By Nachie (with contributions from members of the RAAN online community)
Red Anarchist Action Network
This essay originally appeared in the first issue of Praxis, journal of the Red & Anarchist Action Network (Summer, 2003)
"Sub-cultures... are no more than glorified fan clubs. They are incomplete or escapist at best, and social organs of the enemy collaboration at worst. They are not counter." - David (Green Mountain Anarchist Collective)
When it came time for the Red & Anarchist Action Network (RAAN) to develop a short description of itself, or "blurb", which we could use in efficiently introducing our core values to a large number of people, we included in it one line in particular that has since become a source of confusion;
"The network was born out of a desire to...
...Dismantle the elitist "sceneism" that has governed portions of the revolutionary movement for far too long."
What do we mean by "sceneism" and how do we identify it as a negative force operating both consciously and unconsciously in the established anti-authoritarian movement? More importantly, how does this awareness fit into the daily practice of the Red & Anarchist Action Network; what steps can we take to put an end to Anarcho-sceneism?
Sceneism is the name that we are using to describe the prevailing state of the "anarchist movement" today (at least, in North America). What we mean is that our movement now shares several fundamental characteristics with the petty social relations found inside music "scenes"; punk, indie, hardcore, etc. (of course music scenes are not the only ones that exist, but for comparative purposes they're a good place to start)
Specifically, the hostile trends that we have witnessed within the anarchist movement have been elitism, white & male dominance, too close a relationship with a specific subculture (IE punk), and cliques of friends who by their very existence close off new membership in the movement by making it inaccessible to those not already deeply involved.
This is not to say that we are addressing sceneism as the only problem in today's movement, but a specific one that so far very few organizations, especially informal affinity groups, have managed to combat effectively. Furthermore, sceneism must be confronted as yet another system of domination: a bourgeois-spectacular social relation operating within the anti-authoritarian movement; one that we must dismantle.
Our main purpose here is to identify and analyze "sceneist" behavior in the movement, and begin to develop concrete ways of fighting it, specifically within RAAN and especially in light of the fact that our organization has begun to grow, and that this growth is now bringing up an inevitable series of interactions with the "established" anti-authoritarian movement (that is, what is now popularly referred to as the anarchist movement).
What to be on guard against
The idea for this article as a necessary reflection on the state of American anarchism - and how our network should strive to differentiate itself - first came about as the result of a conversation between two members of RAAN. The topic at hand was the possibility of putting on a benefit concert for the network, and what such a show would ideally look like. One of the people involved was already very familiar with the established anarchist movement, while the other was not.
The more experienced activist suggested that she would be able to get a well-known anarchist speaker to come support the benefit. The less experienced activist, while unfamiliar with this famous anarchist, nevertheless pointed out that when one thought of a "well-known anarchist" speaking somewhere, one would also be inclined to think of the "usual suspects" of the anarchist scene as being the people who would show up to see her.
Based on that observation, the two RAAN members began to wonder if getting the anarchist to speak on behalf of the organization wouldn't result in RAAN attracting only a very limited assortment of the people we'd hope to reach with our ideas. After a little more discussion, it was decided that getting this famous anarchist to speak would indeed not be in the best interest of the network. After all, our purpose here is to build a new and independent movement, not to merely place the old one, with all of its baggage, under the banner of RAAN (which is not to say that people already identifying as anarchists shouldn't also be considered potential allies).
What do we see as being wrong within the current manifestation of anarchism? To put it simply, we fear that large sections of the movement have become exclusive social cliques that have reproduced within themselves all the forms of oppression tied to capitalist society. Whether such a result must be inevitable in any organization (anti-capitalist or not) born of class society is not the issue. Rather, we are disgusted by the continual failure of the recognized anarchist movement to combat this tendency and more specifically, by its actual semi-conscious attempts to do so by withdrawing into a series of alienating social circles, which we here will call "scenes". If scenes are the bourgeois social structures that arise as a result of people struggling to come to terms with alienation, then "Anarcho-sceneism" is the held belief that a revolutionary movement can exist within, or even be based on, any such scene (especially, a "revolutionary" one).
The Red & Anarchist Action Network has, at least so far, been very free of the sort of social and interpersonal drama that has in the past plagued other groups with similar goals. RAAN members have been able to build ties through the network and meet together towards the accomplishment of goals, such as the writing of this article, and by all accounts the results so far have been excellent.
This may not necessarily hold up as we grow, but we certainly cannot in any way cultivate the culture of immature personal squabbles that has become standard in so many anarchist circles.
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