Keith Preston recently issued a response to a short letter we wrote a while back asking him to stop calling himself an anarchist because of his racism, misogyny, and support for libertarian variants. In what is probably the most anarchist thing he could do, he responded with a letter defending his pan-anarchism and associating us with totalitarian elements of the left. This accusation is a go-to for fascist organizers shut down by anti-fascist movements, as if the freedom for loud and angry loud men to rant and rave is what liberation is really all about. The issue with Preston as an associate and supporter of the far-right is an important reason to isolate his website, Attack the System, from having any association with anarchism, as is his idea that he can reconcile completely disparate philosophical tendencies that have literally no association with one another other than the “anarcho” prefix. Preston himself mentions this after citing John Zube’s bizarre dialogue on anarchism.
There are indeed many readily identifiable traditions within anarchism, some of which maintain a paradoxical relationship to each other.
He goes on to mention that anarchists are like divisions in the Christian church that refuse to recognize each other as being appropriately Christian.
What Preston hopes is that his critique will allow him to ride the wave of critiques that his title suggests, that we are being “More Anarchistic Than Thou.” This is a very real response that began in the 1990s where deconstruction and a “culture of critique” formed around post-left anarchism where by people began a “one-upmanship” of who could be more “radical” or attack oppression at more “systemic” levels. This can lead to some destructive behavior as small disagreements become overpowering and destroy even fleeting unity, but this is not what is happening with Preston. While disagreements over lifestyle choices or the specifics of anti-capitalist economics are applied are completely within the realm of disagreement between associated ideologues, arguing over racial nationalism, gender essentialism, and whether or not capitalism is acceptable is simply not. No person inside of anarchist anti-oppression politics, where the “More Anarchistic Than Thou” situation often arises, would extend this anarchist umbrella to Keith Preston as the different cultural elements he celebrates (racism and capitalism) are opposed at the foundation of the anarchist project. As was said in the original article, anarchists oppose the State not out of some revulsion to organization, but because it serves a class and hierarchy. A pan-secessionist movement that Preston advocates means empowering movements that seek to crystalize the elements of the State and general social system that motivate anarchism’s revolutionary potential.
Plainly put: Anarchism is founded on the desire to smash capitalism, racism, sexism, and the like, so you cannot make friends out of movements that seek to celebrate those tyrannies.
While Attack the System is more known for its National Anarchism than its Anarcho-Capitalism, the libertarian traditions are well represented on the site. Capitalism is not “a central project” of anarchism, but, in a lot of ways, the central project that began the movement. Anarchism comes out of the socialist tradition, yet a libertarian version of this as opposed to Marx’s conception of revolutionary socialism developing out of Proletarian Dictatorship through a Worker’s State. Anarcho-capitalism is an idea that really did not become apparent until the 1970s-80s, and comes not from the liberatory movements associated with the anarchist tradition, but for the deregulation of capitalism for completely different motivations. There were socially “left” people associated with disparate strains of Anarcho-capitalism, but that does not make them any more associated with the tradition than liberals who share the anarchist disdain for sexism. The question of Anarcho-capitalism, which is a strong part of the synthesis that Preston attempts, is brought up into the massive FAQ project that Ian McKay as put together.
While “anarcho”-capitalists obviously try to associate themselves with the anarchist tradition by using the word “anarcho” or by calling themselves “anarchists” their ideas are distinctly at odds with those associated with anarchism. As a result, any claims that their ideas are anarchist or that they are part of the anarchist tradition or movement are false.
“Anarcho”-capitalists claim to be anarchists because they say that they oppose government. As noted in the last section, they use a dictionary definition of anarchism. However, this fails to appreciate that anarchism is a political theory. As dictionaries are rarely politically sophisticated things, this means that they fail to recognise that anarchism is more than just opposition to government, it is also marked a opposition to capitalism (i.e. exploitation and private property). Thus, opposition to government is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being an anarchist — you also need to be opposed to exploitation and capitalist private property. As “anarcho”-capitalists do not consider interest, rent and profits (i.e. capitalism) to be exploitative nor oppose capitalist property rights, they are not anarchists.
