Monday, August 24, 2009

The anarchist subculture: a critique

"...the absence of imagination needs models; it swears by them and lives only through them."

It is easy to claim that there is no anarchist movement in North America. This claim frees one from having to examine the nature of that movement and what one's role is in it. But a network of publications, bookstores, anarchist households, squats and correspondence connecting those with anti-statist perspectives most certainly does exist. It has crystallized into a subculture with its mores, rituals and symbols of "rebellion". But can a subculture create free individuals capable of making the lives they desire? The anarchist subculture certainly hasn't. I hope to explore why in this article.

The Anarchist subculture certainly does encompass apparently rebellious activity, historical exploration, social analysis (theory), creative play and explorations into self-liberation. But these do not exist as an integrated praxis aimed at understanding society and opening possibilities for us to create our lives for ourselves, but rather as social roles, occasionally overlapping, but mostly separate which function mainly to maintain themselves and the subculture which creates them and which they, in turn create.

Political correct militants dominate radical action in this subculture. They deny the need for social analysis. After all, the issues have already been laid out by left liberals -- feminism, gay lib, anti-racism, animal lib, ecology, socialism, opposition to war -- add a dash of anti-statism and, by god, it's anarchism! Well, ain't it? To guarantee that no one can doubt their anarchist credentials, anarchist militants will be sure to shout the loudest at demonstrations, burn a few flags and be prepared to battle cops, fascists and RCPers wherever possible. What they won't do is analyze their activities or their role as militants to see if they are really an any way undermining society or if they are merely playing its loyal opposition, reinforcing it by reinforcing role within their role within its spectacle. Their refusal of analysis has allowed many of them to delude themselves into believing that they are part of a mass movement of rebellion which must be converted to anarchism. But no such mass movement exists on this continent, and the activities of the militants are mainly a letting off of steam in rituals of opposition that only reinforce their place in the anarchist subculture.

Anarchist historians are mostly professors, publishers and bookstore operators, interested in keeping information about anarchist history available. Most of these people are well-meaning, but they fail to apply critical analysis to their histories. The vast majority of anarchist historical material seems to serve a myth-making purpose, creating heroes, martyrs and models to imitate. But all of these models have failed in creating more than temporary anarchic situations. This should, at the very least, lead to a questioning of how and why they failed that goes beyond the simplistic claim that they were crushed by the authorities. The lack of such analysis has rendered anarchist history largely useless to present struggles against authority, turning it instead into the same thing for the anarchist subculture that mainstream history is for society at large, a myth that upholds the present order of things.

Certain anti-authoritarians theorists have intellectually attacked the most basic underpinnings of society in ways that reveal their role in our domestication. The theorists' examination of these things has even led some of them to drop the label "anarchist," though their rejection of authority and connection to the subculture through their writings and their friendships continue their role within it. And for all the depth of their intellectual exploration, a certain level of work refusal, shoplifting and minor vandalism seems to be the sum of their practice. Because they do not explore practical ways of expressing rebellion against the totality of domination revealed by their critiques, these critiques lose their edge as radical theory and seem more like philosophy. No longer being a tool of active rebellion, their thought instead becomes a means of defining the intellectual edge of anarchic thought, a means by which to determine whether an idea is radical enough. In this way, the role of the intellectual is perpetuated in the anarchist subculture.

