Monday, 29 November 2010
MILLBANK FIRE; LESSONS FROM THEMILLBANK BATTLE
“Leaflet to be printed and circulated should you like the taste of it. Breaks down into three parts: Cuts are not an issue…(an article about resisting capitalism and not getting stuck on resisting the cuts) / Keeping It Real (advice for those new to doing stuff) and Some Lessons From Millbank (4 practical lessons to be learned and put into effect everywhere). Please circulate through your networks, should you wish. “
Cuts are not an issue…
Although the impact of the cuts have yet to hit us hard, in recent months loads of local anti-cuts campaigns have sprung up to try and work together to resist the austerity the State wants to impose upon us. But it seemed like the fairly spontaneous attack on the Tory HQ at Millbank on the 10th November Demo-lition seemed to really light a fire under people’s anger about the cuts. Everyone was talking about Millbank. It seemed like this moment had ruptured the political silence that had been accompanying the collapse of the economic bubble in 2007.
But when people talk about fighting ‘the cuts’, it sometimes seems like it’s just a new political ‘issue’. But it isn’t. It’s much more essential than that. Issues are things like opposing nuclear power or being against animal testing. But the cuts are not the same thing. They cannot be resisted in the same way. The reason the cuts are being made all across health, housing, education and so on is to maintain the profits that can no longer be made from a busted economic housing bubble and the bonkers levels of individual debt (credit cards, loans mortgages etc). Now the profits to be made are going to come from squeezing the living standards of a large section of the population. The cuts are not being made because the economic system hasn’t worked, they are being made because that’s exactly how the economic system does work. It never stops trying to screw us for more and more of what we have had to fight to maintain over the centuries. The cuts are about how politics works at a systemic level, about our everyday lives and how we live and not just party politics or campaign issues. The Tories make the cuts with relish but if Labour had been elected to power they would be making just the same level of cuts to maintain the same level of profits for the same rich people.
We’re all pretty fucked…
It’s not just cuts in education and upping the fees that’s the problem. The problem is that the cuts in general mean we’re all pretty fucked. Whether you’re a student in a F.E college or University, whether you’re a working single-mum, whether you’re self-employed, whether you’re unemployed, whether you’re working a precarious temp job, whether you working a good job in the public sector. The depth of the cuts means most people are going to become worse-off.
There are differing trains of thought that link the cuts to ‘The Crisis’ or ‘The Deficit’ or ‘The Tories’ but for many there is a much more simple truth – it’s just called ‘Life as normal’. The rich have been getting successively richer in this country and the poor have been getting poorer. If the cuts are setting out to re-float a busted economy of over-inflated debt and speculation by taking more and more from the poorer section of the population, well, it’s just more of the same for most people. Poverty, crap jobs, insecurity, health problems – well, that’s just how we’ve been living anyway. But do you feel like politicians will sort it out for you? Do you feel like if you keep your head down and work hard, you’ll be okay? Do you feel scared? Had enough of that shit yet?
No Escape, Time to Break it
Mass unemployment is coming and the accompanying disciplining of those unwilling to work for shit wages or for free. The promise of a good job and good life after University is an illusion. The system’s guaranteed to be there but the jobs aren’t. Most college leavers and graduates will join the 600 Euro generation alongside their counterparts in France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland or Greece. It’s no wonder that those countries have seen huge levels of militancy and great new tactics of resistance as they have already been suffering the harsh realities of the imposition of austerity. It seemed like a little bit of that European fire was finally burning at Millbank last week when the ante was finally upped. That resistance has to remain at that level – always collective and open, always going beyond the polite and useless limits set up by political parties and unions, always ready to occupy, block, to strike, to walk out, to be adventurous and to be excessive! Anything is else is just more of the same shit. Who needs it?
Block The Economy!
Here follows an Excerpt from a statement read out at the General Assembly of students at the University of Rennes, France, 25 October 2010
“Nowadays, audacious experiments of the 2006 movement exist as the basic modes of militant actions in the struggle against the current government. In Rennes, the department stores are targeted in every demonstration. The Marseilles strikers paralyse the harbour and add to their city the beat of the movement. The train drivers are also on the front line, and the lorry drivers have joined the movement. We know that in order to win, we must be able to counteract the government strategies of waiting for the deterioration of the fightback and techniques of intimidation. This can particularly be seen in the increase in the police violence.
What is needed now is the spreading of the tactic – the economic blockade - to intensify the fightback with a means that is accessible to all and to disrupt them in a far more certain manner than the peaceful demonstrations and rallys which have absolutely no effect. Being ready to move quickly, of being able to gather as quickly as possible in one point to constitute a mass that can not be flushed out, as well as spreading to block the city at ten different places at the same time, this will be our tactic. The question of which are the priority targets for the blockade seems already solved: roads, train stations, department stores, distribution centres. Of interest are any blockades which contribute to the spreading of the situation. Let’s think about tourism which constitutes one of the main profitable economic sectors of the City fancy hotels and restaurants, big cultural shows, luxury stores – the list is endless.”
Millbank has now helpfully polarised the debates but there is something worth remembering from the day – it was a fairly easy victory! The next few years will not see our victories so easily come by but this should not make us forget the joy, collectivity and solidarity of that day. Those who think they can now step in and try to control our anger via negotiation or undermine us through party politicking – we will push them aside because this movement belongs to us all.
STRIKE> OCCUPY> BLOCK THE ECONOMY> TAKE BACK OUR LIVES!!
No Ifs, No Buts, Capitalism Sucks!!
KEEPING IT REAL
Keep safe. Maintain open communication with people you trust. Know your surroundings and your friends. Act together!
Try to rely on argument and intelligence. Slogans are a staple for all sorts of political factions and usually very boring. They alienate many more people than they win over. Be smart, be funny, be approachable. Have a laugh.
Don’t get isolated. You’re surrounded by people who are angry and sad about what’s going on, but they keep quiet most of the time. So talk to people, find out how they feel about the situation – and what they might like to do. There are a thousand reasons for fighting back (and reasons not to, as well.)
Have confidence in your judgement. Don’t be afraid to back out of a situation which you no longer agree with. Things move quickly, can get out of control. Maintaining a critical stance is never a bad thing. A good group is a collection of individuals working together.
Consider the possibility that political activity could be a condition of happiness. Be wary of ways of acting that only feel like a burden – and ways of discussing which feel like placing a burden on others. They don’t often go anywhere pleasant. Although, you fight, it’s important to enjoy yourselves because real life is what we are fighting for…
Some Lessons From Millbank
The lessons of Millbank (and the past) should be obvious – if you’re gonna go for it then mask up or FACE PRISON! It’s that simple!! By masking up, we mean covering your whole face and not just your chin! And stay masked up too because cops and journalists never stop taking photos!! Even if you’re not gonna for it, the more who mask up the better for everyone. We have to encourage people via Internet, leaflets and by word of mouth on demos to MASK UP. How many photos of people going nutso without any face covering have you seen? Spreading a culture of masking up means that we are taking our actions seriously – support one and another!!
A serious lesson is that we have to stop news photographers taking pics or videos of people doing stuff. They are basically putting people’s liberty at risk! They must be told to fuck off, be blocked and moved away from the any actions. If, after being told to move, they refuse they should be physically confronted (in whatever way seems fit). The pics they take could put you in jail! But, it’s just as bad all the people who take also photos and post them on Facebook, blogs etc. doing the cops jobs for them. The cops trawl these sites to try and identify people. Be conscious of your actions! Don’t photograph people doing stuff!
Don’t fixate on a confrontation with the cops if you’re outnumbered. Move onto the next thing! Find your own actions, targets, streets to occupy. The cops have to wait for orders to act. They move slow. We should keep it lively and keep it mobile! If the cops block us one way, then let’s find another way! In this way, we avoid pointless set-pieces and we avoid getting rounded up in police kettles.
SOUND SYSTEM and MUSIC
12 Volt battery Sound System on bikes or pushcarts are amazing ways to move large blocks of people fast! They also make a demo or riot more like a party! They inspire us to come together around the sounds and to keep moving! We need more sound systems on demos!! And we need more drum bands and freestyle MC’s on the megaphones because a riot is like a festival!!
DOWN WITH THE STATE!!
DOWN WITH CAPITALISM!!
We, the individuals and groups listed below, offer our solidarity and support for the action(s) taken earlier this week and the continuing occupations in Bristol and across the country.
The raising of Tuition fees, the cutting of Housing Benefit, Legal Aid and many other Social Benefits will cause hurt to many across the social spectrum. Mainstream Politicians and Media are already attempting to segregate and split an as yet unformalised, genuine coalition of the aggrieved.
One way to counter this attempt at division is if we refuse to criticise or condemn differing tactics, even if we privately disagree with them, and offer support to those arrested, suspended from university, or their jobs due to action taken.
Whilst many of the undersigned have doubts about the role of “The State” in our lives, we don’t seek to monopolise or take over protests to use as our own platform. Rather, we commit to engaging in spaces of protest and dissent as a means to debate and decide our common future(s).
We also call on those trade union members who are unhappy with their leaderships’ inaction on the cuts to engage with and support these protests which are currently the most vocal and visible challenge to the ConDem coalition.
Bristol No Borders
Bristol Anarchist Black Cross
Cave Street Factory (Social Centre)
Bristol Anarchist Federation
(Other Groups are currently considering the statement)
the students, the working people, the unemployed and the lazy ones, girls and boys from Void Network / Athens Greece section we express our solidarity to the occupation of Sussex university and to all people that will participate in this and all other actions until the great demonstrations of 24 November and beyond that….
The news coming from U.K. about the student’s struggle are making us all here in Athens having great hope about the arising of critical mind and the radicalization of a whole generation in all U.K…. Our thoughts and hearts are there with you…
We believe that Now(!) is the best moment for all students to deny their position in the machine, to break the process of reproduction of themselves as slaves to the economic system, to destroy the hegemonism, ignorance, apathy and racistic domination of the scientific, academic and economic elite of this planet, to create the conditions of constant free sharing of global knowledge and free distribution of the productions of it, to bring their emancipatory understandings to the center of the city, at the center of the political agenda of their society, to unite their struggle with all other people in struggle (the older and the younger ones, the immigrants and the family people, the retired ones and the workers, the excluded ones and the homeless ones, the lovers, the travelers, the ravers, the squatters, the freaks and the romantic ones, the employed, the unemployed and the lazy ones, the angry ones and the disappointed ones, the destructive ones and the creative ones).
Now is the time to create a new public discourse that includes all of us, that starts from the anxiety, the fear and the misery of the every-day student life and expands to the anxiety, the fear and the misery of all the ages, all the society.
Capitalism and State Democracy are destruction machines. Our blood and our minds are the powers of this machine. Now all of us, in one way or the other we know that this machine is bringing life on planet earth in extinction.
Our Life is the Death of the machine. Life of the machine is our Death.
Our best moments are these ones when we are together fighting against the machine. In the universities, in the working places, in the city center, in the forests, against the parliament, the royal palaces, the industries, the super markets and the luxury restaurants, in the T.V. stations and infront of police stations, prisons, and courthouses.
Now…you can see us…
We are all together…And, when we fight we are fighting for our lives….
Stay awake in the deep night of the western civilization…We become more and more millions on this planet night after night…and We Are Ready to Fight Back!
VOID NETWORK // ATHENS GREECE
Friday, 5 November 2010
“I consider it terrible that our movement, everywhere, is degenerating into a swamp of petty personal quarrels, accusations, and recriminations. There is too much of this rotten thing going on, particularly in the last couple of years.”
--out of a letter from Alexander Berkman to Senya Fleshin and Mollie Steimer, in 1928. Emma Goldman adds the postscript: “Dear children. I agree entirely with Sasha. I am sick at heart over the poison of insinuations, charges, accusations in our ranks. If that will not stop there is no hope for a revival of our movement.”
Fortunately, most anarchists in the US avoid any ideological orthodoxy and shun sectarian divides. Unfortunately, most of us also seem to avoid serious strategizing. Those who do take this on tend more towards one or another orthodoxy, and reading the pages of the country's anarchist journals an outsider would get the impression that the movement here is indeed sectarian. In fact there are many controversies, and no clear tectonic splits, but one divide that is growing more sharp is the same one that runs through much of Europe, the debate between insurrection and organization. The former overlap with post-Leftist anarchists, the latter are often anarchist-communists. Here in Greece, where I’ve spent the past couple weeks, the divide is very strong between insurrectionary anarchists associated with the Black Bloc, and the heavily organized Antiauthoritarian Movement (AK, in Greek).
