Criticism of the unprincipled actions of the MonkeyWrench Books collective

The following is a criticism of the unprincipled actions of the MonkeyWrench Books collective (MWB).

From our inception RGA as an organization has enjoyed a positive relationship with MWB, supporting them both as a collective and as a community space. We have maintained a good working relationship with its members in the realm of activism and community work and have always regarded them as comrades. This has been, to our understanding, mutually beneficial, but as Maoists we know that one divides into two—that the law of contradiction is correct; that opposites can unite but unity is secondary to struggle, and that in these struggles unity is always a temporary condition. This statement is issued with the intention of continuing struggle in a public form—to place that struggle before the masses and our supporters, whether they be anarchists or communists, so that they may determine which line is correct and we can establish greater unity within our own ranks as well as greater unity with those in our community.

Over the course of more than a year, RGA has had members offering support to MWB in the form of volunteering to work shifts at their store. We have always helped promote their events as well as accepted invitations to hold our own events there that maintained a revolutionary and anti-capitalist character. More than a year ago, RGA hosted a very successful International Working Women’s Day event there. We have worked alongside our comrades in Serve the People as well as the Revolutionary Alliance of Trans People against Capitalism (RATPAC), who have hosted or helped host events at MWB. RGA has hosted May Day planning meetings as well as a score of other projects at MWB, all of which were inclusive to anyone of any ideological anti-capitalist tendency. Our relationship up to this point has been good and productive and has increased solidarity among the radical left in Austin.

Due to recent developments detailed in this statement, we can no longer enjoy comradely relations between MWB and RGA and can no longer support or endorse MWB or its claim of being a “community space”

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In order to provide a basis for our claims, we offer the following brief summary of the recent goings-on involving MWB as well as their interactions with RGA.

Once at the end of May 2016 and then again in the beginning of June, two reading group sessions conducted as part of RGA’s Cadre School program were held at MWB.

During this whole time and well before, MWB continued to host a bi-weekly reading group of Jacobin—a communist magazine.

Not long after the second RGA reading group session, a member of MWB told an RGA cadre that he (the MWB member) planned to seek to have MWB declare these reading sessions unwelcome in MWB. When a line struggle emerged between them, the RGA cadre was informed that while other ostensibly communist reading groups would be allowed, RGA posed a particular threat due to our successful organizing attempts in the city, and that it was due in part to this success that he opposed us being able to access the space. Upon hearing this, RGA began hosting these reading group sessions in other locations.

Once MWB had a chance to meet and have a thorough discussion of the question, on June 21, we heard back that they had indeed decided that RGA was not welcome to conduct these reading group sessions at MWB.

Additionally, on July 4, at this year’s “Fuck the Fourth” a fundraising event put on by the Austin chapter of RATPAC, two members of MWB showed up without permission and set up a table to promote their propaganda, sell their merchandise, and seek donations.

Finally, in a less than two weeks from now, on July 24, MWB plans to host a discussion of an anti-Maoist book.

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First, we say that MWB is deceitful. Publicly, they announce themselves to be a “social space” where they strive to form “connections across the lines that can separate and segregate us from one another.” Nowhere on their website do they announce that the collective that operates this bookstore is an anarchist collective. Only when asked to offer an explanation for why RGA’s reading groups were unwelcome did they declare that it is indeed an anarchist project.

When one of RGA’s cadres, who had been volunteering at their bookstore, first asked for a rationale for why MWB was considering disallowing RGA from conducting its reading group sessions there, one of MWB’s members told our cadre that “there will be no political party/ group organizing/ events at the store” and again, later, that they did not welcome “political organizing of a specific political body.” In fact, this is not true—Anarchist Black Cross regularly organizes events out of their bookstore. This same member later went on to say that MWB is not any “particular politic.” We do not know how to conclusively interpret the fact that this MWB member was so quick to deny that any specific political organizing happened at MWB despite the fact that this is not true, or to deny that MWB had a particular political ideology despite the fact that they are without question an anarchist project—but we would be remiss not to mention it.

Second, we hold that they are hypocritical and sectarian, and that this is made clear when one contrasts the rationales offered up in the notes of their June 21 meeting with their actual practice.

In those notes, they offered multiple reasons for their decision and wrote, “We intentionally avoided composing a unified statement of opposition because one isn’t possible, given the nature of the [MWB] collective.” We would like to say preemptively that while of course it is their right to operate this way, we insist that it is only fair to hold the collective as a whole, as well as each of its individual members, accountable for each of the rationales being put forward and as well as for any actions taken by its members and volunteers in the name of MWB. We maintain this position because in fact each member of MWB ongoingly re-chooses to remain in a collective with each other member of MWB. If a particular member’s rationale is objectionable or hypocritical, all the other members nonetheless proceed in full awareness that this is who they’re working with. We say that the members and MWB as a whole should not let bureaucracy conceal their accountability for the decisions being made by this project they lend their names and reputations to.

With that said, the following were the reasons they offered for their decision in their June 21, 2016, meeting notes:

“- Ideology: Monkeywrench is a loosely anarchist space, a maoist organization meeting once a week to produce more maoists conflicts with an anarchist project.

– Reputation: some felt like the frequency of the study group increases the chances of people thinking of monkeywrench as a place to go to find out about maoists. If events are once in a while, there’s less of an obvious connection.

– Approach: some didn’t like the perceived lack of open-endedness and recruitment-orientation of the study group.”

