The False Idol of Self-Sacrifice

from the new issue of Anathema

Anarchism has often been conflated with social work, much to the chagrin of those of us who prioritize undermining oppression over improving how it functions. The tendency towards charity, thinking it solidarity even when we want very different things politically from those we try to aid, is complicit in the maintenance (or manufacturing) of authority.

For instance, recently a volunteer at a local anarchist space filed a police report after someone came in and damaged the space. The logic behind this was to make medical treatment for the destructive actor available, without pressing charges, which his training as a social worker had taught him to do. But since this person was at the time on parole , this event instead sent him back to prison. Even if this hadn’t been the case, filing a report does not take into consideration what the person you’re trying to help wants, nor any of the other potential physical or psychological consequences.

Unfortunately, this is what this anarchist was trained to do in a field meant to help people, and in the heat of the moment he understandably reverted to this trained instinct. It had consequences he hadn’t intended, but herein lies a risk of formally submitting to this do-the-right-thing (wage-compensated) industry – you’re taught to find the path of least harm through state channels. The members of the anarchist space in question have since had meetings and one-on-one conversations about dealing with conflict and reaffirming a shared commitment not to involve the police.

Meanwhile, there is a whole network of activists whose anarchism is simply to do the social work neglected by the state – a strategy that not only seems to go unquestioned within such circles, but rather is continually applauded as though it were the most honorable form of struggle. These figurative social workers usually have aims beyond those of the state, but tend only to seek out a new authority to submit to and be punished by. This is notable in how social justice or accountability frameworks often tend to uphold rather than challenge existent social norms. This tendency toward authority, of course, necessitates a larger populace to submit, to struggle, and to sacrifice. This is a leftist tendency – to softly martyr oneself for the cause, clinging to the identities authority has forced upon us as some sort of empowerment, while in reality attempting to build on narratives of weakness. It involves promoting the most marginalized to leadership positions in order to reverse the current hierarchy, while simultaneously creating a new hierarchy based on the same identitarian logic. No wonder the left is so based on creating a mass movement while constantly failing to produce one. Who would want to join a group advertising weakness, projecting utopia based on bureaucracy (meetings, consensus, leadership), while also incredibly reliant on the state’s social programs?

What would it mean to act instead toward freedom? We could imagine that one might begin by turning all that fiery rhetoric into fiery action. But even that would fall short, as it doesn’t ask the question of what it would take to foment insurrection. Caring for others in the struggle, taking our basic necessities (regardless of laws protecting private property), and fighting those that stand in our way would be closer to the point. But physically dismantling the infrastructure that intends to prevent us from freedom, in combination with utilizing those expropriated resources for that very cause (by whatever means necessary), is closer.