In this and most other controversies I see anarchists becoming embroiled in, there seems to be a lingering affinity for certain Western values that are at the heart of the state and capitalism: a worldview based on dichotomies, and a logical structure that is startlingly monotheistic. For example, when there are two different strategies for revolution, many of us do not see this as two paths for different groups of people to walk, taking their own while also trying to understand the path of the Other, but as evidence that somebody must be Wrong (and it is almost certainly the Other).
Those of us who were raised with white privilege were trained to be very bad listeners, and it's a damn shame that we still haven't absorbed the emphasis on pluralism taught by the Magonistas and indigenous anarchists. I would love to blame our current disputes on the internet, because clearly it's so easy to be an asshole to somebody and sabotage any healthy, two-way conversation of differences if you've already abstracted them to words on a glowing screen, but schisms are much older than telecommunications (though no doubt our heavy reliance on the internet makes it more likely that disagreements will turn into counterproductive squabbles).
Call me naive but I think that a large part of the infighting can be chalked up to bad communication and a fundamentally monotheistic worldview more than to the actual substance of the differing strategies. No doubt, the substance is important. There are for example some necessary critiques of how the Left manages rebellion that have been circulated by (I hesitate to use easy labels but for convenience sake I’ll call them:) insurrectionary anarchists, but even if certain people have figured out all the right answers nothing will stop them from going the way of the first anarchist movement if we don’t all learn better ways of communicating, and understanding, our differences.
In Greece, the schism between insurrectionists and the Antiauthoritarian Movement has even led to physical fighting. There are people on both sides who have done fucked up things. The Black Bloc threw some molotovs at police in the middle of a melee, burning some of the protestors. People with AK bullied and beat up anarchists whom they suspected of stealing some computers from the university during an event AK organized, getting them in trouble. In response, some insurrectionists burned down the Antiauthoritarian Movement's offices in Thessaloniki. If we generalize, the stereotypes quickly step in to assure us that the other side is the enemy: "those disorganized insurrectionists are even throwing molotovs at other protestors!" or "those organizationalists are acting like the police of the movement." In each case, we can quickly see a preconstructed image of the lazy, chaotic insurrectionist, or the practically Marxist authoritarian so-called anarchist, and what we're doing is abstracting the actual people involved.
I don't want to suggest that certain or all of these groups don't have serious flaws they need to work on. I don’t even believe both sides are equally to blame. In fact I tend to get into pretty nasty throw-downs myself with people who prefer some bullshit, hippy “I’m okay, you’re okay, everyone’s okay” form of conflict resolution that avoids criticism in favour of an appearance of peace. But in Thessaloniki and Athena I met people from both sides, and most of them were very nice, people whom I would love to have as neighbors after we smashed the state together. Some of them badmouthed the other group, some of them were really trying to make peace, also talking critically to members of their own group who had wronged someone from the other side. On the whole, though, they are a minority, and the divide grows. Posters for a presentation I was giving in Athena got ripped down because the social center hosting me was associated with AK (though the people actually organizing the event and putting me up were not members, and tried to stay in the middle). The squat I stayed at in Thessaloniki was occupied by people aligned with the insurrectionists, and several of them told me not to mix with the AK people in Athena.
I might classify those problems as peculiar to Greece if I had not seen similar divides in Germany and Bulgaria, heard invective from the same kind of infighting in France spill over into the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, and read plenty of these arguments in the anarchist press of the UK and US. Since the US is where I’m from and where I’ll return, I will focus on the schism as it appears there. Because most US anarchists seem to focus on their day to day activities, I think many have not taken sides in this schism, are not even aware of it. So to a certain extent it exists as a theoretical disagreement, without yet the improbable weight of strident personalities thrown into the fray (well, some people from Anarchy magazine or NEFAC might say otherwise), fixing intransigent frontlines by virtue of the fact that an ideology personified is all the more stubborn. So we have a greater opportunity, for now, to deal with the problem theoretically.
As a sort of appendix, I’ve included critiques of four essays from the two sides of the debate, but first I will generalize what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of each. Insurrectionists make a number of vital contributions, perhaps the most important being that the time is now, that the distinction between building alternatives and attacking capitalism is a false one. The critique of leftist bureaucracy as a recuperating force, the state within the movement that constantly brings rebellion back into the fold and preserves capitalism, is also right-on, though often the word “organization” is used instead of bureaucracy, which can confuse things because to many people even an affinity group is also a type of organization. Or it can lead to a certain fundamentalism, as some people do intend to excommunicate all formal organizations, even if they are understood by the participants as a temporary tool and not a “one big union.”
The insurrectionists also nurture a number of weaknesses. Their frequent criticisms of “activism” tend to be superficial and vague, reflecting more an inability to come to terms with their personal failures (or observed failures) in other modes of action, than any improved theoretical understanding, practically guaranteeing that the faults they encountered in activism will be replicated or simply inverted in whatever they end up doing as insurrectionists. (This point will be developed more in the appendix). There is also a certain lack of clarity in insurrectionist suggestions for action. Insurrectionists tend to do a good job in making a point of learning from people who are not anarchists, drawing on recent struggles in Mexico, Argentina, Algeria, and so on. However this also allows them to blur the difference between what is insurrectionary and what is insurrectionist. Much as most of them forswear ideology, by mining historical examples of insurrection to extract and distill a common theory and prescription for action, they earn that “ist” and distinguish what is insurrectionary from what is insurrectionist. They have perceptively grasped that what is insurrectionary in a social struggle is often the most effective, most honest, and most anarchist element of the struggle; but by seeing through an insurrectionist lens they discount or ignore all the other elements of the struggle to which the insurrectionary is tied, even, in many cases, on which it is based. In this instance the “ist” carries with it that monotheistic insistence that any elements reducible to another “ism” must be incorrect. So we are told to open our eyes when the people in Oaxaca burn buses and defend autonomous spaces, but close our eyes when the strikes carried out by the teachers’ union give birth in large part to the insurrection, when the rebels choose to organize themselves formally or above ground for a certain purpose.
Insurrectionists call for action inside or outside social movements, which I agree with. People should fight for themselves, for their own reasons and own lives, even if they have to fight alone. This is, after all, how many social movements exist at the beginning, before they are recognized as social movements. To contradict a criticism I have seen from some more organizationally minded anarchists, it is not at all vanguardist to take action first or even attempt to escalate actions, because fighting for your own reasons or attempting to inspire other people to action by example is quite the opposite of vanguardism. In fact a common sign of a vanguardist is one who objects to other people running ahead of the flock (and consequently ahead of the flock’s vanguard). However this insurrectionist stance is sometimes accompanied by a disparaging view of social movements, as though any movement is inherently authoritarian, inherently bureaucratic, inherently recuperative (in Green Anarchy I even read one fairly silly call for “momentum” instead of movements, though if the author of this piece was doing anything besides redefining “movement” as “the bad sort of movement” and defining everything else as “momentum” it wasn’t very clear, because of that preference for words instead of meanings fashionable among many (anti)political writers). But we should not underestimate the importance of social movements. I recently had the opportunity to spend five months among anarchists in the former Soviet bloc, primarily in Ukraina, Romania, and Bulgaria. Unanimously, the anarchists I met told me that the socialist dictatorships had destroyed and subsequently prevented any social movements, and left a legacy of people who hate and distrust the government (many of them are also dissatisfied with capitalism) but who also have no tradition or inclination to trust and participate in social movements, or even cooperate with their neighbors. The anarchist situation there is far bleaker than it is in the US: the anarchists are alone, isolated, without any clear starting point for action, much less insurrection. One Romanian anarchist said organizing in his home country was like going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and trying to build anarchy. (In Poland and Czechia, the anarchist movement is much stronger, and these are also the countries that developed dissident social movements in the ‘80s. Incidentally the dictatorship in Romania was toppled not by a movement but by an insurrection that was largely stage-managed—these too can be recuperated). In light of this, it seems a glaring absence that insurrectionists tend to avoid actions or analysis focused on building up social movement (if by movement we only mean a large informal network or population, that may include formal organizations, and that constitutes itself as a social force in response to perceived problems, initially acting outside the scope of previously routinized and institutionalized forms of social activity).
Insurrectionist suggestions for action tend to revolve around creating autonomous spaces that support us, allow us to practice communal, anarchist living now, and serve as a base for waging war against the state. This is as good as any other singular anarchist strategy, in fact it’s a good deal better than a few, but also like the other strategies in circulation it has already been defeated by the state. Insurrectionists in the US don’t even need to use that typical American excuse of amnesia; in this case, isolationism is to blame. The largely anarchist squatters’ movement that thrived across Western Europe in the ‘70s and ‘80s (and shadows of which still survive), including the German Autonomen, already attempted—in a very serious way—the same strategy that US insurrectionists are now circulating without any differences serious enough to be considered a revision or lesson from past failures. And they are likely, if they ever get a half of the momentum the Europeans had, which under present circumstances is improbable, to end up exactly the same way: an isolated, drug-addicted wasteland of ghettoized subculture frozen in a self-parodying gesture of defiance (yes, this is a pessimistic view, and one that discounts the several wonderful squats and social centers that are still hanging on, but I think insurrectionists would agree there's no point in looking for the bright side of a movement that has come to accommodate capitalism). It goes something like this: the state and the culture industry isolate them (operating almost like Daoist martial artists, pushing them in the direction they’re already going, only harder than they intended), by many accounts flood in addictive drugs, which come to fill a new need as the stress mounts from the prolonged state of siege brought about by frequent attacks from police; not everyone can live under those conditions, especially older folks and those with children drop out or turn to more escapist, less combative forms. The militants stay within their circle of barricades for so long that in-crowd aesthetics and mentalities entrench, they are, after all, at war with the rest of the world by now. Eventually the rebels lose any real connections with the outside world, and any possibility to spread the struggle. Thus weakened and lacking external solidarity, half the squats are evicted, one by one, and the others become exhausted and give up the fight.
Because of their proximity to that history, a particular group of French anarchists could not just ignore the weaknesses of the strategy. This group, the authors of Appel (Call), the most intelligent and insightful insurrectionist (if I can give it a label it has not claimed for itself) tract I have come across, hit the nail on the head when, advancing a more developed and lively form of this strategy, they pointed out that the squatters’ movement died because it stopped strategizing (and thus stopped growing and changing, stagnated). However, more than one nail is needed to hold the strategy together. Stagnation was the likely outcome of the squatters’ movement due to its very structure, and the consequent structure of state repression. The falling off of strategizing was a probable result of the strategy itself.
And what about the organizationalists? First I should note that this is a rather amorphous group, and few people actually identify themselves as organizationalists. A good part of them are the old or classical anarchists—anarchist-communists whose strategy rests in part on creating a strong federation of anarchists, or syndicalists building anarchist labor unions, or otherwise working in the labor movement. Some in this camp are social anarchists who prefer an involvement in mainstream society to waging anything that resembles war (class or insurrectionary). More than a few are anarchist activists working above ground with some organization around a particular issue, perhaps without a clear long-term strategy, who have been swept in with the others by insurrectionist criticisms. I will focus on the classical anarchists, because they have more clearly articulated strategies (this is not at all to criticize the others, after all no strategy can be better than a simplistic, dogmatic one). Hopefully the criticisms I make there will be informative for all anarchists who consider the use of formal organizations.
On the one hand, the emphasis of these anarchists on building social movements and being accessible to outsiders is well placed. Clearly a major problem of US anarchists is isolation, and organizing in above-ground groups around problems that are apparent to broader populations can help overcome this isolation. It is extremely helpful when there are types of anarchist action people can get involved in that are relatively easy, that don’t require a plunge straight from mainstream life into uncompromising war against the system (to go off on a tangent, insurrectionists often praise the replicability of certain actions, but I wonder how many started off as activism-oriented anarchists and how many were insurrectionists from the beginning. In other words, how replicable is insurrectionist anarchism for most people?)
The communication and coordination that, say, a federation can provide can be helpful in certain instances. In Europe many of the prisoner support organizations that anarchists of all kinds rely on are organized as federations. Organizations can also build and escalate the struggle. For example, the actions of an anarchist labor union can make anarchism accessible to more people, by providing an immediately apprehendable way to get involved, a forum for spreading ideas, and a demonstration of the sincerity and practicality of anarchists winning improvements in the short-term. I would also wager that people who have gotten some practice in a union, and learned first-hand about strikes for example, are more likely to launch a wildcat strike than people who have never been part of a union.