Part of the problem is that Marxists, like many academics, also tend to assert that anarchists are simply against the state. It is significant that both Marxists and “anarcho”-capitalists tend to define anarchism as purely opposition to government. This is no co-incidence, as both seek to exclude anarchism from its place in the wider socialist movement. This makes perfect sense from the Marxist perspective as it allows them to present their ideology as the only serious anti-capitalist one around (not to mention associating anarchism with “anarcho”-capitalism is an excellent way of discrediting our ideas in the wider radical movement). It should go without saying that this is an obvious and serious misrepresentation of the anarchist position as even a superficial glance at anarchist theory and history shows that no anarchist limited their critique of society simply at the state.
McKay goes on to deconstruct allegations that Individualist anarchists that some anarchists claim affinity with are capitalist, who have a much different conception of property than people like Hayek or Rothbard.
The question comes up of exactly what totalitarianism is as it is the “totalitarian humanism” that Preston talks about is a problem of the left and distracts the left’s claims of liberation. Preston’s critique is especially precious given his belief that completely deregulated capitalism is acceptable in his “liberated” society. As Daibhidh points out in Anarcho-Hucksters, to allow a “Boss” to take place in an “anarchist” society, which is unequivocally necessary in any form of capitalism, undermines the basic assumptions of the anarchist project.
“Anarcho” capitalists talk of freedom as a negative, in a (Ayn) Randian definition of: “the absence of physical violence”. They see capitalism as the epitome of this ethic, and the State as the antithesis of it (defining the State as “the institution with a monopoly of force”).
This is the cornerstone of their professed anarchism. They say, “we oppose the State; anarchists oppose government; ergo, we are anarchists.”
But anarchists look at that statement and ask:
- What of the boss in the workplace?
- What of the wealthy owner of property?
- What of the capitalist industrialist?
- What of the church elder?
- What of the judge?
- What of the patriarch of a family?
Don’t these people have very real authority over others’ lives? Haven’t each of these, in their way, brought shame, misery, and degradation to those under their control?
The “anarcho” capitalist has no problem with rulers below State level, so long as they don’t impinge on profit and property! So, if your boss eavesdropped on your calls, the “anarcho” capitalist would say, “hey, you can always get a new job” rather than taking the anarchist stance of “how dare X boss eavesdrop on their employees?! We must work to end workplace tyranny!”
In fact, to the “anarcho” capitalist, being able to work for whomever you want (including working for clients [e.g., “self”-employment) is what they consider “freedom”. This amounts to choosing who gets to be your boss! Some choice, huh?
Anarchists, in contrast, don’t think there should BE any bosses. Everyone pulls their fair share of the collective social burden of day-to-day living. And, while everyone works, the distinction between this and typical capitalist drudgery is that, in anarchy, you’d be working for your own needs, rather than for the profit of another! As such, you wouldn’t have to put in 40+ hour weeks lining the pockets of whoever owns the company you work for (or servicing your clients’ needs).
The tyranny that people experience is rooted in fundamental inequalities, both social and systemic. Without the ability to challenge those dynamics then there is no liberation, and to allow wage-slave systems in other “city-states” (or whatever Preston thinks his ideological enclaves would be called) would be the opposite of the ongoing revolutionary transformation of anarchism.
Attack the System itself has a banner at the top of the website that shows images of some of the famous anarchists of the past that Preston respects and says is a part of his own tradition. If we look at their own work, it is pretty clear that their opinions about capitalism do not for allow for Preston’s idea that anarchism can collaborate with capitalism. According to Mikhail Bakunin, capitalism undermined any sense of freedom for the vast majority of humanity.
Juridically they are equal; but economically the worker is the serf of the capitalist . . . thereby the worker sells his person ant his liberty for a given time. The worker is in the position of a serf because this terrible threat of starvation which daily hangs over his head and over his family, will force him to accept any conditions imposed by the gainful calculations of the capitalist, the industrialist, the employer…. The worker always has the right to leave his employer, but has he the means to do so? No, he does it in order to sell himself to another employer. He is driven to it by the same hunger which forces him to sell himself to the first employer.
