One of the reasons I stopped being an anarchist was because, due to anarchism's often unquestioned utopianism, I was incapable of theorizing a mechanism that could suppress reactionaries. Instead I wanted to believe that a revolution, if it was truly a revolution, would somehow convince those reactionaries who were too cowardly to fight and die for their beliefs in the moment of revolutionary upheaval, would somehow be convinced of the righteousness of the cause. I believed that any attempt to build a state capable of legislating against their behaviour would be authoritarian and that this legislation, amounting to "Stalinist gulags", was also counter-revolutionary.
This is indeed an extreme form of utopianism because it is premised on the idea that there is some root and nebulous human nature that, once we remove the authoritative mechanisms, would flourish and immediately evolve into something entirely socialistic. Humans would become as they really are (as if they are really anything besides social animals, which means "essentially" messy), selfless and compassionate. Hence there would be no need for suppression, an authoritative and vicious hold-over from the days before this beautiful revolution, because we would all recognize the rational basis of freedom and equality.
This utopian mindset has thankfully been demolished. And it continues to be redemolished whenever I encounter reactionary thought that attempts to pass itself off as "rational"––would the people pushing these backwards ideas, who are invested in either keeping things as they are or returning to a period of more vicious oppression and exploitation change their patterns of thinking so easily? Unfortunately there is a reason that the gulag system emerged and it had nothing to do with some idealistic notion of authoritarianism.
So today, whenever I encounter abhorrent reactionaries, I often find myself thinking that gulags make sense in the face of people who are so committed to a chauvinist set of politics that they have convinced themselves that their commitment is in some ways radical. Particularly, in this post, I am speaking of Mens Rights Activists [MRAs] who are to sex and gender what Neo-Nazis are to race: they are male supremacists whose conservative politics aptly parallel white supremacy; just like white supremacists, these male supremacists are under the impression that they are the victim of some grand conspiracy on the part of the oppressed––that is, they are oppressors who believe they are oppressed. And this is why gulags, or the harshest mechanism of reeducation, makes sense when it comes to these kinds of people: they are not going to like a revolution that "oppresses" their presupposed right to dominate.
|A cartoon by Barry Deutsch which was originally posted here.|
About a year ago I assumed that MRAs were an internet phenomenon, a population of basement dwelling masculinist trolls who spent most of their time spamming feminist sites and sending death threats to women who, however vaguely, complained about patriarchy. Like all internet pseudo-intellectuals who believe that that the proof of intellectual prowess is trolling, these vicious masculinists seemed like a cowardly population of boys acting out a toothless fantasy of returning to the "glory days" of some imaginary 1950s USAmerica. Unfortunately, this phenomenon extends beyond the practice of online trolling: Mens Rights organizations have started to open chapters on university campuses, are recruiting other disaffected males who tend to interpret a loss of patriarchal power as "oppression" (apparently, if you can't be the master of your household with the right to treat women as property you are oppressed by a grand feminist conspiracy), are receiving SSHRC grants (so much for some "feminazi" conspiracy), and have begun to master the discourse of identity politics to make their claims sound academically feasible.
Although the Southern Law Poverty Center––a mainstream watch group for hate organizations that, ever since the US Civil Rights movement, has garned a certain level of respect––has classified MRA organizations as male supremacist hate groups, universities are allowing these organizations to open up local chapters and spread their reactionary doctrine. Since your average MRA ideologue, like some Tea Party apparatchik, is skilled in undermining the historical definition of important political concepts and inappropriately/inaccurately applying the terms "fascism" and "nazism" to hir opponents, these organizations are benefiting from the very liberal discourse that they accuse of disempowering men in the first place. Feminists are "fascists", anyone who disagrees that men are somehow oppressed (again, since they cannot be like the proper men of the 1950s and earlier) are branded "nazis", and a language of victimhood is used to veil a movement that is in actuality demanding a return to the most vile forms of patriarchal oppression.
Recently, the comrades in Toronto's Revolutionary Student Movement [RSM] decided to take an active role in confronting the MRA groups on university campuses. One of the reasons they decided it was important to take this role was because the left student movement on campus as a whole was not militantly confronting this chauvinism: there were talks organized by some progressive groups, but counter-events are not precisely confrontation since they can co-exist within a liberal marketplace of ideas. Of course, the substantial reason for this failure to confront MRA university clubs is the fact that these MRA organizations, despite claiming victimhood, are so embedded within the normative power structures that they are quite capable of violently penalizing people who disagree with their agenda: they target individual protestors, they hunt down the employment data of the people they dislike and hound the employer, they mobilize death threats––all of this is pretty significant for a group of people who claim they are disempowered. Hell, the Canadian MRA groups even possess ties to the Conservative Party, which is the ruling federal party in Canada, and so all of this nonsense about being poor oppressed victims of feminist conspiracy is patently absurd.
Hilariously enough, the RSM has now been targeted by the MRA blog, A Voice For Men, demonstrating that they must be doing something right because, as Mao reminds us, it is good to be attacked by the enemy. The anti-RSM article demonstrates the bizarro attempt of oppressors to fit themselves into the popular anti-oppression discourse: it absurdly accuses the RSM of being "nationalist" (an odd claim considering that the RSM rejects the colonial narrative of Canada and has actively supported the self-determination of indigenous peoples), as well as being "militarist" (I didn't see any MRA activists at the demonstrations to drive war-mongers off campus, but the RSM was there), because apparently it is just enough to mobilize these terms, despite being in bed with the Conservative party, to make an argument. Oh, and the RSM has made "no rational argument"––an ironic claim coming from several paragraphs of rhetorical nonsense that is pedagogically useful only insofar as it demonstrates multiple fallacies (strawperson, red herring, poisoning the well, bifurcation, abusive ad hominem, slippery slope) in its attempt to come across as sober and reasonable. The peacenik attitude of complaining about the RSM's violent discourse is also quite cute, especially coming from an organization that desires to reestablish violent male power and has no qualms with encouraging death threats and calling the employers of people who disagree with MRA politics. Hey Voice For Men, here's a pointer for you: if you want to attack the RSM maybe you should do your research, figure out what this organization is actually about, and mock them for being communist––this will probably provide you with more traction amongst those liberal misogynists you are trying to recruit.
It is in contexts such as this that I cannot help thinking about gulags. I mean, faced with the aforelinked article about the RSM, I'm forced to wonder how such an intentionally distorted perspective of reality can ever be corrected. Those people who are so invested in a desire to return to the golden ages of male power––and who translate every movement away from this "golden age" as oppression––are not people who will ever be convinced that substantial equality is in their interests. Can reactionaries be re-educated, are they even capable of rectification if their understanding of reality is infected by a reactionary ideology that seeks to catapult us back to some semi-feudal understanding of gender and sex? What is their fate if another dictatorship of the proletariat comes into being––especially if they are attempting to peddle their ideology to certain sectors of the working class? One would hope that this ideology would pass away during the period of revolutionary struggle, that the people invested in it would die fighting to preserve capitalism (since most of the vocal adherents appear to be middle class men and the occasional woman who has bought into the misogynist familial structure), but it is pretty hard to predict whether or not this would happen.