An approach that relies heavily on formal organizations also has a number of weaknesses. Since these weaknesses have appeared and reappeared in no uncertain terms for over a century, it’s a damn shame to have to repeat them, but unfortunately there seems to be the need. Democratic organizations with any form of representation can quickly become bureaucratic and authoritarian. Direct democratic organizations still run the risk of being dominated by political animals (as Bob Black pointed out in more detail in Anarchy After Leftism). And there is something problematic in the first instance a society separates the economic from the political and creates a limited space for decision-making wherein decisions have more authority than those decisions and communications enacted elsewhere in social life. Organizations should be temporary, tied to the need they were formed to address, and they should be overlapping and pluralistic. Otherwise, they develop interests of their own survival and growth that can easily conflict with the needs of people. This organizational self-interest has been used time and time again to control and recuperate radical social movements. It should long ago have become obvious that using formal organizations is risky, something best done with caution. Yet some organizational anarchists even persist in believing that all anarchists should join a single organization. I have never seen an argument for how this could possibly be effective, and the question is irrelevant since it is neither possible nor would it be liberating. Voluntary association is a meaningless principle if you expect everyone to join a particular organization, even if it is perfect. But I’ve still heard a number of anarchist-communists use that obnoxious line, “they’re not real anarchists,” on the basis that these not-anarchists did not want to work with them. The interest of working together in an effective organization, especially if it is singular (as in, The Only Anarchist Group You'll Ever Need to Join!), encourages conformity of ideas among members, which can cause them to waste a great deal of time coming up with the Correct Line and can make them a pain in the ass for other folks to work with. (The 1995 pamphlet “The Role of the Revolutionary Organization” by the Anarchist Communist Federation is very clear that they see theirs as only a single one of many organizations working in the movement, and they renounce the aim of any kind of organizational hegemony; perhaps the problem is the lack of a deep recognition that these many organizations may approach, relate to, or conceive of the movement in entirely different ways).
Hopefully by now it is clear how these two tendencies can cooperate for greater effect. First of all, by abandoning that horrible pretension that just because the Other disagrees with our point of view, they have nothing valid to offer. It follows from this that we recognize different people will prefer to be active in different ways, and in fact different temperaments draw people towards different anarchist tendencies before theory ever comes into it. Some people will never want to go to your boring meetings or organize in their workplace (they won't even want to have a workplace). Some people will never want to set foot in your nasty-assed squat or live in fear that the state will take away their kids because of the lifestyle of the parents (or they won't even want to subject their kids to the stress of a life of constant warfare). And guess what? That’s fine and natural. If. If we can cover each other’s backs. Above ground organizers who build support for the insurrectionists, who stand by those masked terrorists instead of denouncing them, will create a stronger movement. Insurrectionists who carry out the waves of sabotage the organizers are too exposed to call for, who keep in touch with the outside world and also keep the organizers honest and aware of the broader picture, the horizon of possibility, will create a stronger movement. Organizationalists who exclude the insurrectionists help them isolate themselves. Insurrectionists who see the organizers as the enemy help them recuperate the struggle. These are self-fulfilling prophecies. Insurrectionists can be helped by the movement-building and social resources of the organizationalists, who in turn can be helped by the more radical perspective and sometimes stronger tactics, the dreams put into practice, of the insurrectionists.
Because the US anarchist movement often looks to Greece for inspiration, especially the insurrectionists, I find it interesting that the Greek experience seems to show the two approaches to be complementary, even if the organizations involved are bitter enemies. In the States we usually hear about the Greeks when they attack a police station or burn surveillance cameras; basically every week. But we do not hear about the foundation that makes this possible. For starters Greece enjoys a more anarchic culture. Family ties are stronger than state loyalties (Greek anarchists were shocked to learn that a number of prisoners in the US were turned in by relatives), there is widespread distrust of authority, and many people still remember the military dictatorship and understand the potential necessity of fighting with cops. US culture is not nearly so supportive of our efforts, so we need to figure out how to influence the broader culture so it will be more fertile for anarchy.
The state has been doing the opposite for centuries. I couldn't tell how much the anarchists in Greece influenced the surrounding culture and how much they just took advantage of it, but there were many clearly conscious attempts to influence the social situation. A great deal of activism goes into opposing the European Union immigration regime, working with and supporting immigrants, and the squatted social centers play a role in this. Such work also helps make the anarchist movement more diverse. Labor organizing plays a role in Greece, though I learned much less about this while I was there. In Athena the foundation that keeps much of the local anarchist movement alive and kicking is a neighbourhood—Exarchia. This entire quarter, located in the center of the capital, has the feel of a semi-autonomous zone. You can spraypaint on the walls in broad daylight with little risk (wheatpasting is even safer), you see more anarchist propaganda than commercial advertising, and you rarely encounter cops. In fact you’re likely to find nervous squads of riot police standing guard along the neighbourhood's borders (nervous because it’s not uncommon for them to be attacked). The autonomous spaces, the destruction of surveillance cameras, the Molotov attacks on cops are all characteristic of the insurrectionary approach. But also important to the rebellious makeup of Exarchia are the language classes for immigrants organized by social centers, the friendly relationships with neighbors (something the Black Bloc types don’t always excel at cultivating) and even, curiously, some anarchist-owned businesses. In the US, the phrase “anarchist business” would be scoffed at contemptuously, though one would also avoid applying it to anarchist bookstores, which are recognized as legitimate. But in Exarchia (and this was also the case in Berlin and Hamburg) the anarchist movement was bolstered by a number of anarchist-owned establishments, particularly bars. I think the rationale is fairly solid. If some anarchists need to get jobs in the meantime, and this is certainly more the case in the US than in most of Europe, it can be better to own your own bar that you open as a resource to the movement than to work at a Starbucks. Likewise, if anarchists are going to gather at a bar every Friday night (and this could also apply to movie theaters and a number of other things), why not go to one that supports a friend, and supports the movement (as an event space and even a source of donations)? It can also provide experience building collectives, and edge out the local bourgeoisie who would otherwise be a reactionary force in a semi-autonomous neighbourhood. I sure as hell ain’t advocating “buying out the capitalists” as a revolutionary strategy, but in Exarchia and elsewhere anarchist businesses, in this strictly limited sense, have played a role in creating a stronger movement.
Most important, if we want to consider the strength of Greek anarchists, has been the student movement. For a year, university students (along with professors and even many high school students) have been on strike, protesting a neoliberal education reform that would corporatize universities, privatize some of them, and end the official tradition of asylum that forbids police to set foot on Greek campuses. At the most superficial level, this student movement has allowed the anarchists many more opportunities to fight with the police. Getting a little deeper, it is perhaps the social conflict in Greece with the most potential to lead to an insurrectionary situation, similar in some regards to Paris in 1968. A strictly organizational strategy, whether of the typical syndicalist or anarchist-communist varieties, will be too weak, and too tame. Another organization will just be a competitor with the communist parties, and will have a conservative effect on the passions of the students, who show the tendency to blow up and act out quite ahead of the plans and predictions of the organizations, which are the ones getting the heat from the authorities. A strictly insurrectionary approach will isolate the anarchists from the student movement, who will increasingly view them as parasites who only come to fight with the cops. Without the involvement of an anarchist perspective, nothing will stop the political parties from controlling the movement. And anarchists are unlikely to gain much respect in the student movement if they disdain working for the short-term goal of defeating this education law. Putting aside the dogma about reformism, everyone should be able to see the tragic tactical loss anarchists would suffer if the universities had their asylum privilege revoked (right now, people can attack a group of cops and then run back into the university and be safe), and of course a fierce movement using direct action is much more likely to dissuade the government from putting this education reform into effect than a passive movement dominated by party politics.
By fighting the police, taking over the streets, and squatting the universities, anarchists can inspire people, ignite passions, capture the national attention and raise the fear, which everyone immediately smells and is intoxicated by, that things can change. By spreading anarchist ideas, turning the universities into free schools, setting up occupation committees, organizing strikes, and preventing the domination of the student assemblies by the political parties, other anarchists can provide a bridge for more people to be involved, make overtures for solidarity to other sectors of society, and strengthen the movement that has provided a basis for the possibility of change. If these two types of anarchists work together, the insurrectionary ones are less likely to be disowned as outsiders and isolated, thrown to the police, because they have allies in the very middle of the movement. And when the state approaches the organized anarchists in the movement in an attempt to negotiate, they are less likely to give in because they have friends outside the organization holding them accountable and reminding them that power is in the streets.
Similar lessons on the potential compatibility of these two approaches can be drawn from anarchist history in Spain of ’36 or France of ’68. Both of these episodes ultimately showed that insurrection is a higher form of struggle, that waiting for the right moment is reactionary, that bureaucratic organizations such as the CNT or the French students’ union end up collaborating with power and recuperating the movement. But what is easier to miss is that insurrectionary tactics were not the major force in creating the necessary foundation. The CNT and the French students’ union were both instrumental in building the revolution (the former by spreading anarchist ideas, launching strikes and insurrections, building connections of solidarity, preparing workers to take over the economy, and defeating the fascist coup in much of Spain; the latter by disseminating radical critiques (at least by certain branches), organizing the student strike and occupation, and organizing assemblies for collective decision making). The failing was when they did not recognize that their usefulness had passed, that as vital as they were those organizations were not the revolution. (This is not at all to say there should be a preparatory period, during which insurrectionary tactics are premature. Clandestine attacks at any stage can help build a fierce movement. Waiting to attack until the movement is large leaves you with a large, weak movement, with no experience in the tactics that will be necessary to grow or even survive the mounting repression. It might even leave you with a large, pacifist movement, which would just be awful.)
Between living in a squat or living in an apartment and organizing a tenants’ association, there are inevitably going to be people who strongly prefer one or the other, whether or not we bring theory into the picture. This should be a good thing, because both of these actions can help bring about an anarchist world. When anarchists give up our narrow dogmatism and embrace the complexity that exists in any revolutionary process, we will closer.
Because I guess I’m not really happy with a happy ending, I’ll conclude by pointing out some problems that I think are common to both tendencies. I’ve already mentioned the monotheistic mentality that leads to schisms within the movement, but especially in the US this exists on a larger scale as an inability of most anarchists to work in a healthy way with those outside the movement. This has been a failure to figure out what makes other Americans tick, what they are passionate about, what sphere of their lives is illegal, under what circumstances they will rebel, and how to engage them on this. There is no simple answer, and the complex answers will differ between regions, communities, and individuals, but I think most anarchists of all stripes have struck to self-referential and repetitive actions rather than plunging into this tedious work. Granted, people in the US aren’t the easiest population for anarchists to engage; our culture encourages conformity, isolation, and the Protestant work ethic more strongly than most others. But we should take this as a challenge and get on with it.
The inability to work well with others is also the manifestation of another Western value that contradicts anarchism more blatantly than monotheism, and it is the Risk board mentality, that ingrained view of the world from above, with ourselves positioned as the architect or general. It is the understanding that you change society by forcing people to organize themselves in a certain way. The more classical anarchists put themselves at one extreme, thus occasioning many of the criticisms that they are authoritarian or Marxist, by pushing a program or insisting that revolution only occurs when people see the world through the narrow lens of class consciousness. The insurrectionists have caught a whiff of this and they go to the other extreme by forswearing activism and to a large extent avoiding contact with people who are much different from them. That way they don’t have to worry about forcing their views on anyone. It should be apparent that both of these approaches rest on the assumption that contact between people who are different must result in a missionary relationship, with one converting the other. The idea of mutual influence, of organizing as building relationships with people rather than organizing as recruiting people, is generally absent.
In my view, the largest problem shared by both the insurrectionary and organizational camp, and most other anarchists, is whiteness: and even more than the failure of white anarchists to solve the mystifying problem of checking our white privilege, I mean intentionally preserving a movement narrative that tells the stories and contains the values of white people, and refusing to recognize the importance of white supremacy as a system of oppression every bit as important as the state, capitalism, or patriarchy.
