Please stop talking about left unity
It is quite interesting how depending on the country, the anarchists and many authoritarian and antiauthoritarian left treat the question of cooperation. Quite often the situation does not develop based on the common political arguments. The further away geographically/socially anarchists are from the spots where cooperation between us and authoritarian left didn't work, the more comes this question of uniting together in one happy family to fight the devil in the form of capitalism and oppression of the working people. I wanted to share a bit of my own experience on this phenomena of left unity.
Communist party is still there to support dictatorship
My skeptical attitude towards united movement and authoritarian communists was formed through political education in Belarus. I didn't become an anarchist out of the blue. Actually, somewhere around 13-14 I was arguing with an older gang of geeky friends that Stalin was a great personality. When I was 12 I took a “Stalin” nickname in our LAN network to show my allegiance to socialist ideas. I think it is important to point that my parents were good soviet citizens who were not interested in politics or answering my questions. Even in the kitchen, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union project...
This was the time when I had no clew what is going on in the world. Indoctrinated by the soviet history and politics I didn't know at all about anarchism, communism, liberalism. Luckily several years later I got internet, got access to some forums, got to know punk music and some lovely people from social projects such as food not bombs or ecological struggle. The authoritarian propaganda didn't stand a chance against punk-rock, pirated documentaries you can buy at the illegal concerts and walls of text on my small monitor in the middle of the night (because internet in the night was cheaper!)
The Communist party in this world didn't play any role at all. In Belarus it was something tiny and I've heard about them from time to time in the context of 1 may demo, where they would march with portraits of Lenin and Stalin to remember and never forget. In their mind, they were still hoping for revival of Soviet Union.
They were and are extremely supportive of Alexander Lukashenko who from the beginning of his presidency pointed importance of the soviet period in our future. He changed the state flag to the one resembling the flag of belarusian soviet social republic. Only without hammer and sickle. Even dictator Lukashenko understood that hammer and sickle are bad for publicity.
So this was great for the authoritarian left. Through the years, they would have even a couple of their candidates in the parliament to show the pluralism of belarusian “democracy”.
Somewhere in 00s there was a split within the party and anti-Lukashenko wing broke off, forming first another communist party, but swiftly changing their name to the “Party of New Possibilities”. Opportunistic authoritarian left knew that they won't have so much future among the progressive liberals of Belarus who associated communist party with 70 years of soviet dictatorship and Lukashenko.
There were some attempts by younger generations to restore an antiauthoritarian Marxist school in the country, but they never actually succeeded apart from reading older books and talking about them.
For many years of activism I grew on this simple notion that anarchists have nothing to do with belarusian leftists. We as anarchists are here to bring down dictatorship, while they are here to get an orgasm from each re-election round of Lukashenko.
Through reading and talking with different people in Belarus/Ukraine/Russia this position was growing. I understood the historical context of the split between the left and anarchists in the region. Why the anarchist movement is staying away from the authoritarian left and very skeptical of those leftists who are trying to sell themselves as anti-authoritarian. And this was making total sense until I jumped into politics in Western Europe.
Depending on the history of the region the anarchists can be completely associated with the left or completely distancing themselves from it. Germany is an example where left unity is existing without the historical trauma of betrayal between authoritarian communists and anarchists. And somehow histories from other countries do not travel that easily through language borders.
United in struggle against repressions
Left unity in Germany has a certain term – Stromungubergreifung, which you can translate as “overlap of currents”. Which basically means that we are in a political movement where different left and anarchists ideas are in the same boat, and we are all moving into the same happy direction.
One of the best examples of the german left unity is an organization called “Red Help” (Rote Hilfe). Started originally by the communist party in 1924 to support communist prisoners in Nazi Germany, the organization was recreated in the seventieth as a left unity structure in West Germany. Under the flag of solidarity it gathered leninists, maoists, stalinists, some antiauthoritarian left and even anarchists. Organization is centralized with regional groups working through cases, but the final decisions is made by the central committee elected at the general assembly. Depending on the city, the local RH groups can be composed of authoritarian communists or anarchists who believe that solidarity is more important than political difference in the left.
My belief is that left unity can stand only there, where the contradictions between authoritarian communists and anarchists are at minimum. And this happens mostly in quite a non-conflict areas such as Germany. However, as soon as political struggle intensifies, as soon as revolutionary ideas are raised in the masses, we are immediately confronted with our differences and are in danger of being stabbed in the back.