The worker’s liberty . . . is only a theoretical freedom. lacking any means for its possible realization. ant consequently it is only a fictitious liberty. an utter falsehood. The truth is that the whole life of the worker is simply a continuous and dismaying succession of terms of serfdom–“voluntary from the juridical point of view but compulsory from an economic sense–broken up by momentarily brief interludes of freedom accompanied by starvation; in other words, it is real slavery.
Alexander Berkman, the author of the ABC’s of Anarchism, is known for outlining many of the ideas that brought anarchism into the 20th Century. He noted that capitalism represented the foundations of a society that had to be torn apart.
If you can see, hear, feel, and think, you should know that King Dollar rules the United States, and that the workers are robbed and exploited in this country to the heart’s content of the masters. If you are not deaf, dumb, and blind, then you know that the American bourgeois democracy and capitalistic civilization are the worst enemies of labor and progress, and that instead of protecting them, you should help to fight to destroy them.
Even Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a person who shared some of Preston’s bigotries and was more of a proto-anarchist than the anarchism we would call today said that “property is theft.” We could really go down the line on this, but what we would find is not just that these anarchists have a different opinion about capitalism, they find anti-capitalism foundational. What Preston attempts to do though is to say that anarchism naturally has the ability to take on fully contradictory ideas, as he mentions also with religious anarchism. There certainly is a broad anarchist movement with many colliding ideas, but the fundamental values do remain the same. No one in the broad anarchist movement, even on the primitivism or post-leftist fringes would accept capitalism or racial nationalism. Even the more nuanced anarchists from fringe traditions, like Max Stirner and Hakim Bey, seem to be little understood by Preston and his writers, though they pull at anyone vaguely associated with the anarchist tradition to give relevance to their absurdity. It is like someone who thinks a political movement can be summed up by describing its members clothing and hair styles: he seems to know nothing about the fundamental values and motivating factors of the revolutionary anarchist movement.
For Attack the System, and Preston personally, the real issue is of this new concept of National Anarchism. When stripped of its pseudo-mystical tracts and overly jargon filled double speak, the notion here is almost identical to Preston’s idea of pan-secessionism. Groups, known as tribes, would create separate enclave based either on identity, such as race, or on social choice, such as economic system. The NA’s themselves focus on racial identity as they are essentially anti-State nationalists, who maintain the same violent racism and misogyny that most neo-Nazis do. Troy Southgate, former organizer with the National Front and some even more unsavory and violent white nationalist groups, is the ideological frontrunner of the NA theory, and has written most of their few works of theory. Spencer Sunshine outlines this beautifully as you can see where their true allegiances are.
The National Anarchists claim they are not “fascist.” Still, Troy Southgate looks to lesser known fascists such as Romanian Iron Guard leader Corneliu Codreanu, and lesser light Nazis like Otto Strasser and Walter Darré. Part of Southgate’s sleight of hand is to claim to be ‘against fascism’ by claiming he is socialist (as did Nazis such as Strasser) and by supporting political decentralization (as do contemporary European fascists such as Alain de Benoist). Sometimes he proclaims fascism to be equivalent to the capitalism he opposes, or promoting a centralized state, which he also opposes.
Southgate is undoubtedly sincere in his aversion to the classical fascism of Hitler and Mussolini, and has cited this as a reason for his break from one of the National Front splinter groups. He sees the old fascism as discredited, and an abandonment of the true values of revolutionary nationalism. But his ultimate goal, shared with the European New Right, is to create a new form of fascism, with the same core values of a revitalized community that withstands the decadence of cosmopolitan liberal capitalism. This cannot be done as long as his views are linked in the popular mind to the older tradition.
Spencer Sunshine attempts to look a little closer at the ideas of NA to see if they are aligned with anarchism on any fundamental level, yet sees instead the same kinds of deeply run bigotries you find on Stormfront.org.
The National-Anarchists are quite open about their antifeminism and desire to exile queer people into separate spaces, but tend to hide their deeply antisemitic worldview. Troy Southgate says of feminism, “Feminism is dangerous and unnatural… because it ignores the complimentary relationship between the sexes and encourages women to rebel against their inherent feminine instincts.”