Different white anarchists find different ways of minimizing race, depending on their analysis. But a common thread seems to be that perennial colonial belief that for salvation—or hell, just for us to get along, the Other must become like me. On the one hand, this could be the insistence that white supremacy is nothing but a tool and invention of capitalism, perfectly explainable in economic terms, and that for people of color to liberate themselves, they must surrender whatever particular experience and history the world's ever present reaction to their skin color may have given them, and identify primarily as workers, with nothing but fictive barriers standing between them and the white anarchists sitting in their union halls waiting for a little diversity to wander in. The minimization of race can also mask itself behind a misuse of the recognition that race is an invention without physiological justification. I've heard many anarchists take this further to say that race does not exist. I imagine this could come as a slap in the face to a great many of the world's people, it certainly contradicts my own lived experiences, and it is also a supremely idiotic statement. By definition something that does not exist cannot cause results in the real world. I think most anarchists who make this statement would be horrified by someone who denied the existence of racism, but they must be using another kind of denial, that which accompanies abusive relations, to not see this is exactly what they have just done. (Other anarchists take a more dishonest but unassailable route by simple denouncing as “identity politics” any excessive preoccupation with race). Race is a harmful categorization that must be abolished, and like capitalism or the state it cannot be wished away or solved by exclusion from one's analysis any more than AIDS or the scars of a beating can be wished away. The liberal “color blind” mentality to which so many anarchists adhere can only be a way of prolonging white supremacy.
Until white anarchists of all stripes allow—no, encourage—anarchism to adapt to non-white stories, anarchism is likely to remain about as relevant to most people of color as voting is to immigrants. And as long as anarchists continue to view differences in the same way the state and civilization we oppose has taught us to, we will never encompass the breadth of perspective and participation we need to win.
Comments on a couple articles from each side of the schism:
The two insurrectionist essays I'll touch on are "Rogues Against the State" by crudo ( http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/1105 ) from Modesto Anarchist (California), and "Fire at Midnight, Destruction at Dawn: Sabotage and Social War" ( http://www.geocities.com/amurderofcrows1/issue1/fire_at_midnight.htm ) from A Murder of Crows, out of Seattle. Both of these are well written, thoughtful pieces, and neither in itself is terribly sectarian. But they both contain weaknesses, and I think they both could have been more useful if they had not set themselves in opposition to another way of doing things.
"Fire at Midnight" advocates sabotage carried out inside of or outside of social struggles, without spending much time criticizing other methods. However, the article makes it clear that "We must be willing to examine and scrutinize the methods and strategies of the past so that we do not follow in the footsteps of history’s failed attempts at revolution. To this end we will focus on a method that is as powerful as it is easy to put into practice: sabotage." However, it does not really discuss how to build the social struggles they acknowledge are necessary for the total abolition of capitalism, and I think most readers would get the impression that sabotage itself is meant to build up such a struggle. Towards the end the article does criticize more organized forms of resistance, though it chooses its targets carefully, in a way that borders on setting up a strawman argument because the effect is that one must either be part of a vanguard party, an institutionalized group that always counsels waiting, or one must take part in autonomous and anonymous, insurrectionary tactics like sabotage. To the author, nothing in the middle is worth mentioning.
The effectiveness of sabotage is exaggerated. In fact, in most of the examples mentioned in the article, the people using sabotage lose (though it almost seems they are celebrated for maintaining a sort of purity throughout the process). Let’s look at two of the cases where people won. One is the campaign against Shell Oil and its involvement with South African apartheid. The article points out that anonymous acts of sabotage throughout Europe and North America against Shell cost them much more money than the boycott did. This is an important fact that demonstrates the effectiveness of sabotage and the silliness of those people who still claim violence (property destruction) hurts the movement, but not when it is presented as a substitute for the boycott. Generally, I am averse to boycotts because they reinforce our role as consumers, but they go along well with education campaigns about, in this case, the need to oppose Shell Oil. They are easy for everyone to do, and harmless to the movement as long as pacifists don’t try to hold them up as an effective alternative to violence. This article certainly appreciates the easiness and replicability of tactics, when it comes to sabotage. The same should apply to the education/boycott campaign because in many ways this campaign provided a foundation for the wave of sabotage. Of course sabotage is more effective, but destroying Shell Oil’s infrastructure and kidnapping their executives would have been more effective still. That's a moot point, because the movement wasn’t strong enough to do this. Its strength needed to be built up, just as it needed to be built up before a large wave of sabotage could occur. By disdaining this building process, insurrectionists would be destroying their own base. By embracing a building process, anarchists could influence the creation of an education campaign based not on values of liberal citizenship but on anticapitalist rage, surely a more supportive foundation for sabotage and other forceful tactics.
The second example comes from the Mohawk who resisted Canadian government encroachments at Oka in 1990. Sabotage was a strong tactic in this struggle, but far more important was that resistance was carried out by a well organized group united by a common culture (and also willing and able to escalate well beyond sabotage), and many of the external, non-Mohawk groups giving solidarity were also formally organized. Additionally, in such circumstances, the anonymous and spontaneous form of organization favored by insurrectionists really disadvantages the type of communication and accountability that are needed for effective, responsible solidarity actions that don't end up hurting the people you're trying to help. Once again, an exclusively insurrectionary approach would have been less effective and probably self-isolating (especially given the inescapable reality that right now most insurrectionary anarchists—most anarchists—are white, so a strong, exclusively insurrectionist tendency at Oka would have come off as yet another example of white people exploiting the struggles of people of color).
"Rogues Against the State" also comes close to building a strawman in its critique of activism. Again, it’s a bit vague as to who are the targets of the criticism, and in this haze a dichotomy is entrenched between insurrection, which is advocated as the path anarchists should take, and forms of activism that are inevitably reformist and based on getting people to join a specific organization. The essay contains a number of good points—about the problems with building “one monolithic anarchist organization,” that certain technologies such as cellphones and computers require the intensive exploitation of global sacrifice zones so anarchy cannot result from worker control of the present infrastructure—and the section on “Creating Autonomous Spaces” is especially valuable.
But there are also serious flaws. As I pointed out earlier, this strategy does not address the fatal shortcomings that became apparent when it was put into practice in Western Europe. Point 9 contains the important point that anarchists can, do, and should learn from non-anarchist struggles, and that “the masses” do not need to be taught how to act. Yet a number of examples are misleading. In Oaxaca, much of the struggle grew from the strike of the teachers’ union, and was helped along by APPO, the popular assembly (much as this organization may later have had a pacifying effect, organizationalists take note). In the countryside, a large, organized anarchist influence was CIPO-RFM, the association of autonomous anarchist communities, with whom I understand NEFAC (the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists) works. And as for “rent-strikes,” another spontaneous occurrence praised in the article, is the author aware of how many of these come out of tenants groups, organized quite often by activists (inside or outside the buildings)? In other words, the inspiring examples of insurrection do not bear out the strategy of insurrectionism.
But a great part of the essay is a criticism of activism, and here is one of the weakest parts. The author says much of her/his personal experience was with an activist group the principal activity of which was to dole out charity and try to get other people to join the group. Yeah, that sounds pretty shitty. The assumption that everyone engaged in activism, community organizing, whatever the hell you want to call it, is doing the same thing, is equally lacking in depth. Instead of taking their failures as a sign that they were doing a bad job in their chosen activities, crudo instead jumps ship and denounces activism wholesale. “Activism” is never defined, and it's too easy a term to use disparagingly—many articulate, not-so-active anarchists do. But the author gives the example of Copwatch and Food Not Bombs. I've seen examples of these groups that have been effective, examples that have been ineffective, some that have been charity and some that have been empowering. It depends a great deal, not surprisingly, in how you go about it, whether your goals, strategy, and tactics line up, or if you're just mimicking something anarchists habitually do elsewhere. If it's done well and in spite of its weaknesses, activism can teach us how to talk to mainstream people without hiding, or scaring them away with, our anarchist politics, it can help us learn how other people see common problems and thus how we can better communicate a radical critique of these problems, and sometimes even motivate people to get off the couch and respond to their problems with direct action. It can allow us to influence other people's realities, when they see that there are anarchists out there, and therefore the possibility of anarchy, and that by working together and using direct action we can change the situations most people are used to only watching on television. It's a fucking tedious process that rarely brings results quickly, and this has the advantage of teaching us that in the concrete details of people's everyday lives revolution is neither quick nor easy, that simply overcoming this stifling alienation in a single neighbourhood could take years. The built-in disadvantages are that it's too easy to burn out, lose hope, compromise your dreams, or fall into a holding pattern of habitual, uninspired actions to spare oneself the energy it takes to be constantly creative and effective, to keep attacking these walls of alienation by leaving one's comfort zone and talking to strangers. crudo seems to have an unrealistic view of this process, though since s/he mentions years of experience in an activist group, it may just be the failing of a mistakenly simplistic paragraph. But it's amazing that in an otherwise intelligent article, the author would suggest wheatpasting flyers around town calling for a general strike as an alternative to talking with AFL-CIO leaders, as though these are the two logical options, as though either one of them could actually accomplish anything. If it's unrealistic to say that a union will usher in the revolution, what is it to suggest that reading a flyer will get people to launch an insurrection? In both cases, a whole lot more creativity and patience are called for.
Point number 8 also displays an unrealistic understanding of the insurrectionist strategy (along with the obnoxious suggestion, based on who knows what, that anarchists who are activists seek compromise with authority instead of complete social transformation). “To be against activism and for a complete social transformation means that we desire the destruction of hierarchal [sic] society and openly desire it’s [sic] abolition. We seek anti-politics, meaning the rejection of representative forms of struggle and a praxis of insurrectionary attack, or the use of actions which seek to destroy any existence of the state and capital and allows for the self-organization of revolt and life. This does not mean that people shouldn’t use activist approaches from time to time (for instance organizing events to fundraise for political prisoners). But in general we need to find a strategy that exists outside of going from protest to protest and from issue to issue. We are in the middle of a social war, not a disagreement between various sides that can reach a compromise.”
Activism is a vague method, or a set of tactics, things like giving away free food or organizing a fundraiser for prisoners. How does this at all suggest activists must believe in compromise with the government? And how exactly does the author imagine setting up autonomous spaces or fighting the state, if activist approaches like fundraising for prisoners are only a part of the picture “from time to time” (has the author ever been to an autonomous space like those he advocates? In Greece and Spain for example, organizing informational events and doing fundraisers are a large part of what they do). Ultimately, crudo's call for war is meaninglessly abstract, because it lacks the understanding of what, practically, war entails.
Then there is the question of privilege. crudo says “We need to act along side and with the oppressed for we are of them...” This is another mixed bag of nuts. For those of us anarchists who were born with racial, economic, or other privilege, it is vital to recognize that this system is still poisonous for us, we don't want it, and we're not fighting to save other people but for ourselves, in solidarity with others. crudo is clear about this. But there is also a certain sleight of hand occurring in this article, and that is the conflation of all oppressions. For the most part, crudo only mentions class: “As those of the oppressed and excluded we must abolish class society and work. This is our project.” crudo subsequently identifies “we” as “proles”. Near the end of the article, crudo briefly acknowledges problems of gender and race, and concedes that whites and blacks are not “in the exact same boat” but this afterthought really does not contradict the overall mini mization of race contained in the article (in fact the very brief analysis of racism is basically the complaint that race divides the working class, “pitting racial groups against one another”). The author is surprisingly honest about the problem with this perspective, but fails to correct it: “In the “glory days” of anarchism, everyone was only oppressed by class (or at least, that’s mostly what the white men tell us). The negatives of class society was simply that of a physically impoverished existence (poverty, hunger, etc). However, modern life is much more complicated than that. We have become alienated beyond (or on top of) class.” It's telling (hell it's down right disturbing) that crudo acknowledges the white supremacist nature of this analysis, and then carries on with it anyway. We should be grateful, though, because most anarchists who discourage any emphasis on race are more sophisticated at hiding their true motivations.
The result of this is that crudo has to remind readers, and presumably him/herself, that we are oppressed too, and therefore we have license to intervene in the struggles of all other oppressed people. I think the effect on readers will be to encourage a kind of solidarity even worse than we have been guilty of in the past, approaching the movements of people far more oppressed than us (with more at stake and graver consequences for action) with a strong sense of entitlement, seeing their struggles as our opportunities.
As for the organizationalists...
