Activism and Party Culture: Thoughts from Denmark

Guest Post from Edin Šumar, Danish anarcho-communist

Personally I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, because I don’t really feel the need to do so, but I don’t exactly care what other people do. The discussion that is needed is more to do with the sort of “paralysis” that the culture puts the movement in.  It’s become common (and acceptable) here in Denmark for people to be more than an hour late to meetings because they are hungover, and not really participate due to the same reasoning.  Expressing Far-Left sympathies has become synonymous with taking drugs and drinking in excess, which devalues the perception of the ideologies and ideas behind the political work. Furthermore, the political work is itself rather impacted by the apolitical party culture. There is always a danger of things just evolving into a subculture with a party culture priding itself on revolution-chic.

As I said earlier I dont really care about personal recreational activities, but that’s not really the crux of the issue here. What I am referring to is not personal recreational use of alcohol or drugs, but the constant fetishization of alcohol and drugs in Danish radical circles.

I’ll come with two examples, one general and one rather specific.

Social Democracy is a big thing here in Denmark, or at least it was for a long time, as a result 1st of May is basically a secular holiday around here. A majority of people don’t really know what the 1st of May is about, though, and its mostly known as that time of the year where the “Red” parties for one reason or another make some speeches (that nobody really listens to) in a park in Copenhagen while everyone drinks alcohol and smokes marijuana in copious amounts. Last 1st of May there was 2 Left-wing demonstrations not counting the big event in the park (where a lot of Left-wing parties had their banners and blocs), each numbering about 50 participants, far less than there could have been because a majority of the people who identify with the left, and would have been expected to participate, preferred to drink and smoke instead.  This is fine from an individual standpoint I guess, but that’s something you can really do any day of the week or at least in the weekends, not something special for MayDay.

The other more specific example comes down to a planned antifascist demonstration that was to happen a few weeks ago in a response to a fascist one. The planners called for an alcohol-free demonstration, which was THE MOST controversial aspect of this particular demonstration. A thread more than 220 comments long sprung up about how having a demonstration where alcohol was not allowed was akin to being just as bad as the fascists, and quite a few people decided not to go because they could not fathom going to an antifascist demonstration without being either drunk or under the influence of drugs, even if keeping a clear mind was rather important in the specific situation (the main reason for the demonstration was because of threats of violence that we were trying to stop, rather than escalate anything, since it was a place that really did not need more violence).

So, when questioning whether a drug and party culture seriously hurts the Far-Left is yes, I actually do think it does. Even if we look away from the bigger stuff, there is stuff like it becoming socially acceptable and even expected for people to be hours late to a meeting and not really contribute due to being hungover. There is stuff like mentioning you are a Leftist, an anarchist, a revolutionary socialist, an autonomist or whatever automatically gets you labeled primarily for being a consumer of drugs than anything else, stunting real dialogue because you represent an almost sub-cultural trend rather than an actual political philosophy or movement. There is stuff like excluding contributors who do not engage in the same drug culture, and so on.

I understand that the point is not to “drag down Leftist movements” or perhaps even escapism, to most who engage in it, but the point here is not really intent, it’s result. The movement in Denmark is mired in all of this. Sure, people should be allowed to unwind and do whatever the hell they want to do, but demonstrations, meetings, serious political campaigns and whatever else is not the place to do that, it’s just become the place to do that. It’s almost like a sort of apathy and defeatism that runs really deep, like people believe that there is really no sort of point in trying because nothing we can do will be for the better, so they treat all attempts as another venue for a party.”

Philosophically, things like the drug and alcohol culture are a bit like a the stand-in for the opiate that religion also offers, as Bakunin said: “People go to church for the same reasons they go to a tavern: to stupefy themselves, to forget their misery, to imagine themselves, for a few minutes anyway, free and happy.” Basically that this sort of escapism really hurts more than it helps.

Drugs and alcohol are not friends of the working class at all.


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