Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Toby Young protests too much over anarchism

In my last anarcho-blogging roundup, I said that I would repost in full anybody who beats me to the punch and tears apart Toby Young's recent attack on anarchism. That challenge answered, I hand you over to Adam Ford...

Toby Young articulates fears of what he calls "the petit bourgeoisie"
Toby Young's recent attack on anarchism probably won't have lost him many friends, but it will have alienated working class people looking for a way to fight a political establishment whose policies are benefiting the author. Scratch the self-deprecating surface, and you get an intellectually bankrupt, arrogant, and yet slightly fearful assertion of his own material interests as "a fully-paid up member of the petit bourgeoisie".

In his article, Young uses various specious arguments to claim that his teenage punk self would have been happy to see the forty-seven year old right wing 'libertarian' argue that "the top rate of tax is too high". Supposedly, this makes him more of an anarchist than the straw man black flag wavers who supported the 30th January public sector strike.

This cloudy thinking is possible when people confuse assertion of self-interest with abstract principles, like anti-statism for example. Of course anarchists almost invariably supported the strikes, because they are almost invariably working class people themselves, and realise the truth in the saying that 'an injury to one is an injury to all'. Indeed, a large percentage work in the public sector.

In one paragraph, Young pretends this is a terrible contradiction. In the next, he acknowledges that there are such things as "collectivist anarchists", who believe that solidarity can create what he cynically describes as "a socialist Jerusalem". But having introduced the s-word, Young then juxtaposes class struggle anarchists with "the Soviet Union and Paul [sic] Pot’s Cambodia". Many readers of this blog will have been drawn to anarchism as a road to that "Jerusalem" precisely because they recognise the tyranny that existed under Lenin, Stalin, and many more 'Communist' dictators. But many of Young's readers will not be aware of these finer points, and so he misleads them, by absurdly conflating collectivist anarchism and the gulag.

But it's far from the first time Young has attacked the radical left. He went for an ad hominem attack in his April Telegraph article Is Penny Red the creation of a brilliant Right-wing satirist? In that piece, he tried to have his cake and eat it by drawing attention to Laurie Penny's relatively privileged upbringing, before admitting that she "can’t be held responsible for the choices her parents’ [sic] made about where to educate her". This much is true, and it doesn't irreparably damage her credibility either - Peter Kropotkin did alright by the international working class despite being born a Russian prince, and such things can happen at times of great social turmoil. But even if Penny (actually from North London) is not the caricature class warrior that Young imagines, that doesn't mean that "the new generation of protesters" is really full of "upper-middle-class Oxford graduates from the home counties".

When working class people do fight to protect their living standards, Young is their enemy - especially when they are teachers angry at the government's promotion of misnamed "free schools" (Young is setting up such a school in West London). When he wrote on the "loony left leaders of the NUT", he drew a false dichotomy between teachers standing up for their own interests, and the interests of children. On what planet are those two things mutually exclusive? Would teachers teach better if they are well paid, or if they were forced to compete against teachers of 'rival' schools? And no Toby, that doesn't mean I'm a supporter of the capitalist state! But I will support those fighting against creeping privatisation, because that always means a deterioration in working class living standards.

Sometimes, right-wingers 'ironically' troll the #solidarity hashtag on Twitter, normally when there is a strike or occupation on. But a quick look at these trolls' bios shows that they are wealthy people - chartered accountants and corporate lawyers - who are scared of a working class fightback. They sense that they live lives of unjustifiable privilege, and fear their luxuries being taken away if the working class organised society in its own interest. They often try to appear less privileged by dressing their bios in self-deprecation, just as @toadmeister - AKA Toby Young - does everywhere he appears online. But come the revolution, Young won't be pitied just because he hasn't got much hair and looks a bit like a toad. Instead, his worth to society will be measured by his words and his deeds.