“An Anarchist Communist Strategy for Rural, Southern Appalachia,” http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/1055 by Randy Lowens, written for Anarkismo.net This article seems to come from a sincere desire to increase the effectiveness of the movement against mountaintop removal (MTR) coal-mining in Appalachia. The author points out how eco-anarchists are an important part of this struggle but says they intentionally isolate themselves from other Appalachians, and moreover their strategy, centered around dramatic direct actions taken by people who operate outside of the community groups also opposing MTR, isolates them further. Randy suggests overcoming that isolation by increasing contact with and spreading an anti-capitalist analysis among Appalachians, and joining the organizations formed to oppose MTR, in order to subvert liberal leadership. Many of those are decent ideas, but given the tone of the essay, I have to say I strongly sympathized with a comment, counterproductive as it was, posted below the article that read simply: "Stay the fuck out of the dirty south, ideologues!" The author dusts off a strategy that seems not to have changed in the hundred odd years of its existence—the stated purpose of the essay is to “construct an analogy between the historical strategy of bringing a revolutionary perspective into mass organizations, and doing so in the particulars of the given place and time, Southern Appalachia in the early 21st century.” The tone with which he talks about anarcho-primitivists in one section is reminiscent of a liberal Catholic Church official during the Inquisition. Essentially: despite their heresy, many of them are good people and must be saved. The suggestion that the masses “are in dire need of a revolutionary voice” also sounds missionary.
“Over time it became apparent to me, that our direct action scenarios were not building links with the community at large.” Similar to crudo, Randy Lowens suggests changing strategic tracks entirely, again in a way that doesn't leave one very hopeful about the results. His suggested strategy basically sounds like infiltrating (“penetration” of) the reformist environmentalist and community groups and turning them against the liberal leadership, as though that will build better links with the community. As an indication of that friendly anarchist-communist outlook just destined to win hearts in Appalachia, the author refers to the membership in these organizations as “more attractive terrain” for anarchists. And once again, the locals will be required to adopt the imported analysis and identify their experiences strictly with the class struggle. Remember, I have this image of someone shouting over the bullhorn at the next protest, you are not fighting for your homes, your mountains, or your personal well being: you are fighting for your class! I'm not sure what Randy Lowens means by “fellow workers,” but many of the people in the coal-mining regions of Appalachia are unemployed, many of the most active anti-MTR organizers are grandmothers who rarely or never worked a wage job, and those who jealously hold one of the few jobs actually involved with destroying the mountains and getting the coal can be among the most strident supporters of MTR.
But the greatest weakness of this essay by far is its preference for a vague affiliation with the tried-n-true anarchist-communist strategy over any actual strategizing itself. After the analysis of the situation, the reader finally gets to the section entitled “A Strategy for Rural, Southern Appalachian Anarchists” hoping to find some intelligent or at least provocative suggestions for how to radicalize the anti-MTR movement and better connect with (other) Appalachians, only to find that this section is basically the conclusion of the article, with a one line overview of what Malatesta said a hundred years ago, little else of substance, and no details. Need it be said that strategies are best derived from the specific situation one faces? A problem with anarchist-communism, or insurrectionism for that matter, is that at least in their usage by many people these come with pre-packaged strategies that spare their affiliates from any hard thinking about what might actually work in the conditions one is dealing with.
Notes on the article “Anarchism, Insurrections, and Insurrectionism”
http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=20061228140637965 by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.
This article is a response to, and something of an expansion on Joe Black's “Anarchism, Insurrections, and Insurrectionism” ( http://www.wsm.ie/story/1027 ) posted on the website of the Workers' Solidarity Movement, an anarchist-communist group in Ireland. José praises Joe Black's article, which is a respectful criticism of insurrectionists, but says the latter only deals with the tactics and organizational forms of the insurrectionists and ignores the “basic political differences”. (Accordingly I will also bring up a few points Joe Black makes about organization, since this article seems to accept those points).
After the necessary introductions, the article starts out: “To understand the problem at the root of insurrectionalism’s political conceptions (fundamentally wrong, in my opinion) we have to take into account that they are the offspring of a certain historical moment...” This seems to be a typical anarchist-communist approach, and while obviously history can be elucidating, it can also be obfuscating, and in the course of this article it is primarily the latter. Quite unfairly, the author doesn't deal with actual insurrectionists today, but talks mostly about times in the past when an insurrectionary tendency has reared its ugly head, and he doesn't even do much to convince the reader the insurrectionists of today and yesterday have anything in common besides the name, which in many cases they hardly do. I'd say it's a manipulative argument but I think the author is sincerely wrapped up in the narrow and dogmatic historicism common to the dialectical and reductively materialist. It seems to me that many anarchist-communists compulsively go to the past to understand, or avoid, present situations, and I guess this has to do with their Marxist heritage and their particular subculture, which seems to favor debates and documents long since dead over innovation or theoretical flexibility.
That said, it also doesn't help that the historical analysis of this article, and the facts it pretends to be based on, are flawed (though because of the obscurantism that goes along with treating history like gospel, most people would probably be fooled, and this is another point in favor of the “emotional” insurrectionist “immediatism” that the author criticizes).
The historical rule the author is intent on constructing is that insurrectionism is a peculiar product of historical periods with high levels of repression and low levels of popular struggle. This assertion does not stand up to the facts. The first example given, “propaganda by the deed,” may or may not have arisen out of the repression of the Paris Commune as he says, but it was carried out across Europe and in North and South America throughout the next decades, at times of low or high repression, low or high popular struggle. In the US for example, the Galleanists carried out their bombing campaigns during a period of high repression, but they had started these bombings while the popular struggles were still at a high level. Terrorism in Russia did not follow the 1905 revolution (the author's second example), it was a major part of that revolution, and it was well developed before the repression began, when there was a high level of popular struggle. This insurrectionary activity was part of the struggle, largely carried out by workers. Industrial workers, peasants, poor people, and many Jewish people formed Byeznachalie and Chernoznamets groups that stole from the rich, bombed police stations and bourgeois meeting points, and so on (and nearly all of these were anarchist-communists, opposed primarily by the Kropotkinist anarchist-communists in exile or by the anarcho-syndicalists). José leaves out insurrectionism in Spain in the 1930s, at the very height of the popular struggle and occurring in periods of high and low repression—in Spain most clearly, the insurrectionists proved themselves to be more insightful than the CNT bureaucrats who always advised waiting and negotiation. And he mentions insurrectionism in Greece in the '60s, but ignores its much more important incarnations today, where it is quite at home in the high popular struggle of the student movement, and set against a state repression that cannot be characterized as particularly high.
Gutiérrez provides a good criticism that an increased reliance on insurrectionary tactics can come as a response to isolation. This is very true, but trying to make a historical rule out of it is sophomoric. Another humorous example of reductionism: “the social-democracy consolidated in the moment of low level of struggles after the Paris Commune, renouncing to revolution and putting forward a reform by stages approach as their strategy. For them, the moment of low confrontation was the historical rule –this is the main reason to their opportunism.” Oh, so that's why!
Elsewhere in the article the author strikes another low blow: “Also, the moments of a low level of popular struggle generally happen after high levels of class confrontation, so the militants still have lingering memories of the “barricade days”. These moments are frozen in the minds of the militants and it is often that they try to capture them again by trying hard, by an exercise of will alone, by carrying on actions in order to “awaken the masses”... most of the times, these actions have the opposite result to the one expected and end up, against the will of its perpetrators, serving in the hands of repression.” Saying clandestine actions serve the repression sounds like pacifism and it completely misunderstands the nature of the state, which will manufacture excuses for repression as needed (e.g. the Dog Soldier Teletypes used against AIM). The only thing that justifies repression is other radicals who backstab those using different tactics rather than helping to explain those tactics to the masses with whom they're supposedly in touch. If a population is pacified enough, indoctrinated enough by state propaganda, going on strike or even joining a union can be popularly seen as justification for repression. Anarchists should recognize there is no natural threshold of action beyond which people will automatically see repression as justified.
Gutiérrez also makes a point about insurrectionists doing the work of provocateurs, but this point is overplayed and ultimately pacifying. Provocateurs encourage stupid actions to hurt a movement or allow them to neutralize some key organizers, but they never wait for such excuses (for example they assassinated Black Panther Fred Hampton even though he never took the bait suggested by the infilitrator). And more often, the government encourages passivity, waiting, issuing demands, negotiating, operating in formal, above-ground organizations that are basically like a snatch-squad's goody bag if heavy repression is ever needed (I discuss this at greater length in How Nonviolence Protects the State). But insurrectionists in small affinity groups are better prepared to discuss, evaluate and plan clandestine and aggressive direct actions in an intelligent manner (i.e. one that does not at all serve state interests) than are organizationalists, because the former tend to take better security precautions and their structures are far more intelligently designed when it comes to surviving repression. José Antonio Gutiérrez not only misses the mark, he presents his point in an exceedingly disgusting fashion, that “irresponsible or untimely action of sincere comrades” is more dangerous than the conniving of government provocateurs. This divisive, heavy-handed denunciation is tantamount to the backstabbing obstructionism vanguardist groups always bring to bear on those who act without their permission (for example, the Trotskyists who always said the actions of the Red Brigades, or the Angry Brigade, were the work of fascist/state provocateurs, or the similar people who said the same thing about the recent rocket attack on the US Embassy in Greece). It's even worse that the article provides no examples of such “irresponsible” action. By being vague, the author covers himself from criticisms of “blanket” denunciations like the same kind he faults insurrectionists for using, but the result of his caution is to feed into an abstracted, stereotypical image of irresponsible insurrectionists that is neither respectful, productive, nor, it would seem, with much factual basis.
José dismisses the potentially useful criticism coming from insurrectionists, saying instead that insurrectionism is useful because it mirrors all the weaknesses in the anarchist movement, so it's like a clear illness to be cured. Little if any insurrectionist criticism is dealt with fairly (instead of quoting insurrectionist criticisms, the author tends to rely on generalized notions of such criticisms).
Here's a related example: “Another huge problem in discussion among anarchists is the use of blanket concepts, as demonstrated by comrade Black, that in fact help more to obscure than to clarify debate. For instance, it is too often that “unions” are criticised as if all of them were exactly the same thing... ignoring the world of difference between, let’s say, the IWW, the maquilas unions or the AFL-CIO in the US. To group them all under the same category not only doesn’t help the debate, but it is also a gross mistake that reveals an appalling political and conceptual weakness.”
Well, it's interesting to note that in the “Aims and Principles” of the Anarchist-Communist Federation (1995 edition), point number seven begins “Unions by their very nature cannot be the vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of society” and later clarifies that “even syndicalist unions” are also subject to this “fundamental” nature.
Elsewhere, Gutiérrez says “the very criticism made by insurrectionalists can work as a godsend for State to justify repression.” The example the author uses is of a Mexican anarchist group that apparently criticized APPO and CIPO-RFM in Oaxaca, during the state repression. The suggestion that insurrectionist criticism helps the state is heavy-handed and, no matter what the author may say or intend, fosters an air of silence and, ultimately, exactly the kind of authoritarianism insurrectionists have validly warned against. I have not read the criticism put out by the Informal Anarchist Coordination of Mexico that is referred to, and I don't know if it is respectful and accurate or not (though I have read a few other criticisms of APPO developing a reformist, conciliatory character towards the end), but the argument that it was untimely creates an attitude against criticism when criticism is needed most. I suppose in the autumn of 1936 in Catalonia, to beat a dead horse, criticism was also untimely, but that was when the CNT-FAI really needed to be set straight, the point of high pressure when mass organizations and representative organizations are most likely to sell out.
He makes a sometimes fair point that insurrectionists are constructing an ideology around a preference for a single tactic (though if the author has read any of the better insurrectionary writings he must not have understood (perhaps they didn't mention class enough) that they were very insightfully creating ideologies or theories out of analysis and contact with reality far more than I think any anarchist-communist has done since before World War II). But the author says insurrectionists are ineffective because they are functionally incapable of evaluating tactics due to their informal organization. The suggestion that you need a “programme” “to measure the effectiveness of the actions” comes out of left field without any justification (similar to the assumption that you need to identify with your class in order to understand your oppression), and I'm left with the image of a particularly dogmatic third-grader who insists all solemn-eyed that without your multiplication table in hand it is impossible to know what two times seven equals.
