government, we are solemnly told, are “anarchists.”

Reid’s essential mistake is to greatly oversimplify anarchist philosophy in order to make sense of his claim. Anarchism can be confusing, so if Reid had merely misinterpreted a finer theoretical point, it would have been forgivable. But to reiterate, in this case he refers specifically to anarchists who were militant revolutionaries in favor of the elimination of such institutions as Wall Street exchanges, all police, prisons, military, Congress itself, etc. — in other words, the entire imperial capitalist state, rather than simply “the government.”

It is difficult to see how Reid’s claim could be more wrong: the only aspect of government that anarchists might seek to preserve are wealth transfers to the poor along with pooled investment programs like Social Security — the very parts of government the Tea Party most eagerly hope to destroy.

Of course, there is now something called anarcho-capitalism, but it is a right-wing affair that has no connection to the anarchist tradition and in any case was not invented until the second half of the 20th century, long after the period of “early anarchism” to which Reid refers. As far as actual anarchists who exist in the present, the two most well known are probably Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, who are not exactly the sort of thinkers one lumps together with the Tea Party. If Reid had compared Tea Party Republicans to anarcho-capitalists, however, he might have been on to a point worth considering.

But it appears he and other Democrats are not particularly interested in either historical accuracy or major distinctions of political theory. After all, members of the same Democratic administration also branded Chelsea Bradley Manning and Julian Assange “anarchists,” which suggests this move by Democrats to label people anarchists is just an unprincipled rhetorical tactic designed to undermine disparate enemies, never mind the actual meaning of the term.

Anarchists have always been misunderstood, but mistaking them for nothing but a gang of unscrupulous bomb-throwers, the more traditional insult, is somehow less offensive than comparing them to Republicans, partly because it is less accurate. In the past, people were at least conscious of the fact that anarchists are on the left side of the political spectrum.

For decades, conservatives have been smearing their liberal counterparts as “commies,” “pinkos,” “Reds,” and so on; now in a ridiculous reversal of historical roles, Democrats are unwittingly engaging in red-baiting propaganda, by trying to stir up fear and hatred against those awful Republican Anarchists.

The most irritating thing about all this is how almost nobody called out Reid’s nonsense. It was widely reported in U.S. media, but the coverage generally presented Reid’s comment without response, as if it were somehow reasonable to assert that Republicans are closet admirers of the writings of Bakunin and Kropotkin, and long for the day when private property is gone and everybody makes the same amount of money.

Mark Grueter is a PhD candidate in history at Simon Fraser University. His dissertation focuses on Russian anarchist workers in North America during the period of WWI and the First Red Scare. Contact: mgrueter@sfu.ca

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]