For example as soon as German leftists are trying to go abroad those contradictions pop up really fast. For example, the conflict in Ukraine created a small storm inside the left movement out here. Quite a huge part of the antifascist movement actually supported Putin's actions in East Ukraine. Partly this political position was made based on analysis from ukrainian authoritarian left who was supportive of russian imperial project in former soviet republics. Because of that there were infotours organized with right-wingers by antifascists who were eagerly listening about the struggle against fascism raising in Kiev. But Ukraine was really far away and only few people managed to get through the dogmas of the left united front (taking in account that many anarchists are actually considering themselves left). We also had great stories of RH supporting pro-russian separatists in the east with money and at the same time trying to contact anarchist groups from Ukraine to support them in their struggle against the fascist maidan junta. United german left were really disappointed when the ukrainian anarchists said that they do not want any solidarity from RH.
Ukraine was really complicated as it showed that at least authoritarian part of the left is still stuck in the Soviet Union times and dreams about recreating this great imperial project. However, many comrades became victims of the state propaganda not only in Germany. All around the world Putin back then was presented as an antifascist by different fans. The problem went so far that even anarchist Gord Hill in his “Antifa Comic Book” went to present the uprising of 2014 in Ukraine as a NATO coup .
For united german left this happened somewhere far away. This didn't affect so much the life and politics in the country and just created a lot of frustration for anarchists from Eastern Europe but nothing more.
However, there is another story to illustrate how left unity can exist only within a political movement without historical memory. This is also a story of solidarity. A really weird solidarity if you ask me.
Attitude of the german left towards the project of GDR is mixed. There were protests by authoritarian communists in the West by the time of the collapse of the so-called socialist state. They were against reunification and believed that GDR should stay as an independent state. Later on those authoritarian groups became something that many of you know as antigermans.
At least part of the leftists thought that East Germany was a truly leftist state that should be supported. And this idea was also present among members of Red Help. So when the trials against the regime bureaucrats and repression apparatus started some people from the west-german left thought: “Those are political trials against our comrades! We should help them immediately!”. It appears an organization that is partly run by anarchists today was actually supporting Stasi officers on trial...
This fact was not known by many members of RH till recently (though in the 90s nobody was hiding that). Several years ago Red Help published a magazine on repressions against GDR state functioners. The magazine was so bad, as if it just came from the East Block propaganda machine. With even publishing the final words of the great leader of GDR Erich Honecker during his trial. They didn't mention a word about support of Stasi. However, when the critic came mostly from the anarchist corner, the central committee of Red Help published a statement in which they once again pointed to the importance of left unity and told everyone that their support of Stasi in the 90s was one of the best examples of that unity. That was even worse than the magazine. They just jumped off the cliff thinking that they got wings after reading all the writings of Lenin. The landed quite hard: many anarchists at least in this contradiction finally noticed that there is no left unity. Several groups seized to exist. Others lost some of the most active members.
For me, it was extremely sad to see how the work of some people in organizing a solidarity structure for years was destroyed within a month by political positions of authoritarian left. Comrades who believe in solidarity have lost their networks because of political contradictions with the leftists.
Breaking up with united left
Taking all that in account I'm not actually advocating complete isolation from the left and building our beautiful anarchist wall away from any political movement that doesn't reproduce our values. On the contrary I do believe that in many cases common work is required to achieve certain goals.
Struggle against fascist is one of the good examples of such common work. There activist from different parts of the left and anarchists are joining their forces against the rising threat of fascists on the streets and in big politics.
It is important to remember that those alliances are temporary. Anarchist should see common work with left projects in the same way we see our cooperation with liberals right now – this political movement that we can at some point unite with but always expect a stab in the back. Both liberal and left governments proved they can repress their former allies from the anarchist camp with a lot of motivation. And we don't have to dive deep into history – repressions of the anarchists by the left government in Greece were sometimes even more severe than those created by the centrist/right-wing liberals.
Understanding our position on that cooperation can save us from supporting such structures like german Red Help which will throw us under the train of repressions as soon as our politics do not fit authoritarian left. We as anarchists should create our own movement that shouldn't depend on some authoritarian structures. If we continue to ignore that simple truth, we are bonded to repeat historical errors again and again.
For anarchists there is no left unity. Yes many of us are anarchist-communists including myself, but we do not have such strong bonds with the authoritarian left to strive for the same movement together with them.
So please stop talking about left unity. Start organizing in the terms of certain projects and break those alliances when you see that there is no point in them. After all our movement was talking about the danger of left authoritarianism since the 19th century. In this context we should still stick to the roots.
1: Over a year ago I wrote to Gord Hill to discuss this topic in his comic after reading it. I don't know him personally, but the discussion didn't work out. I was pointed to some articles in liberal media on the topic, and that was it.