I've saved his best point for last: “Revolutionaries, above all, have to learn the art of perseverance. Impatience is not a good adviser as taught by revolutionary experience. This does not mean to wait, but to know how to choose the type of actions to perpetrate in certain moments.” As boring and wooden as organizationalists may sometimes be, I think many insurrectionists overplay the liberatory potential of fun. Granted, you can't really describe how liberating play can be if you write in as boring a way as, for example, I do, weighing the pros and cons and blabbering away for, Christ, sixteen pages already?? I don't have a problem with “Armed Joy,” to name one, but if this is the only thing you read your strategy and expectations of revolution will be sorely handicapped. I agree with the insurrectionist caution against sacrifice insofar as the Chairman Mao figures typically advocating it have all been frauds in the past, but as much as we can empower ourselves here and now we really can't totally determine the character of the revolution, and the state sure as hell has the power to make sure it won't be fun. A preference for fun too easily becomes a preference for comfort, and revolution is not comfortable. It occurs to me that an exclusive emphasis on attack, on action now, and the impatience that sometimes goes with that, leads to revolutionaries who cannot swallow the consequences of their actions. As an example I would name the ELF, and how quickly most of them rolled over and began to cooperate with the state once they were caught.
There are a few points from Joe Black's original article that also need addressing, and most relevant is his defense of formal organization. “Far from developing hierarchy, our constitutions not only forbid formal hierarchy but contain provisions designed to prevent the development of informal hierarchy as well. For instance considerable informal power can fall to someone who is the only one who can do a particular task and who manages to hold onto this role for many years. So the WSM constitution says no member can hold any particular position for more than three years. After that time they have to step down.” However, constitutions are not power. The paradox is that what's written on paper actually means nothing to the functioning of bureaucratic organizations, and if some people haven't digested that fact yet it's about as safe for them to work in a large, formal organization as it is to put a seeing-impaired two-year-old behind the wheel of a five-ton tractor. The CNT joined the government in Spain in 1936 in a procedure that violated its constitution, to refer again to that sacred font of historical anarchist examples. Structure is only part of the equation, and power-sharing structures can easily be subverted if the group culture is not also fervently anti-hierarchical. A criticism by insurrectionists which is valid in at least some instances is that organizations with formal constitutions and elected, specialized positions tend towards a rigidity and stagnation that invites the development of hierarchy. I personally don't think such groups should be off limits. It's clear that both suggested forms of organization have their weaknesses, and informal organizations are certainly vulnerable to informal hierarchies, but I think Joe Black has missed the substance of the criticism that, when apprehended, could hold the weaknesses of formal organizations in check.
I also want to point out the falsehood in the following: “Anarchist communism was clarified in 1926 by a group of revolutionary exiles analysing why their efforts to date had failed. This resulted in the publication of the document known in English as the 'Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists' which we have analysed at length elsewhere.” This is misleading—most anarchist-communists opposed the Platform. I honestly don't have an absolute problem with folks who want a platform to clarify their efforts and basic beliefs, although I don't think I could ever limit myself to a few points on paper, but this suppression of disagreement evident in Joe Black's historical cherry picking certainly mirrors the conformity that will accompany a platform unless its authors are careful, conscious, and well meaning.
Since it looks like that time to slop together some kind of conclusion, I'll say that I suppose I don't believe the structures or forms of voluntary organization we adopt act deterministically to control our outcomes (though they have a strong influence, as all tools do, on the wielder) but all the structures and strategies developed by anarchists so far have serious weaknesses, and these flaws will be fatal unless we are more honest, flexible, receptive to criticism, and energetic than we have been to date.
Of Martial Traditions
Even those of us in apparently open and peaceful countries are deeply involved in a war. It is a social and a political war. It is a war of ideology versus freedom of thought. It is a war of industrialism against healthy environments. It is a war between the included and the excluded.
The vast majority of the world’s population consists of defeated peoples in this war. And in fact, we are more than just defeated. We are kept. Kept in fear, kept in awe, kept out of touch with each other and the earth that gives us life. It has been said that our chains are long and our cages big, yet this still implies that we are prisoners. Coercion is everywhere, including the necessity to sell our labor for a wage, forced obedience to laws, conscription in imperial armies and compulsory moralities and schooling.
The occupying physical forces are essentially the police and the army. Over the centuries we’ve internalized much of the values and ideas of the conquerors. Most of us have now been assimilated into the ways of the obedient and the domesticated. But I’d like to explore our physical occupation, not the various skins that we must shed and the fears we must lose. If people want to claim space then they have to be prepared to fight and defend it. This space could be permanent (a liberated region or village) or temporary (squats, wilderness camps, legally and illegally built shelters or autonomous neighborhoods). It could be based in village or regional secessionist movements, access to land by popular movements or indigenous assertion over traditional territories.
Those of you familiar with the events in Kahnesatake for instance, a Mohawk reserve outside of Montreal, in which the cops were physically chased out of town a while ago, are aware of how successful an organized martial action can be. Canadian anarchists and other insubordinates have an incredible amount of insight and inspiration to glean from that event. People can claim space if they get organized and aren’t afraid to lose a few teeth.
With this in mind, perhaps a look at history generally will help us discover how others in this predicament have successfully organized themselves martially, because there are countless examples of rebels organizing themselves along martial lines and winning.
Official history is written by the conquerors. Their self-congratulatory folklore is that we (rebels) have always lost because the conquerors were superior (and thus had superior weapons). Most of us assume that this is true, so we might as well not even try a martial approach, because we’re sure to lose. But this isn’t the case. In North American history for instance, the dishonest image of the technologically advanced Europeans overrunning primitive savages needs to be re-examined. All over this continent the indigenous peoples rose up and used martial skills to repel the invasions. In most instances, at least initially, they had some success.
Let’s look at an example from one of the very first invasions. In 1521, in what is now called Florida, the Calusa and Timucua defeated experienced conquistadors under Ponce de Leon and Hernandez de Cordoba. In fact, both of these conquerors died of wounds inflicted by the Calusa! For half a century the indigenous tribes repelled the Spanish in that region. The invasion by de Leon and de Cordoba was in fact the fourth invasion by Spaniards repelled successfully by local tribes-people.
Throughout the successive invasions, there were countless examples of success. Furthermore, Europeans would not have ultimately won without adopting some native technology and skills while throughout the centuries the indigenous peoples also adapted European technology and tactics. For instance, in his excellent book, Warpaths, author Ian Steele explains that: “ Spanish crossbows had failed to compete with Amerindian longbows that were six to seven feet long, thick as a man’s arm, and very accurate at two hundred yards. Although Spanish armor had been effective against most arrows encountered on three continents, these … arrows penetrated six inches of wood and even Spanish breast-and back plates.” In many instances the indigenous successfully defended their territory for decades, some even succeeded for generations.
It seems clear to me at least that any successful resistance needs to be organized in a broad way, it needs to be organically self-organized based on entire communities. We should be aiming for a period of regional and village-like secessionist movements. Centralized authority can not control a veritable multitude of rebellious regions, villages, reserves and neighborhoods, each with its own focus, its specific expression of anti-authoritarian self-organization. Also, by collaborating with or at least acknowledging indigenous actions for autonomy and territory, we can be part of something much larger, something quite close generally to what many insurgent communitarians, radical ecologists, anarchists and other rebels are aiming for.
As mentioned earlier, we still have to shake off the chains that we ourselves willingly carry, like crucifixes, because we are believers. Part of breaking out involves shedding all those ideological skins grafted onto us through schooling, the mass media, living in nuclear families, etc. But my involvement with rebels over the past 20 years tells me that we already know that this is important. What we don’t seem to inventory is the means available to us to counter our physical occupation. We know that it is only by ridding ourselves of organized coercive authority that we will truly begin to have real opportunities to profoundly transform ourselves. Can a local area succeed against this coercion and against the imperialism of the market? If so, what are some of the first steps?
Part of being an insurgent today could involve acquiring martial skills. Martial traditions include everything from fighting techniques, military theory, group cohesion and earth knowledge to skill with a weapon. Weapons include rifles, shotguns, handguns, sling shots, knives and various bows and arrows, among others. These could be used for acquiring food as well as for self-defense or to chase away adversaries. This isn’t a call to “armed struggle” but for inclusion of a neglected aspect of a holistic approach to rebellion. Most simple weapons are also useful tools and we should make use of them in that context, for instance by learning hunting skills, then bringing home some wild meat to share with friends so we can stop relying on dumpsters and food banks and jobs. The bonus is that our possession and familiarity with them could be extremely useful in a crisis situation or during a popular revolt.
The war rages on. The prisons are full. The factories and mines are full. A small class of people calls all the shots. A wave of extinction is denuding the planet, a tsunami caused by a system that is imposed from above. Entire populations are on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pills. We need to regroup and strategize. Encouraging individuals and groups of rebellious people to get some training in survival and martial skills seems like common sense at this time. These various individuals and groups would help create a new anti-authoritarian culture that includes a widespread acceptance of a martial component. Rhetoric and politeness have ruled us for too long. A more martial approach should be given an opportunity to contribute significantly to attempts at creating imaginative, healthy cultures.
The support for martial skills could translate into anti-authoritarian “ warrior societies” or “militias”, semi-formal groupings that exist over time, or it might manifest itself spontaneously and informally when the need arises. Either way, the intention is that there are groups of individuals able and perhaps willing to help their neighbors, comrades and friends claim space to express anger, resist the plundering of their habitat and help various grassroots initiatives to fight back through the practice of martial approaches. They would likely practice survival and martial skills. When a squat is about to be evicted or a wilderness camp burned by authorities, they might show up to give moral and physical support with their training and ability to act strongly as a group. Whether groups form or not, by being inclusive and encouraging as many friends, neighbors and comrades as possible to explore martial ways, an exciting new culture will be given the opportunity to emerge.
Canadian rebels can take advantage of the relative freedom and openness of our society and get these skills and tools before the chains shorten and the cages shrink. The reaction to the September 11th events in the USA proved just how quickly an open society will bring in draconian laws to protect the elite, the system they depend on and the values that allow such a system to exist in the first place.
We are all occupied peoples. The occupation is partly maintained militarily and our response should therefore be, in part at least, a military one. But I don’t want a warrior ethic to be the central aspect of my community. I want the wisdom of the elders, the spontaneity, playfulness and brutal honesty of the children, the careful chiding and questioning of the fools and pacifists to also be essential aspects of my resistance, otherwise we’ll end up with martial societies rather than societies with martial skills, or worse, warrior aristocracies. I’m not suggesting a separate warrior class, but an anti-authoritarian culture that values martial skills and tactics. Community wide training in self-defense, widespread use and knowledge of weaponry, popular study of conflict and confrontation, general encouragement of fighting back and standing up, etc. would all be central. I’m encouraging a grassroots acceptance of martial skills and approaches.
The warriors we want to encourage are partly motivated by a concern and caring for others in their community. They aren’t based in small sanctimonious cliques. However, they care about others because they care about themselves, about life generally, about freedom. Our fighter exists to claim space for herself and others. In this newly freed up space genuine living can have an opportunity to express itself.
Part of preparing ourselves for secession and revolt includes the study of military history, the principles and ways of warfare, mostly because our adversaries are well schooled in it, but also because these offer insights and principles valuable to anti-authoritarian rebels as well. Many of us are familiar with some of the classics: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, Che Gueverra’s writings, Mao’s musings and analysis and the works of Clausewitz for instance. But these are only some of the works, many from an authoritarian or vanguardist perspective, and clearly inadequate for an emerging martial culture wanting to resist or to claim and defend space.
We could also look at the history of anarchists, like the Makhnovchina or the Durruti Column, for instance, at how they got started, how they were organized as well as at some of their specific battles and how these were won or lost. We can learn from the mistakes of countless past attempts. Anti-authoritarian rebels don’t have an elitist leadership and aren’t centrally organized. Federations of independent camps could be encouraged, but these alliances should be fragile agreements. Ultimately it is in not becoming too formally linked that we will succeed in permanently breaking the existence of political monopolies and large-scale infrastructures that tend toward congealing into authoritarian organizations. The notion here is to be a small part in helping create a world of free individuals, of healthy ecological environments where self-organized groups of free humans can live.
This new focus of rebellious people on military history and strategy would obviously be well complimented by also including the struggles of indigenous and other insurgent groups. In this respect we could also look at the Metis rebellion around the Red River Valley and the Society of the Masterless Men in Newfoundland, for instance. Of course we’d benefit as well from a study of the battles of war leaders like Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, Chief Joseph, Pontiac and Geronimo, as well as events like John Brown’s attempted seizure of the armory at Harper’s Ferry and countless other examples.