Even though they here acknowledge that they are in fact an anarchist project, they are still not being forthright. Months before RGA’s first reading group at MWB and to this day (more than a month after RGA’s second and final reading group session there), they continue to allow a study group for Jacobin magazine to meet in their bookstore. To be clear, the communist ideology of Jacobin is at least as irreconcilable with anarchism as RGA’s communist ideology.

What’s more, to frame the study group sessions RGA was holding as “recruitment-oriented” is either incomprehensible or in bad faith. What is a “recruitment orientation”? Is it possible for a political organization to hold an event that is not recruitment oriented in the broad sense? Does presenting works from a given tendency count as “recruitment orientation”? If so, then MWB’s presence at Fuck the Fourth was “recruitment-oriented.” In this sense, it is also hard for us to imagine what they think the Jacobin study group intends other than to create more communists, just as, in every action they take, MWB assuredly hopes to attract people to their own perspective. If “recruitment orientation” is something more substantive and specific than this, then their claim is baseless and in bad faith—one of MWB’s members attended our reading group and can himself attest that at no point were any calls or pitches made to join RGA or any organization, nor to undertake any actions at all.

Furthermore, we also find it absurd that they claim that they do not want people to think of their bookstore as a place to go to find out about Maoists when in fact they plan on hosting an “informational” event to slander and mischaracterize Maoism in their store on July 24.

What could possibly motivate their double standards? We struggle to find another reason than that want to be treated as non-competitors, while proactively striving to maneuver against other anti-capitalist tendencies that are actively organizing in the city. For an organization that takes objection to perceived ideological rivals organizing in spaces they maintain, they appear to have no qualms about opportunistically arriving to recruit to their own ideology and fundraise for their project in spaces created by their perceived rivals, as they did at a communist organization’s fundraising event on July 4.

We say that they have drawn a line of demarcation and, though they enforce it unevenly when it suits them, they behave as though, when it comes to a perceived rival tendency, only they are allowed to cross over the line, while the reverse is not welcome. We consider this not only to be sectarian but also to foster an elitist, do-nothing mentality. Throughout our relationship with MWB we have always dropped or rescheduled events that contradicted with anything going on at MWB. We have only hosted events or reading groups at times when the store would not be in use, as was the case with this reading group in particular. MWB would rather have an empty space than allow successful community organizers to host reading groups—at a bookstore, no less. Due to the eclectic nature of the material sold at the store, we find it hypocritical to police what we were reading (Lenin) since they are host to all sorts of liberal events. We find it anathema that they would censor what we are allowed to read and have discussion on. Is their eclectic ideology so weak that they fear it cannot stand up to Lenin? Are their own criticisms of Lenin so weak that they must fear making them? We still hold that struggle, especially ideological struggle, is good for the development of comrades, and we fear no criticism or critical approach.

While MWB can invoke “anarchism” when convenient, what they mean is petty-bourgeois liberalism and an aversion to principled struggle. They can agree neither on what anarchism is nor on what the space should exist to promote. In this mess they maintain that their positions on banning us are different from person to person, yet they have reached consensus on our collective, and exercised their power over the space to censor us and in this way have treated friends like enemies. Many of the anarchist arguments against communist-led countries in the past are based around ideological suppression and censorship of anarchist thinking—yet here it is they who act like the state and use their power to isolate comrades over ideological differences while we still say LET A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM, LET A HUNDRED THOUGHTS CONTEND. We do not feel that any thinking should be banned. If it is correct it will triumph and if it is false it should be openly debated and defeated. “Anarchists” behaving like thought police is a trend we have seen in numerous failed anarchist projects, and we are sad to see MWB on that same cynical road to nowhere. If they oppose or fear the words of Lenin, then they should come prove their position is correct, not suppress struggle by exercising property rights over us. While we are ideologically opposed to the metaphysical approach taken by anarchism, we still hold that anarchists and communists should work together and unite anywhere unity is possible. Since anarchists are not reformists, we see them as friends of the revolution and have always treated them as such, so this sectarian abuse of power without allowing for real ideological struggle is an affront to both anarchist and Maoist principles.

Third and finally, we would like to take this opportunity to point out a couple of facts about their offerings. One of the many strands of anarchism they feel comfortable promoting is anarcho-primitivism, or “anti-civilization” anarchism (there is a dedicated section in their zine area). In truth, this strand of anarchism is crypto-fascist, in practice trans-antagonistic and antagonistic to the struggle for an end to disability. While our primary point here is to call attention to their active promotion of this despicable, anti-human ideology, we would also like to observe that it is further evidence of their sectarian attitude, being willing to promote one of the most vile theories that flies under the flag of anarchism while actively organizing against one of the strands of communism, Maoism, that most often sees anarchists converting to it because of the kinship in spirit between the two ideologies. They also promote Vice magazine, a liberal, hipster rag that regularly repeats pro-U.S. imperialist talking points. Do they not find selling materials that promote the agenda of the most deadly and violent imperialist power on earth conflicts with their anarchist project?


At this time it is they who have chosen to try to isolate active revolutionary organizers from their property, and it is they who have begun drawing hard lines of demarcation. This has not prevented struggle—on the contrary, it has transformed the struggle. Due to this we hold firm that we will no longer attend or support events there. We discourage any illusions that MWB is a community space and will respond with initiating a boycott on those grounds. We have removed our volunteers and withdrawn all support. We have no intention of organizing with them as a collective or supporting their space to any extent, socially, politically, or economically. We encourage them to reevaluate the capitalist positions they have taken and to rectify this by offering up a genuine self-criticism. We encourage them to learn who their friends are and who their enemies are before they posture any further as a community space or as anti-capitalists in general, let alone as revolutionaries.

C. Kistler

Also editor of Nouvelle Turquie.