The Tyranny of Words

Strange how words can influence simply by repetition: this of course is the history of religion. But it still has potency even in the problems of building a revolutionary movement. Example: ‘reformist’. De Leon (who by the way invented most left wing swear words of the present day) coined it to describe someone who thought the capitalist system OK but needed its abuses reformed. The word has become so damning that some think one should not support any reform (as distinct from devoting your life to it) for fear of being a ‘reformist’.

Hence in one journal or another of the libertarian Left we find the squatters’ movement dubbed ‘reformist’ – undoubtedly it aims at reform just as trade union activity does and ‘therefore’ (but this is a false premise) it is ‘reformist’ and this is enough to damn it. Even some of the militants who built it accept this implicit criticism by retorting to their critics not that it is direct actionist and therefore basically revolutionary, but by attacking their critics with reproaches such as ‘Ultra-revolutionary’ (in itself another slang absurdity as a word) or ‘sectarian’.

What is wrong with sectarianism? It is the opposites of ‘catholic’ - a movement based on ‘catholic’ principles is authoritarian, because it wishes to include all tendencies but subject them to one discipline and one thought. The Communist Party and the Vatican are typical. But a sectarian lets each tendency ‘gang its ain gait’ [go its own way] and contribute to a general aim. The English Revolution was based on sectarianism. It won its successes under sectarian banners and lost them under catholic ones.

It is purely the C.P. of the twenties that confounded ‘sectarians’ (those socialists who would not merge into the C.P.-led fold) with bigotry. But which were the bigots?

Within a sectarian variety of groups it is useful to keep an identity. What paralyses the embryonic revolutionary movement of today is being separated by words. So-and-so is an ‘anarchist’ merely because he calls himself one, perhaps qualified by a hyphen to show he is not really one (‘individualist-anarchist’). But so-and-so, with whom we have so much more in common, will not be called one because he uses another description. He becomes a ‘socialist’.

Many revolutionaries are using what one can describe as pseudonyms to disguise themselves. Most Western ‘Maoists’ are not Maoists at all. The real ‘Maoists’ follow Mao, and are Stalinists the old type, looking on the C.P. as revisionist. Those using individual action and scorning parties are scarcely Maoists. When they come to realise this, they are called ‘Che Guevarist’. Why, it is almost impossible to say. But how else can they identify themselves?

Sectarian’ [i.e. Albert Meltzer] Black Flag v2 n8 1 Nov. 1971. p15-16