Nine Years Of The Love And Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation

Nine Years of the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation
by Wayne Price

[Northeastern Anarchist #3 Fall 2001]

A new wave of radicalization is spreading around the world.
Federations of anarchists are being organized in the U.S and
Canada, and in other countries. The “platformist” current within
international anarchism, with its emphasis on the need for anarchists
to organize themselves, is having worldwide effects. In these
conditions, it is not surprising that there should be an interest in the
last major attempt to build an anarchist federation in North America:
the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (L&R).
Founded in 1989, it lasted to 1998, almost ten years, with branches
in Mexico (Amor y Rabia) and in English-speaking Canada.

It came out of a very amorphous anarchist movement, whose
main continental organization had been almost yearly “gatherings”.
In various cities around the U.S. and Canada, anarchists would get
together, attend workshops, talk with each other, eat vegetarian food,
play together, engage in “pagan rites”, and then go home. Decisions
were not made and lasting structures were not set up.

In this milieu, a minority began to call for the establishment of a
continental anarchist newspaper. There were, of course, already a
small number of anarchist periodicals, each expressing the views of
the individual or small group which put it out. The idea was for a
newspaper which reflected the views of a continental body of
supporters, who existed to participate in putting it out and distributing
it. The supporters of the “newspaper project” soon realized that this
implied some sort of organization.

People of various backgrounds and anarchist persuasions met to
establish the Love and Rage Federation. A key role was played by a
group from Minneapolis, Minnesota, calling itself the Revolutionary
Anarchist Bowling League (RABL or “rabble”). Another group came
from the former Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL). This was a
group which had evolved from Trotskyism to anarchism. The RSL (of
which I was a member) had never regarded the state-capitalist
Soviet Union as a “degenerated workers” State, as did orthodox
Trotskyism. It had interpreted Marxist orthodoxy in the most
libertarian manner possible, such as emphasizing Marx’s writings on
the Paris Commune, or Lenin’s State and Revolution. When this
became impossible to continue, it moved toward anarchism. The
RSL officially dissolved at the time of the founding of Love and Rage;
most ex-members leaving politics. Some of us became involved in
the setting up of the L&R and its newspaper, which was also called
‘Love and Rag!

Love and Rage was distinguished from most of the anarchist
movement in a few important ways. First, obviously, was the very
idea that anarchists should form an organization, and, related to that,
should put out a newspaper. These concepts were vigorously, not to
say viciously, denounced by many in the anarchist movement. A
relatively prominent anarcho-syndicalist came to the founding
meeting only to denounce the very idea of founding an organization.
The anarcho-primitivist Fifth Estate denounced L&R from the
beginning. Many others agreed that it was wrong of anarchists to
form organizations, or at least to form organizations beyond the local
level. There was a widespread suspicion that the ex-members of the
ex-RSL were really doing a Trotskyist ‘entry’, worming their way into
the anarchist movement in order to emerge with a new and larger
Leninist party. Considering the course of events, this was quite
ironic. However, the issue of organization was never quite settled.

There was a constant tension in the federation over how far to go
in unifying and coordinating it. A large minority broke off because
they really wanted a loose “network”, not a more coordinated
federation. Over time, this continued to be an issue. Due to its
decentralized heritage, people were chosen for positions on the
basis of geography, not politics. The continental committee which
made decisions between conferences was picked this way. So was
the smaller body which coordinated between that committee’s
meetings. Influential people were often left out of these bodies, in the
hope that this would prevent the formation of a ‘leadership’, but
instead (of course), the real leadership was kept informal and

Editorial decisions for the continental paper were not made by any
politically responsible body, but by the production crew. This was
composed of random people who volunteered and lived in the city
where it was put out. At the same time, L&R was never a real
federation, because it never had more than a few real local groups.
Mostly it had about 200 members scattered throughout North
America. There were a few significant
collectives in a few cities, and many individuals who were willing to
distribute the paper.

Besides being pro-organization, the other distinctive feature of the
L&R was its left-wing focus. It was for the struggles of the oppressed.
It supported national liberation struggles (although there was tension
over attitudes towards the nationalist leadership of such struggles). It
supported women’s liberation, queer liberation, struggles of
prisoners, of poor people, of youth, and of African-Americans. This
may seem obvious, but much of the anarchist movement denounced
this as too “left”. The left was seen as old-hat and out dated. This
was the explicit conception of the primitivists. Even among anarchists
who were consciously leftist, such as anarcho-syndicalists, many
were for workers’ struggles but did not support national liberation
wars or women’s struggles. Too many of these rejected non-working
class struggles as irrelevant diversions.