The stance on homophobia is more interesting. Southgate said:
Homosexuality is contrary to the Natural Order because sodomy is quite undeniably an unnatural act. Groups such as Outrage are not campaigning for love between males — which has always existed in a brotherly or fatherly form — but have created a vast cult which has led to a rise in cottaging, male-rape and child sex attacks… But we are not trying to stop homosexuals engaging in this kind of activity like the Christian moralists or bigoted denizens of censorship are doing, on the contrary, as long as this behaviour does not affect the forthcoming National-Anarchist communities then we have no interest in what people get up to elsewhere.
What this means in his schema is that queer people will be given their own separate “villages.” The recent National-Anarchist demonstrations in San Francisco were against two majority-queer events, the Folsom Street Fair and the related fair Up Your Alley. Their orchestrator, “Andy,” declares that he is a “racist” who hates queer people.
Andy also denies the charge of antisemitism against National-Anarchists, claiming that they merely engage in a “continuous criticism of Israel and its supporters,” 53 as do the majority of Leftists and anarchists. Once again, this is a typical disingenuous attempt by National-Anarchists to duck criticism. Antisemitism is an important element of the political world views of Southgate and Herferth.
Southgate actively promotes the work of Holocaust deniers, including the Institute for Historical Review, and holds party line antisemitic beliefs about the role of the international Jewish conspiracy. As a dodge, he sometimes uses the euphemism “Zionist”; for instance, he says “Zionists are well known for their cosmopolitan perspective upon life, not least because those who rally to this nefarious cause have no organic roots of their own.”54 In another interview he says that, “there is no question that the world is being ruthlessly directed (but perhaps not completely controlled) by International Zionism. This has been achieved through the rise of the usurious banking system.” And he describes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a forgery which is the world’s most popular antisemitic text) as a book which “although still unproven, accordswith the main events in modern world history.”
Meanwhile, his Australian counterpart Welf Herferth is even more explicit in his neo-Nazi antisemitic views. In one speech, he describes the Holocaust as an “extrapolation” that “has been an enormously profitable one for the Jews, and one which has brought post-war Germany and Europe to its knees,” before referring to Israel as “the most powerful state in the Western world.” Herferth concludes that “by liberating Germany from the bondage to Israel and restructuring a new Germany on the basis of a new ‘volksgemeinschaft,’ the German nationalists will liberate Europe, and the West as well.”
Preston would have us believe that since anarchists of the left and post-left variety share anti-capitalism and opposition to the State with them that we should ally with them even though they represent a complete break from all of our motivating ideas.
Preston goes on to make some claims that are bizarre on their surface since their refutation is really implicit. First he says:
Attack the System does not oppose the maintenance of identity politics by African-Americans, Native-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Arab-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, the LGBTQ umbrella, feminists, atheists, vegetarians, vegans, immigrants, environmentalists, the elderly, young people, disabled people, fat people, ugly people, students, gamers, drug users, sex workers, slut walkers, street gangs, prison inmates, or Star Wars fans. Likewise, Attack the System does not oppose the maintenance of identity politics by Protestant evangelicals, Catholic traditionalists, adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormons, Europeans, Caucasian-Americans, Southerners, Midwesterners, Catalans, Scots, Basques, Russians, Englishmen, Irishmen, Scientologists, Moonies, the white working class, WASPs, yuppies, men, social conservatives, cultural traditionalists, ethnic preservationists, Euro-pagan tribalists, gun owners, meat eaters, tobacco smokers, rednecks, military veterans, motorcycle gangs, survivalists, metal heads, or aficionados of classical music.
