Home > Anarchism, Conferences, Socialism/Communism > Notes on the Midwest Libertarian Conference, May 28-31, 1976, Des Moines, Iowa Part 4 of 5

Notes on the Midwest Libertarian Conference, May 28-31, 1976, Des Moines, Iowa Part 4 of 5

Here is a story Liz from Madison submitted to Free For All newspaper. It was rejected for publication because it was supposedly not relevant to enough of the readers. Liz says that a lot of the tone in the story reflects her involvement in an internal struggle within Free For All.  A struggle between anarchist and Marxist factions.

I arrived in Des Moines late Friday with an open mind and a relatively uncritical eye. I was looking forward to being with new and different people who share the belief that there is no government like no government, that any and all authority is inherently limiting to an individuals freedom, and that any attempt to control leads inevitably to authoritarianism. Unfortunately, my naive state did not last for long.

Since the only party worth having is the one after bartime, I was mildly irritated, when handed a mimeographed sheet, to read that the Saturday night parties were to “END NO LATER THAN MIDNIGHT (if not before)”. Anyway, my annoyance subsided when I learned that the bars didn’t close until 2 AM. It was at the bar that I realized something funny was going on. Aside from the info on parties, I received a song sheet, a seven page mimeo of organizational concepts summarized by Sam Dolgoff and finally a proposal from the Des Moines people. I had figured out by now that the Des Moines people were a little hung up on structure, but the proposal itself was the clincher. Mild annoyance turned to mild amusement when I thought how die-hard anarchists would react to a principle asking that “members of the organization hold a dialectical materialist perspective.” I knew the next two days would be interesting when I read that “the organization will develop a defined organizational structure” which includes a “definition of leadership”.

The lights came on all over Des Moines the next morning when I was informed that the people from Des Moines had originally gotten together as a Marxist-Leninist study group that, as someone said, “degenerated into anarchist sympathizers.” Obviously they hadn’t degenerated enough.

We split into groups to discuss the Des Moines proposal. I decided to leave the hardcore attacks of the proposal to others and simply questioned the need to create another organization. The organization is necessary “to build towards an anarchist movement”, replied Sam Dolgoff. Well I was not about to argue with that. Why not? After a while we reconvened to discuss what each of the small groups could or could not agree with in the proposal. The groups were pretty dull until one man stood up and delivered the ideal first negative speech. “It’s basically a Marxist proposal and I would like to ask for its rejection.” (sigh of relief) He then went through the proposal point by point with specific objections that brought a loud round of applause at the end of his delivery.

Unfortunately, tension mounted as not quite everyone had been as impressed with the previous speech as I was. What later turned into a major split among the ranks really got under way when one person from Des Moines, in claiming he was willing to work with anyone willing to work with him, started defending Stalinism. It was a Madisonian who set the record straight when he said, “I am not working with any Stalinist! We have to crush Stalinism!!” People wanted to know why there was so much talk of Marx and forms of communism at an anarchist conference. It was at this point that we broke for lunch.

During lunch the list of potential workshops, caucuses and meetings were posted. They included a Wobbly caucus, a Republican convention protest meeting and a terrorist workshop at midnight (ha ha). Most people either attended the sectarian anarchist caucus or the nonsectarian anarchist and libertarian Marxist caucus. How’s that for a split? Considering that libertarian Marxist is a contradiction in terms and feeling a little queasy having earlier spied a woman with a red star, I decided to try the sectarian anarchist caucus. Nothing much happened. People there wanted to know why at an anarchist conference we needed a separate anarchist caucus.

At 5 we all met again to discuss the new proposal the non-sectarian anarchists had drawn up. Its principles of unity were basically harmless. In fact the proposal was so innocuous that any left organizations could have adopted it. It called for self-management in all spheres of life and action on the local level. Disagreement arose over point five which said, “We are against all forms of domination and place a priority on working against racism, sexism, gay oppression and class society.” Why the objection? First of all, Anarchists see freedom as the very essence of life. Inherent in anarchism is the idea that people must be liberated not only from economic exploitation but from social, intellectual and political oppression as well. Anarchists are against all forms of domination, so why regurgitate the empty cliches of the organized left? Apparently, though, the lefties had the dominant voices and after a good hour of bickering, “priority” was changed to “emphasis”, with the principle otherwise intact.

The arguments continued all afternoon and the atmosphere was tense as most people were on the defensive. Finally one man stood up and shouted, “DON’T CALL ME A MARXIST. IT REALLY PISSES ME OFF WHEN PEOPLE CALL ME A MARXIST!” With this easily agreed to statement, the current tension in the air dropped a good 200 volts.

The conference ended with criticism/self-criticism. It began typically enough, with one woman expressing disappointment at how little “the women” had talked the previous day. As no one could really disagree with that, discussion quickly moved on to probably the most crucial and relevant objection to the conference. A libertarian from Arkansas asked, “Why, if we claim to believe in self-management, can’t we apply that concept to our own conference?” The conference was too rigid and structured. It was a structure which had been involuntarily imposed on the people, which explains why they were objecting. I would not say organizing conferences aren’t productive. They can play a part in fighting the system. I would say though that maybe the movement, right now, is on another level that of talking to other people and attempting to live your life by what you believe. These things are equally as important and progressive as any conference, if not more so.

A new organization won’t make the revolution – people will. And libertarian/anarchist ideas won’t die even if every anarchist organization does. So be optimistic and id everything else fails – try eating spaghetti.

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