A study of the military attempts of anti-authoritarian and indigenous rebels that focuses on specific battles and the strategies that either won or lost them the fight, can lead to many useful insights of the art of revolt. A look at the struggle of the Potawatomi for instance, a people who lived according to open and free principles, to survive while caught up in the conflicts between the French and English colonial powers, reveals secrets of successful warfare. Here is just one example. In the spring of 1755, Major General Braddock assembled a large army under the British flag. He was leading colonial militia and regular troops from Virginia to destroy French forts on the Ohio River. His guide and adviser was a young colonel, George Washington. Here’s a description of what transpired from James Clifton’s book The Potawatomi:
On June 8 the British were approaching Fort Duquesne in western Pennsylvania, site of present day Pittsburgh. Seeing that the British were camped and on the alert, the Potawatomi war leaders persuaded the French not to attack. Instead, they planned to attack the British troops the next day while they were on the move, stretched out in mile-long files along a narrow, forest-shrouded trail. Their surprise attack was a complete success. Colonel Washington tried to…counterattack in Indian style…but was defeated. They suffered nearly 1000 dead and wounded out of 1500 on the trail that morning. They abandoned most of their equipment and supplies… Braddock was mortally wounded. Washington barely escaped with his life. He learned a life-saving military lesson from this disaster, one that he would regularly give as advice to his own generals when sending them against British and Indian forces: “Beware of surprise!”
In military theory, surprise is one of the most potent weapons available. We should keep in mind that a study of historical combat shows that surprise increases the combat power of fighting forces. It is the greatest of all combat multipliers. Surprise, combat effectiveness, defensive postures, these are all multipliers that can help. Shouldn’t this knowledge be generally available and understood among anti-authoritarians?
The following are just a few examples of using martial tactics to succeed in present day struggles.
Opening new fronts as solidarity with other rebels engaged in a confrontation or action. Encouraging defection within enemy ranks. Avoiding capture. Blockades. Unarresting a comrade. The ambush. Spying. Interrupting the enemies’ means of communication. The surprise. Raids on enemy stores of food and weapons. The siege. Physical battles that expand territory. Freeing captives from enemy prisons. Destruction of enemy arsenals. Destruction of enemy wealth. Regrouping. Hiding. Secret codes and other means of communication. Bolder actions. Creating clandestine camps in which to hide friendly fugitives. Insurgencies. Fleeing to areas outside the enemies’ control. Increased ability to fight as groups. Like all strategies involving territory and occupation, the defeated have myriad choices in terms of how they live out their lives. But the choices are more limited if we agree on what our aims are, on what would constitute success, on what constitutes living. Were the Warsaw Ghetto inhabitants who rose up against their Nazi tormentors ethically reprehensible for killing? Should they have continued to accept daily humiliation, suffering, violence and death? Yet at the time, there were those among them who argued against the uprising on various grounds, including moral ones. Oftentimes it isn’t a question of who was more successful, but agreeing on what success is. In the case of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, those who participated in the uprising felt it was more successful to stand up to their oppressors and die with dignity, than to continue to live in Nazi hell. For others success was measured simply by staying alive at all costs, even if that meant being a traitor or accepting defeat. For others still, success was measured by being morally superior, by never adopting the means and ways of the enemy, even if that meant suffering or death. All rebels who want to overthrow the present social order in favor of a more just and imaginative one, need to ask themselves what success means for them. I believe it means standing up to the bullies who run things. It means asserting some territoriality within which we can learn to live in harmony with each other and the world around us. To achieve this we need to listen to the hot headed, impatient and courageous warriors as much as we do to the cautious, negotiating and compromising survivors.
We are all damaged people who need to heal and not just fight. We partly do this with others with whom we share affinities and openness for intimacy. We also need to analyze civilization (or domination generally) and share our insights through debates, pamphlets, publications and discussion. And we need to help create communities and/or cultures of resistance by contributing to the various projects that fellow rebels are involved in. Yet personal healing, propaganda and putting our energy into community projects, no matter how worthy, still don’t acknowledge the military occupation we are presently living under. Even attempts at “re-wilding” are vain if we don’t push for a generalized, effective, long-term momentum against militarily protected centralized authority.
History is not only the story of imperial civilizations targeting and conquering others, it is also a chronicle of the resistance to that conquest. I have allies and kin that extend back millennia. They have won countless battles. There has been successful resistance in every area and every era. In order to honor our ancestors,and I use this term broadly in the sense of ancestors by blood or worldview, we need to give them thanks and keep up the fight. In military theory, it is said that for the conqueror to really succeed the losing population must accept defeat, otherwise the conquerors only win after every single person has been killed, which isn’t normally in the conquerors interest, because they need slaves and soldiers, etc. A very large part of our population unfortunately has accepted defeat. So I want to repeat that sharing our unique world-views and critiques and creating community are as essential as acquiring martial skills. A martial component is simply one part of a holistic approach. But we also must remember that a small band of rebels can accomplish a lot, even succeeding in leading relatively free lives away from capitalist civilization.
In Ireland, in the early nineteen hundreds, small local militias with not even enough rifles to go around succeeded in thwarting the designs of one of the most powerful empires on the planet for decades. They were successful partly because they used many martial skills, from spying to engagement in actual battles but also because they had widespread support. The fighters could melt back into the population. Disadvantaged fighters need widespread support to win. With this in mind, it’s essential that rebels stay put in one region and make strong bonds with the land and the inhabitants there. Perhaps, over time, the embers of authentic communities with martial skills will begin to glow and maybe these seemingly isolated embers will one day gather themselves into small local fires. And hopefully, you’ll be a rebel around one of those fires.
The Art of Rebellion
I hope that I can stimulate some interest not in the outrage and tragedy that is conventional war, although knowledge of such could be useful, but primarily in the art of revolt. The principles of the art of rebellion might apply in regional secession, guerilla warfare or insurgency. They might apply among a group of friends doing their best to confront the imperialism of the market within their potential territory or their neighborhood. They might allow a stunted, humiliated individual to find dignity and achieve small successes along her life path, rather than resignation.
While conflict, even armed conflict, is as natural as a rainy day in the Pacific Northwest, war, or large-scale invasions in the interest of an elite or ideology, that is, violent brutality as a continuation of politics seems to only begin with urban civilization. I have read a great deal about the exploits of Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon and so on. There is much to learn from them, but little to be inspired by. Theirs is the story of wretched masses impoverished by the scale and insanity of the conflicts in their lands, of obedient soldiers dutifully following the orders of their superiors. It is the story of plunder and rape and pillage, of senseless slaughter and bloodshed. War has little to do with real courage and more to do with a superficial heroism based primarily in self-preservation, although one does find examples of extraordinary bravery and solidarity, a humanity that asserts itself in the midst of the inhumane. Calls to class war, from my point of view, represent an ignorance of the realities of war or an example of a general lack of vocabulary among radicals who want to overthrow the present order. These calls are a shallow romanticism, often the privilege of those who live in peace. I am interested in the re-awakening and celebration of the warrior spirit. The call is not for war, but an end to war through revolution. Tecumseh, Pontiac, Zapata, Makhno, Gabriel Dumont, Crazy Horse, Durruti, the uncontrollables everywhere, these are my “heroes”. Perhaps these examples are too militaristic. I’m sure you have friends, neighbors or acquaintances who have the fighting spirit, who stand up to the bullies around them, who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, who give support to rebellious practices, be they attitudes or actions. This is the warrior spirit that should be acknowledged and encouraged, especially when it coincides with anarchic desires.
Martial skills are useful for everyone, including those who simply want to irritate, to vandalize, to commit small low level attacks designed to make public their hatred of the institutions and managers of this culture. And a clandestine group of friends that creates beauty by destructive means or that spreads subversion using playful methods, can also benefit from and help inform the martial approaches I am advocating.
Thoughts of revenge
Many rebels are tired of laying in bed at night sweaty and angry and filled with impotent thoughts of revenge. They are anxious to explore the possibilities that resisting and (re)claiming offer. And outside of these milieus, there are others whose communities or friends are threatened and haven’t the skills to act on their desires. Is it possible to resist or to defend? Can we engage with the world around us and not get caught? Might we ever win? Ongoing ecological catastrophes cascading into a potential collapse make the situation urgent. Institutions of domination are global, but this doesn’t mean that to overcome this planetary regime local confrontations and occupations are futile. Perhaps the mega-monster can be torn apart limb by local limb.
Low intensity insurgency based primarily on unconventional warfare techniques is one possible avenue to pursue. This doesn’t mean a resistance dominated by a sea of berets and humorless “revolutionaries”. Rather these insurgencies would be primarily based among groups of friends, in geographical or genuine communities. This usually implies some degree of a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship between the actual fighters and the folks around them.
Presently there seems to be widespread interest among anarchists in exploring a variety of martial arts. There is also interest in destructive actions, occupations of shelters and of food producing land bases, in survival and wilderness skills, etc. The urgency brought on by the shredding of the green world has helped create a rebel milieu anxious to fight for a future.
And this era has also helped rebels back into our bodies. There will always be philosophers; incisive people who can easily juggle ideas, but hopefully we will now begin to honor those with sensual wisdom among us as well: more women, the indigenous traditionalists, those with survival skills and earth knowledge, maybe even rednecks, with whom we should be building bridges. A more holistic approach seems necessary if we are going to succeed in our desires for healthy communities and individuals. So perhaps once our philosophizing is complimented by an equal degree of pursuit of sensual knowledge, including martial skills, a more significant threat will begin to emerge. And the more that we integrate martial skills into our ideas the more confident and healthy we will be and the more likely will we begin to see opportunities that we were previously blind to.
Being organized along martial lines doesn’t imply a hierarchical structure of arrogant superiors and obedient ranks. Obviously we don’t want to militarize rebellion. Rather than the art of war, this is about the art of revolt. The hope is that potential insurgents will develop a richer vocabulary and experience around conflict. There is for instance an enormous difference between attacking, invading and fighting or between claiming and occupying. We can explore these and many other differences and concepts.
Training camps, or anarchist madrassas, places where radical theory, survival skills and martial arts are learned and shared, could be very useful at this point. A martial component will be a healthy aspect of a holistic approach to rebellion. And having an awareness of military history, of martial approaches, could be helpful, even life saving. Luckily, it isn’t necessary to reinvent combative skills, because there are timeless truths and principles that apply to all combat.
Sun Tzu is actually an honorific title given to Sūn Wǔ (c. 544 BC – 496 BC), the author of The Art of War. There is some debate about the original title of this famous text, which some of you may be interested in because it seems that the author intended to suggest martial arts, rather than war. In any case, Sun Tzu looked at both the philosophy of conflict as well as the conduct of military operations, especially maneuvers and combat, making his writings as they stand useful to anarchist rebels. The Art of War is an important text and should be widely read by potential insurgents. This isn’t to say that Sun Tzu was an anti-state communist, rather that his writings are poetic and open ended enough to be used by just about anybody interested in being victorious in “combat” or “conflict”. This means that many, many people have read them, including your adversaries. Therefore to succeed, study this text, among others, and aim to be on equal footing with your opponents, at least in theoretical knowledge.
The Art of War is widely available, but I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes from one of the translations:
Those skilled in warfare establish positions
that make them invincible and do not miss
opportunities to attack the enemy.
Generally, in battle, use the common to
engage the enemy and the uncommon to gain
Those skilled at uncommon maneuvers are
as endless as the heavens and earth, and as
inexhaustible as the rivers and seas.
To be certain to take what you attack, attack
where the enemy cannot defend.
To be certain of safety when defending, defend
where the enemy cannot attack.
Subtle! Subtle! They become formless.
Mysterious! Mysterious! They become soundless.
In armed struggle, the difficulty is turning
the circuitous into the direct, and turning
adversity into advantage.
Therefore, if you make the enemy’s route
circuitous and bait him with advantages,
though you start out behind him, you will
arrive before him.
Our own parables
One of the ways that I understand Sun Tzu and make his work relevant, is through the use of the genre in which he expressed himself. While there is no reason to reinvent useful philosophies of combat and conflict, we can pass on new parables, ones that grow out of our own experience and insights. For instance, based on some of the discussions that friends and I have been having, new ideas have begun to emerge which might be helpful to others. The notion here is that we can all contribute to philosophical meditations on revolt, based on our own study and experience. This sharing might help our projects and attempts and make each of us more worthy opponents of the megamachine.
I think that it is safe to say that anarchist insurgents are a small minority within almost every given population, it is certainly true where I live. For many reasons, mobility, lack of kinship ties, etc., we are a dispersed group of people. Yet, it is important, from the perspective of the art of rebellion, to at times concentrate one’s forces, especially on a vital point of an opponent. Naturally those in control of the repressive apparatus are aware of such things and have planned and trained accordingly. Riot control techniques, for instance, are an example of this. So rather than remaining inactive out of fear of losing a direct, collective confrontation as a group and thus remaining defeated, we can find ways to act as a group without appearing to be a group. Remember Sun Tzu: “subtle, subtle, they become formless.” We can concentrate our forces, we just can’t let our enemy know that we are doing so until it is too late.