Let’s think about this for just a second. The first on the list are racial groups who have been historically oppressed by white majorities that use both unregulated social systems and the State to oppress them. Later there are groups that also could fit under the oppressed banner: fat people, disabled people, Jews, Muslims, sex workers, etc. The point here is that this identity means something in that the identity is a point of resistance to oppression, not identity for identity’s sake. This “identity politics” (though it is clear he does not understand what identity politics are and why most anarchists oppose them) is something that the radical right often highlights since they want to compare their “white nationalism” with “black nationalism” as if they are both equally movements towards racial identity and the advocacy of an ethnic identity. The difference is that black nationalism is a response to white oppression and an identity use only as a tool to resist that historic oppression. For white nationalists to say that they are the same project is to deny the fact that the purpose is fundamentally different. White nationalists seek to double down on their perceived identity, essentializing their racial characteristics. This is fundamentally a different project, for a different purpose, and a radically different politic. Preston goes on to identity feminists in his list, which he has to understand is not an “identity” as much as a movement to overhaul society and dethrone patriarchy. To list this as an “identity” is again a sign that he doesn’t clearly understand why identities are used in anti-oppression politics.
It is not that “identity” is something that the left wants to create dividing lines around, but instead, for some people, a piece of their lives through which they have been oppressed, and therefore need to create solidarity with others who share the same background of oppression. To say that white people are in the same boat as people of color in terms of racially defined oppression is offensive right from the start.
Preston often likes to cite obscure pseudo-anarchists from history, while ignoring ninety-five percent of anarchist history and theory. The best example of anarchist social organization existed in response to the rise of the Fallange fascist party in Catalonia, and were eventually crushed fighting for survival against the Catholic nationalists. Anarchists rose up as primary actors in fighting the fascist party machine in Italy, Romania, Austria, and Germany, all of which show the history of the radical right as being the direct inverse of anarchism and dedicated to its destruction. As you prance around the National Policy Institute and promote your Americanized pan-libertarianism, you are celebrating the forces that have been the historic enemy of the anarchist movement and who have murdered anarchists by the thousands.
Preston also lists a number of often considered right-wing political issues that he says anarchists are not vocal on. These include gun control, home schooling, and alternative medicine. This is a red herring as he is again looking for surface politics while failing to go deeper. Most anarchists do oppose bourgeois gun control, yet the politics motivating that movement are xenophobic and reactionary. To join that movement in equal parts is to undermine our founding purpose, even if there is tacit support. The rest of the list has disparate political ideas that would be boring to go through point by point, but needless to say there are left-anarchists associated with most of those projects. They certainly are not primary political issues because they are incredibly marginal and many of the motivating factors would not be shared by anarchists, but that is certainly an individual’s choice as to whether or not to support home schooling or zoning regulations.
Preston himself now has zero connection to larger anarchist movements and seems to have been deemed persona non grata from all political arenas except the far-right. At the National Policy Institute “Become Who We Are” conference, the last that Preston spoke at as of this writing, there were speakers advocating for whites to have their own state, claiming that Jews control world affairs, and that there are racial differences in intelligence. NPI, Radix, the Daily Shoah, American Renaissance, and the Occidental Observer were all represented organizations there right along Attack the System, which puts Keith and his website firmly in the camp associated with neo-Nazis and Klan supporters. Preston will likely put out a response to the response (we are sincere when we say this behavior is the closest you have come to contemporary anarchist conduct), in which he will quote his own cadre of unknown authors to try and justify his racist connections, but luckily his backward jargon works on no actual anarchist communities. We could go on a detailed analysis of what “is” and what “is not” anarchism, but the reality is that there are dozens of books available that do this wonderfully and do not include you are any of your ideas. This notion that anarchism is just anything anyone says it is, that its opposition to authority means that no one can define it, is a-historical and non-useful to those who actually try to utilize anarchism as a revolutionary idea.
Keith himself has not actually organized in a couple decades, and has resigned himself to racist conferences and internet blogs. You may want to criticize Antifa organizers for what you see as censorship (Angry white men always scream censorship when their bullshit is disallowed by the community, usually because they have never been told “no” before in their lives.), but we are out in the streets and fighting in solidarity with movements across the world to bring together a liberated society. We are not sure what part of standing with Richard Spencer as he argues for a White European Empire, but since “anarchism” is just a t-shirt you like to wear on top of your opportunistic Third Positionism, you try to make yourself immune to common sense and reason.