Aside from that, there was little theoretical agreement among L&R
members and little effort to develop a theoretical program. Their
theory, or program, was something vaguely called, ‘revolutionary
anarchism’. That is, we were anarchists who were “for” revolution.
This distinguished us from pacifist anarchists and reformist
anarchists, but otherwise was not too specific. L&R was against
capitalism, but would not commit itself to ‘socialism’, which was
associated with State ownership.

There were different views on other issues, such as
African-American liberation. A minority was for the Race Traitor
program: racism was the main issue in the U.S.; everything else was
secondary; white anarchist should not raise their views in the
African-American community. Other people had other views which
also revolved around similar white-liberal guilt feelings. The problem
was not so much this or that opinion on any particular topic but the
lack of a serious attempt to study past theory and to develop it
further. From the beginning there were people who regarded any
attempt to root L&R in anarchist tradition was something “cold”.
There were no required readings for all members nor regular study
classes. Even by the end, there were people who insisted that theory
was something which they would develop out of their experience.
Theory is, ultimately, nothing but the codification of many people’s
experience. But this
approach meant constantly reinventing the wheel, and repeating
previous generation’s errors. However, it is not surprising that U.S.
anarchists should have followed the empiricism and crude
pragmatism of U.S. political culture.

The organization had an empirical ‘laundry list’ of good causes it
was for (such as women’s liberation, queer liberation, prison
abolition, and so on). It tried to work out a better, more thorough and
lengthy, program. For years, at the conferences, it discussed parts of
an improved program. But this process was inconsistent. By the time
L&R dissolved, the program was still unfinished. Ron Tabor, an
ex-member of the old RSL, tried to do serious theoretical work. He
sought to rethink the meaning of Marxism from an anarchist
perspective. While his previous pamphlet, A Look at Leninism, was
widely distributed, the organization stopped publishing his articles
critiquing Marxism in the newspaper. People just weren’t interested
enough, they said.

Nevertheless, good work was done. A small number of real
collectives existed and were tied together throughout North America.
A real effort was made to support a Mexican group in producing a
Spanish paper and literature.

We organized important U.S. support for the Zapatista rebellion
(although politically this never went beyond being radical
cheerleaders, instead of discussing the possibilities of a Mexican
revolution). A continental anarchist paper was produced for nine
years, on a more-or-less monthly basis. Some activities were done
on a federation-wide basis, including participating in several national
U.S. demonstrations.

However from the beginning there had been certain undemocratic
aspects of what many members meant by ‘revolutionary anarchism’.
One was a widespread sympathy for Leninist-Stalinist movements of
the ‘60s and ‘70s. Many members admired the Weatherpeople, the
German Red Army Faction, the Black Liberation Army, and other
groups who wanted to create revolutionary dictatorships over the
mass of people. The very last L&R issue included a very favorable
article about imprisoned members of the Weatherpeople, titled,
Enemies of the State. It would have been better titled, Enemies of
This State, Friends of a New State.

The other undemocratic weakness was the lack of interest in, or
orientation to, the North American working class. At most there was a
patronizing acceptance that some of us were interested in workers
as workers. As an influential member told me, workers did not
identify as
workers. When a major student strike broke out in New York City
public colleges, our members did excellent work in organizing and
leading it (“leading” in a non-authoritarian way). But they sneered at
the idea of orienting the student struggle toward the workers (who, at
the time were also struggling against the city government over
comparable issues).

Later, our Detroit members got involved in support work for the
striking newspaper workers. Our people put out a flyer raising the
general strike. L&R people in New York did not want to cover this in
the continental paper. One member asked if the ‘general strike’ was
a “Trotskyist idea”, so little did they know anarchist and
anarcho-syndicalist history.

Ultimately, contempt for the workers, their organizations (unions),
and their struggles, must be undemocratic. It leads to a view that a
little group of young radicals, mostly college students and
ex-students from the middle classes, can transform society by
themselves - without going deep into the working class and the
oppressed sections of society. This is consistent with an
identification with radical Stalinism.

A final conflict broke out during the last two years of L&R. Chris
Day, a founder and influential member (that is, a “leader”) had
concluded that it was time to abandon anarchism. He told people
informally that we had reached the limits of the anarchist “milieu” and
it was time to move on. He wrote a paper on The Historical Failure of
Anarchism, emphasizing the programmatic weaknesses of
anarchism. He declared that no revolution could succeed without a
centralized, regular army and a revolutionary state. A group formed
around him, particularly of people who had never had to chose
between anarchism and authoritarian Marxism. Although they
suddenly discovered the value of the international working class,
their new-found Marxism was not of any of the libertarian or
humanistic varieties (autonomes, council communism, CLR James,
Eric Fromm, Hal Draper, etc.). It was Maoism - one of the most
Stalinist, authoritarian, versions.

