Where did all the tankies come from?
How anarchists fucked up and by inaction created the tankie resurgence
My sincere answer for why tankies reemerged five years ago is that movements are social hierarchies and newbie teens don’t want to compete for status in existing illegible/inaccessible spaces like anarchism, so they resurrected a dead/empty scene that had trappings of status.
Leftism exploded in social cachet for a variety of reasons, and newly minted leftists needed to slap an identity, a brand, a flag of status and association on themselves.
“Stalin did nothing wrong, USSR looked cool” is a quickie that requires no work or long acculturation.
For all of recorded history tankies were like three old creepy white dudes no one cared about at the back of an IWW meeting. Sometimes they’d trick a kid or two for a couple years.
The reemergence of tankies involved people completely disconnected and unrelated to prior tankies.
When I first started hearing whispers of anyone under 50 actually defending Lenin it was newly minted trans girls in abusive cult collective houses. They weren’t like getting this shit from contact w/ actual leninists, they were inventing a new social milieu from whole cloth.
Sure, there were some points of transmission. A creepy professor schooled in standard creepy tankie entryism gathered some students, got them to take over fb pages, etc. But mostly tankies were just googling “what is communism” and grabbing random shit.
Anyway, this is why today’s online tankiedom is such an uniformed and contradictory grab-bag of bullshit. There’s been some congealing as folks competed to show off what texts (in this previously dead space) they’d read, but mostly it’s just social positioning.
This kind of thing happens EVERY time a movement gets a flood of new recruits. People flood in and want to grab high status immediately, are resentful of those already there, and clash over not wanting to learn or accept preexisting consensus positions they don’t yet hold.
My go-to example of this in Occupy were kids who “not to brag but had been an anarchist now for OVER A MONTH” getting furious and yelling at longstanding anarchists that we were “fake anarchists who don’t know anything!” because we weren’t pacifists.
See also leftypol & the dirtbaggers. Folks get converted on one issue and then recoil about being expected to also learn / change their opinion on a variety of other topics. Respecting pronouns?! Never! You olds are a joke! We’re making a new movement with hookers & blackjack!
Anyway, tankies and their eternal tactics of parasitic duplicitous entryism are particularly effective online with kids who are freshfaced and have no deep AFK contact with radical/activist spaces. They basically ate 99% of meme pages on facebook and every subreddit.
Now did some of these people get hooked up with checks from the PRC or something? Maybe. We’ve seen eg DPRK funding neonazi reading groups. But I think this is minor and is not responsible for the 2015/2016 tankie explosion. Bernie did that.
I mean quite literally it was Bernie. In 2016 an activist group I was in was interviewing people looking to get involved and we found (to my comrades’ shock) a number of fervent bloodthirsty tankies. Looking at their social media they were THREE MONTHS into being tankies.
I mean literally we’re talking about people who had been Bernie Bernie Bernie liberals and then the moment prospects for further standing in that scene fell out with the collapse of his campaign they turned on a dime and got into Stalin did nothing wrong, Castro’s a hero, etc.
These kids had basically never done activism before and knew NOTHING but were fronting as longtime super serious radicals. They were astonished to learn we were all anarchists. They didn’t know anarchists were real or 90% of the actual activist scene.
These kids who had again, three months prior been all about Bernie and had no fucking politics beyond a few Bernie videos they watched, were making posts to their social media praising Stalin exterminating anarchists.
They were DESPERATE for belonging, status, identity, etc. Particularly that which could be gotten from behind a computer screen by joining like a discord or fb group or watching a few youtube videos.
Anarchism was simply inaccessible by comparison.
Most of the anarchist movement had sneered at and avoided the internet (seen as an insecure tool of civilized alienation). Also it was illegible, most of the shit we expect you to learn/accept we don’t even write down. And getting involved? We’re terrible at helping folks join.
Anarchist recruitment for decades had been primarily social / subcultural, with a fringe of super committed altruistic nerds who would persevere.
There was simply no recruitment machinery for randos who wanted to quickly join, learn shit, and gain standing via the internet.
(This is also related to why breadtube types tend to be so open to tankies and/or slip further and further from anarchist mainstream shit and towards tankie shit.)
There’s a secondary thread in all this which is the amount of low-quality anarchists that jumped ship to leftcom trash (because low-investment snotty status hierarchies in fb discussion groups). That’s kinda the path by which older anarchists made their way eventually to MLism.
Academic status hierarchies are also related to why some anarchists went leftcom.
These folks are also our fault because they usually had a very anemic knowledge of or exposure to substantive/contemporary/analytic anarchist theory, so leftcom shit looked better.
Anarchism is inherently more diverse & decentralized and thus illegible to newbs. Anarchism prioritizes individual agency and thus doesn’t do the “sign your contact info onto this sheet and we’ll order you around” recruitment. Also we’re ultimately opposed to status hierarchies.
But ALSO the anarchist movement got up its own ass. We derided the internet and avoided utilizing it effectively. We embraced illegibility as resistance, forgetting that accessibility is critical to undermining hierarchies. And we corrupted into playing internal status games.
Those internal status games meant people sneering at uneducated and very “liberal” newbs, gatekeeping people out just to maintain our eliteness. Not just gatekeeping in the sense of preserving hard won understandings and consensus agreements from erosion.
But my last thought:
Having more folks isn’t necessarily good.
An effective movement does require some filters, eg stopping abusers and opportunistic grifters at the door.
The upside of tankies is they draw away the shallow, status-driven authoritarian trash we never wanted.