Anarchism after Brexit (and before IndyRef 2): on Anarchist Engagements with Constitutionalism

Thursday, July 13, 2017
WMB - Hugh Fraser Seminar Room 2 (University of Glasgow)
Benjamin Franks , School of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow
Anarchism has frequently been distinguished from other members of socialist tradition through its hostility to constitutional activity. Criticisms of state-centred decision-making have been a core feature of anarchism from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin and Emma Goldman to the present day. Anarchist critiques concentrate not only on the deficiencies of representative politics: generation of hierarchies, corruption of benevolent, productive  social practices but also the benefits of anarchism’s diverse, fluid and accessible forms of political decision-making across diverse terrains for local and trans-national social organisation. The critique of electoralism is a highlighted in anarchist abstentionist and anti-election campaigns (for instance from the Anti-Elections Alliance and Angry not Apathetic).

However, there have been minority traditions within anarchism that has engaged in democratic activism. This paper examines the three main positions on anarchist engagements in representative democracy: 1. Horizontal, Structural Reformism; 2. Revolutionary (Anti-) Representation and 3. Guerrilla Activism. In particular it examines these models of anti-state constitutional engagement as to how they apply to direct rather than representative elections. The paper uses the debates around the Scottish Independence referendum (2014) and the referendum on membership of the European Union (2016) as key examples, but also draws on anarchist engagements in referendum campaigns in other EU and continental European countries such as the Irish Republic and Switzerland.

It concentrates on answering the questions as: whether forms of anti-state electoral engagement can successfully avoid the criticisms anarchists make of state-centred democracy? And what are the impacts of electoral participation on formally diverse, anti-hierarchical social organisation?

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