Every potential rebel exists in different circumstances, regardless of the fact that we all live within various prisons of capitalist civilization. Therefore it is up to you to decide if it is best for an in-the-street, prolonged, collective confrontation at a counter summit all dressed in black, for instance, or whether it is wiser to avoid uniforms, appear to be unconnected individuals, and coordinate an action that occurs quickly, following which the participants melt away. The latter would be an example of acting as a group without appearing to be a group.
Since Sun Tzu there have been innumerable treaties and theoretical works on war. For instance in the 1st century AD Sextus Julius Frontanus wrote a book called “ On Military Affairs.” Byzantium produced both Strategikon by Mauricius and the Tactica by Leo the Wise. There are many such books, but I believe that overall they have little benefit for our purposes although a historian or a scholar could find much value there.
Much later, in Europe during Napoleon’s reign, and in fact inspired by his successful campaigns, Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) wrote “ On War”. This is the only text that compares in importance and originality to Sun Tzu’s. As pointed out, many treaties on various aspects of war and military approaches had been written after Sun Tzu, but Clausewitz was the first to introduce a philosophical perspective on it and he did so thoroughly. His contributions are enormous. I won’t attempt to summarize his ideas, but will mention some of the areas that he explored and some of the terms that he used.
Clausewitz wrote about the essential unpredictability of war, explored the asymmetrical relationship between attack and defense, came up with the useful concepts of “fog” and “friction” in war and emphasized that there must be a culminating point of an offensive. Commentators also remind us that he used a dialectical method to present his ideas making them sometimes difficult to understand. If you are truly interested in military theory, then Clausewitz is a must read. It would be difficult for any writer on these topics to claim to not have been influenced by him. We will introduce a few of his ideas later.
By the way, Clausewitz had a contemporary, Antoine Henri Jomini, who was also largely stimulated by Napoleons campaigns into a search for a theory or a collection of laws on war. He is worth investigation for a fuller understanding of the development of the theory of combat.
Finally there is JFC Fuller, one of the greatest military thinkers of the 20th century. He is nearly as important as Clausewitz, if only because his influence is also widespread, but his ambition was not as great. The Principles of War, as they have been known for nearly a century, were first codified by him. The US Army’s list of the principles of war, found in one of their basic field manuals is almost identical to the list first compiled by Fuller. Let’s have a brief look at these.
THE PRINCIPLES OF WAR
Bring decisive force to bear at critical times and places.
Define a decisive and attainable objective for every military operation.
Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative.
Strike the enemy at a time and/or place and in a manner for which he is unprepared.
Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage.
Economy of Force
Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts.
Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power.
Unity of Command
For every objective, there must be a unified effort.
Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans. Complex plans are more likely to be misunderstood or to fall-apart as soon as something goes wrong.
All apply to organized anti-authoritarian rebellion. We should also keep in mind that these are the guiding principles of literally every military organization in the world.
The timeless truths of combat, while having been derived from a careful study of centuries, even millennia, of human history, can also, with a little imagination, be applied to social struggles as well. These truths seem to apply in all combative situations, regardless of changes in the technology of conflicts. Keep in mind that these principles and truths are not necessarily intended to be used in direct military battles against state forces, although they could be used in this way. They can also be used in fighting against gentrification, protecting your autonomous space from being destroyed or its valuables taken, to stop developments, to occupy or reoccupy land, etc. And you will notice that the truths of combat often coincide with the basic principles of war elaborated on earlier.
The first and most important truth is that “defense is the stronger form of combat”. This is a quote from Clausewitz, but he was not the first to make this realization. All things being equal, it would seem that the side with the defensive posture will likely succeed. And a defender with well placed and well protected forces, even with less weaponry or less experience or fewer people, can still have an enormous advantage. The practice here would be to dig in, make fortifications, don’t yield for as long as possible, and your opponent will surely take heavy losses, and may even retreat.
An example: a group of friends has spent the last several years building a wilderness camp as a place to hunt and fish from, to go and gather medicines and food, to escape from capitalist civilization, in short, to practice green ways. Somehow a group of “opponents” (forestry officials or whatever) has not only discovered the camp, but has decided to “ remove the squatters.” These officials are intent on evicting the camp dwellers. Luckily, one of the camp occupants was doing a regular peripheral sweep and spotted the officials on their way up. She returns to camp and warns everyone. Because the camp dwellers have studied and practiced martial skills, they don’t just panic and abandon their camp and its valuables. Rather they are confident from the knowledge that because they have the defensive posture they enjoy many advantages and will put these advantages to maximum use by combining them with other skills they have acquired through collective study and practice. In all likelihood, the officials will soon give up and return home or retreat to seek reinforcements, giving the rebels a chance to hold onto their position long enough to gather their stuff, avoid arrest or injury and hopefully escape to another camp.
The defensive posture is the strongest, so it makes absolute sense to focus on where one can have an impact, namely where you live, here and now, with the confidence that comes with knowing that should you manage to wrest even a small area from authority and the market, you have a good chance of holding onto it for a long time, perhaps long enough for other areas to accomplish the same, join you or open new fronts.
In fairness, however, the second truth must also be remembered: “an attacker willing to pay the price can always penetrate the strongest defenses.”
Some military theorists have noticed that superior combat power always wins. This is the third truth of war. All other things being equal, fate smiles on the side with the greatest combat power. For this reason it makes absolutely no sense for a minority of revolutionaries in North America to contemplate attempting an outright military contest against the police and army. The states combat power is simply overwhelming.
Better to focus on making friends within the military and hoping for mutinies or at least treasonous acts (like providing gear or information to outsiders). In any event, destroying the imperialism of the market is not a military exercise. Martial skills are primarily helpful when occupying (reoccupying for First Nations people) and/or defending territory, for building the confidence to initiate small battles and to act as a grounding influence for dreamers. There will be times, however, when the insurgents will have the superior combat power and this would be the time not to be afraid, but to push and succeed.
The fourth truth of combat is what Clausewitz referred to as “friction in war”. During any combat operation, most activities are hindered by mistakes, the dispersal effects of firepower, disruptions caused by confusion and fear in a potentially lethal environment, etc. Practicing in the safety of your local wilderness or in a camp or dojo, is just not the same as the real thing. The pace especially suffers and therefore allowances must be made during the planning stages for this friction. Keep this truth in mind when planning to disrupt a gathering of economists or politicians for instance, and you will less likely be thrown off by the “friction” and its effects.
Achieving surprise in a combative situation is extremely important. This is the fifth truth. Analysis of historical military confrontations has shown that surprise actually significantly increases the combat power of the side that achieves it. In fact, as mentioned in part one, surprise is the greatest of combat multipliers. As noted above, it is included in the US Army’s list of the Principles of War.
T.S. Dupuy writes that offensive action is essential to positive combat results as his first truth. Defense and strength and surprise are important, but ultimate combat success involves offensive action. Even should a strategy of overall defensive posture be the plan, (for example successful local upheavals which are surrounded by hostile adversaries), offensive tactics and operations must be selectively employed for final victory.
While the purpose of this chapter is to encourage the study and practice of martial skills, my focus is on strategy and tactics generally and, when specifically “military”, on ground combat. I have completely ignored air and naval theorists. Such thinkers do exist and any insurgency would have to deal with aspects of each.
Many if not most state forces today use a combination of land and air combat. For instance high tech, high performance helicopters will often do reconnaissance that directs far away tanks, with extremely specific GPS coordinates, to their targets. Land Combat today is rarely unsupported by fixed wing aircraft, drones or helicopters. Thus we should more accurately speak of Air Land Battle in many instances.
As for Naval combat, these ideas can be applied effectively to deter and harass navies or to initiate very small scale naval combat, although we mustn’t forget about the power and potential of a sailors mutiny.
However I do think that what you can learn from these introductions and ideas, especially followed up by your own study and practice, can be applied to all areas of conflict.
Tactics and strategy
One important and useful exploration is the distinction between tactics and strategy.
Clausewitz believed that strategy belonged primarily to the realm of art, while
tactics belonged primarily to the realm of science.
From a military point of view strategy is the planning and managing of the resources available in warfare. The military and political elite, i.e. those with national power to influence these matters, do this.
Just below strategy, the military uses the term operations when the direction of armies or large forces in military (usually combat) activities within a clearly defined theater is involved. Therefore conceptually operations lie between strategy and tactics when engaged in combat.
Tactics are the specific techniques used to achieve your strategic ends. They are influenced by local conditions, or you can say that context determines your choice. Tactics are the detailed maneuvers and offensives used to achieve the objectives of your strategy. They are often plans and moves that gain advantages in the short term, while strategy is the larger-scale framework of direction and control. You can practice your tactics, but you must use intuition for your strategy.
One might think that studying the techniques of sieges would only be of interest to hobbyists or scholars of medieval warfare, but this is not the case. In fact, I’ve noticed that many of the most significant conflicts that occur tend to have siege qualities to them. If we look at Oka, Gustafsen Lake, MOVE, Caledonia, squat evictions, etc., we find sieges and siege techniques used by both sides.
“A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by force or attrition, often accompanied by an assault. A siege occurs when an attacker encounters a city or fortress that refuses to surrender and cannot be easily taken by a frontal assault. Sieges involve surrounding the target and blocking the reinforcement or escape of troops or provision of supplies (a tactic known as “investment”), typically coupled with attempts to reduce the fortifications by means of siege engines, artillery bombardment, mining (also known as sapping), or the use of deception or treachery to bypass defenses. Failing a military outcome, sieges can often be decided by starvation, thirst or disease, which can afflict both the attacker or defender.
Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of low-intensity warfare (until an assault takes place) characterized in that at least one party holds a strong defense position, it is a highly static situation, the element of attrition is typically strong and there are plenty of opportunities for negotiations.”
Whenever considering an action it is important to reflect on what Clauswewitz called “ the variables representing the circumstances of combat”. Let’s look at an example.
A group of friends decides to destroy a couple of bridges in a nearby wilderness to prevent logging and other industrial activity.
The first step is to look at the many basic security considerations to follow: don’t tell anyone outside the group anything ever, have alibis, don’t use or carry any techno-devices to communicate, document or brainstorm, etc.
Back to our example. You want to destroy some bridges. Security measures have been undertaken. You have used your knowledge of strategy, operations and tactics in making plans. You were conscious of some of the principles and truths of conflict: surprise, movement, economy of force, etc. But what we haven’t looked at yet are the variables that typically come into play, (the concept of friction does take into account these influences to some extent).
Trevor Dupuy breaks down the variables into a few simple categories, although I’ve tweaked these somewhat. There are many that are sure to influence the outcome and smoothness of your action, so please make sure that variables are considered before pursuing your objective.
The variables are Environmental, Behavioral, and Operational. Under environmental we find primarily the weather and terrain, although I would include season, time of day and even lunar cycle as important. Secondly we find behavioral variables. These relate to the psychology and nature of the human participants. Morale, training, emotional well being, stability, drug and alcohol use, experience, etc. Finally, operational includes vulnerability, mobility, fatigue and posture. It should be noted that we have easy influence over these and should take advantage of this fact.
The environmental: It’s cold and rainy. Will this affect your terrain enough to make any changes? Do you need to make a fire, perhaps to burn the bridge, if so can you make a fire in the rain? You were counting on the full moon to help, but the clouds will inhibit this, got your flashlight? Heavier clothing can slow down your escape. The area is primarily a deciduous forest, so in spring there will be plenty of coverage from the leaves, but it’s autumn, and you can’t hide behind bare branches, or can you?
The behavioral: if it is going to be a rainy and cold night and one of your group is inexperienced or weak, you might want to make sure that his backpack is checked for proper clothing, that he is rested enough to do the action, perhaps consider pairing him up with a stronger or more experienced participant, etc. If you expect to be confronted, who has the most training to stand firm, who is likely to flee?
The operational: will the rain make it muddy and slow down your vehicles? Does everyone have the proper clothing? If you have to sit still and hide for a long period of time in uncomfortable circumstances, has everyone trained in this long enough?
Variables and the reality of friction generally, are essential last steps to take before setting out to “battle”. Good hunting.