A small number of us began to resist, at first by writing counter
documents. We were mostly, but not entirely, former members of the
RSL, and were mostly older than the average member. What was
upsetting and confusing to us was that most L&R members did not
react to the dispute.
They stayed out of it. This nonreaction was helped by the
neo-Maoists’ maneuver of rarely stating openly that they rejected
anarchism. Instead the group talked around this. They made hints,
and then denials, and then direct statements, and then withdraw the
statements. If people wanted to
ignore the issue, it was made easy for them. We, the group that said
there was a crisis, were treated as troublemakers.

As we saw it, the issue was the rejection of anarchism for
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. We were accused of being dogmatic, not
active enough, being troublemakers, wrong on any number of other
issues, and so on. There is a myth in the present anarchists
movement that L&R collapsed due to weakness over
African-American liberation. This was never a major dispute inside
the organization, although perhaps it should have been. It was raised
at the last minute, the main supporter of Race Traitor politics blocing
with the Maoist faction. But it was never the issue in the faction fight,
that being anarchism versus Maoism.

Behind the fight and then collapse of Love and Rage was broader
historical trends. About the same time that L&R dissolved, our
Mexican section also came apart. The Quebecois network which had
put out the anarchist Demanarchie also broke down. And the British
group, the Class
War Federation, also dissolved. While there were specific issues in
each case, behind them all was the long lull in the broader
movement. People were discouraged. In our case, anyway, people
were looking for some alternative.

Marxism had been discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union,
and the officially pro-market turn of the Chinese. But it still had the
attraction of its history of revolutions and its vast amount of
theoretical work, unlike anarchism. It was, and still is, a real pole of
attraction for many.
L&R had a brief meeting to formally dissolve the federation. The
Maoist group, and those it had attracted, formed Fire By Night, for a
short time. Soon they were to dissolve into the Leninist milieu. Our
group has put out the anarchist journal, The Utopian ( Otherwise individuals have continued
to engage in the anarchist movement in various ways. Within two to
three years of L&R dissolution, there was a large upturn in the
anarchist movement, but there was no continental anarchist
federation to participate in it.
Lessons of the Love and Rage Federation

When I think over my experiences in L&R (as well as earlier
experiences), I reach the following three main conclusions:

(1) There is a need to balance activism with theory. An activists’
program needs to be based on a theory of the world, what causes
oppression, what would liberation mean, what sectors of society can
overturn oppression, and what can we do to help them to move
toward liberation. Otherwise we are just actively jumping around. If
anarchists are not to be outdone (once again) by the Marxists and
other authoritarians, we have to know what we are doing. Not that
every member of an anarchist federation has to fully agree with the
same ideas, but there needs to be a core of members with a
common approach. This does not mean that we can do nothing
without a full-grown theory. Unlike the Marxists, we do not have a set
of sacred books to learn from. But as we participate in struggles,
anarchists should be simultaneously working on theory. There
should be study groups, a common set of readings, and a lively
theoretical journal.

(2) There needs to be an orientation to the working class. This is
not only for theoretical but for strategic reasons. There is no other
oppressed group which has the potential ability to shut down
capitalist society - and to start it up again. Only workers - as workers
- can do this. No other grouping is oppressed at the heart of the
process of production or has the self-interest to create a classless
society. This was the insight of anarcho-syndicalism.

Anarchists must continue to participate in and champion the
struggles of women, queers, of oppressed races and nations. Their
oppression is as real as that of workers. Their movements are as
essential for liberation. But just as their issues must be raised in the
class struggle, so the class struggle must be raised in them. This
means participation in workplace concerns. We need to develop a
serious and positive view of unions, and a set of tactics for dealing
with them.

(3) There is a need for a democratic organization of revolutionary
anarchists - if we are not (once again) to be outorganized by the
Marxists. There can be no abstractly preordained structure for such
a democratic organization, except that it be democratic. Much
depends on the circumstances. The principle is that it should be as
decentralized and directly democratic as possible but as centralized
and coordinated as is minimally necessary. This is not a party, which
is an organization for taking power (by election, or by control of a
revolution). This is an instrument for participation in popular struggles
and for encouraging the people to take over themselves. An
anarchist organization is part of the process of popular
self-organization, not its opposite. But, as is said in the
Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists, it needs some
personnel chosen by the membership. They should be elected on
the basis of their politics, not their personalities or their location!
s. I believe it is essential for such a democratic, programmatic body
to be elected to oversee publications, and other literature, as well as
to do a certain minimal amount of coordination and reacting to

All these points are controversial among anarchists. But I have
seen, all too often, the victory of the authoritarians, statists, and
Marxists, over the anarchists and libertarian socialists. We have a
chance to change that awful history, if we are prepared for it.