Creative play has also been specialized within the subculture. Forgetting the critique which calls for the supersession of art through spontaneous, creative, free play by everyone, mail artists, performance artists and "anti-artists" claim this category as their own, destroying spontaneity and freedom, and valorizing the activity as art. Many of the activities of these people -- festivals, wild poetry readings, improvisational noise jam sessions and interactive theater -- can be a lot of fun and are worth participating in on that level, but, placed within the framework as art, their subversive bite is dulled. In valorizing creativity, these artists have made it more important to "be creative" than to have fun, and have reduced their critique to the level of whether something can be utilized in creating art. The creative process is recuperated into a form of productive labor making works of art. Play is transformed into performance. Acts of detournement become spectacles in mail-art shows. Subversion is recuperated by society as art. Ignoring the fact that art is a social and cultural category, anarchic artists claim that art opposes culture, but their activities create for them the role of cultural workers within the anarchist subculture. When the situationists said that revolutionary praxis needed to become therapeutic, they had no idea that certain North American anarchists would find ways to wed this and a few other half-digested situationist ideas to new age psychotherapies -- but, gee, those Yanks (and Canadians) sure are inventive, ain't they? New age therapies came into the anarchist subculture largely through feminist, gay lib and related movements. The reason given for practicing these therapies is self-discovery and self-liberation. But all psychotherapies -- including those of humanist and "third force" psychologists -- were developed to integrate people into society. When feminists, gay liberationists and similar groups began using therapeutic techniques, it helped integrate individuals into a common framework from which they would view the world and act on it. Anarcho-therapists have adapted such practices as meditation, play therapy, support and separate spaces. Meditation is really just a form of escape, without the physical damage of drinking or drugs. It eases the stresses of daily life, keeping them from being too much to bear. It can, thus, be useful, but is not self-liberating. Play as therapy, like play as art, loses its subversive edge. Its parameters defined, it becomes a safe release, a letting off of steam, rather than a true breaking out with all the risks that involves. It does not not present a challenge to authority or the work ethic, because it is play safely ensconced in the framework of productive usefulness and brings out the chaotic energy that could otherwise challenge authority within a safely ordered framework. Support group therapy is a particularly insidious form of self-deception. A group of people get together to talk about a common problem, burden or oppression they supposedly share. This practice immediately removes the problem from the realm of daily life, of individual relationships and particular circumstances, into the realm of "our common oppression" where it can be fit into an ideological framework. Support groups are formed with a particular purpose (otherwise, why form them?) which will shape the workings of the group, bias the conclusions drawn and mold the participants into the framework of the group ideology. The creation of separate spaces (women's only, gay only, etc.) reinforces the worst tendencies of support group therapy, by guaranteeing that no outside element can penetrate. Anarchists blithely ignore the authoritarian and propertarian implications of this practice and its inherent bigotry, excusing them because it is the practice of an oppressed group. All of these therapeutic forms separate people from their daily life experience and place them in a separate "therapeutic" realm where they can be readily integrated into a particular social and ideological framework. In the case of anarcho-therapists, it is the framework of the anarchist subculture and the role they play in it.

Most of the people I've met in the anarchist subculture are sincere people. They truly want to rebel against authority and destroy it. But they are products of society, trained to distrust themselves and their desires and to fear the unknown. Finding a subculture in place with roles to which they can adapt themselves, it is much easier to fall into the role or roles with which they feel most comfortable, secure in the knowledge that they are part of the rebel milieu, than to truly take the leap in the dark of living for themselves against society. And these "anarchist" roles plug into a social structure and a way of relating to the world at large that are equally essential to the anarchist subculture and which also need to be examined.

"Would it not be an anachronism to cultivate the taste for harbors, certitudes, systems?"
The structure of the anarchist subculture is largely centered around publishing projects, bookstores, collective living situations and radical activism. These projects and the methods of running them that reproduce the subculture create the methods of anarchist "outreach". What they create in many ways resembles an evangelical religious sect.

Most of the projects that make up the structure of the anarchist subculture are run collectively using a process of consensus decision making. A few are the projects of single individuals occasionally helped out by friends. (On the fringe of the subculture are numerous flyer projects almost all of which are individual projects.) I am putting off a thorough critique of consensus for a later article. For now, let it suffice to point out that the process of consensus does require the subjugation of the individual will to the will of the group as a whole and the subjugation of the immediate to the mediation of meetings and decision-making processes. It has an inherently conservative bent, becasue it creates policies that can only be changed if everyone agrees to it. It is an invisible authority to which individuals are subject, which limits the extent to which they question the project in which they are involved or the anarchist subculture.

A large number of anarchists live on their own or with lovers. But many see a collective living arrangement as better, sometimes for as simple a reason as easing everyone's financial burdens (the reason which involves the fewest illusions), but more often to create a living support group situation, to participate more easily in a common project or to "put theory into practice". having already dealt with support groups, I will only add that living together in a support group will tend to exaggerate all of the insulatory and idealogical aspects of support group therapy. A collective living situation can certainly ease some of the aspects of sharing a common project, from the financial to the trick of getting people together to discuss the project. It can also increase the chances of the project becoming insulatory, feeding on itself, losing necessary critical input. But it is those who claim to be "putting theory into practice" in these living situations who are practicing the highest level of self-deception. Group living situations could possibly be a basis for exploring new ways of relating, but the semi-permanence of such situations tends toward the creation of social roles and structures, and new explorations are not what the households I know of are pursuing. The seperation between theory and practice implied by the phrase "putting theory into practice" is evident in the relative sameness of these living situations. Most anarchists believe that there are certain principles that should govern the way people inter-relate. In their living collectives, land trusts and squats, they attempt to live by their principles. Their living situations are not theoretico-practical explorations, but rather, the submission of individuals to a pre-conceived social structure. These principles are not put to the test in these situations, because the anarchist household is an insulatory situation, a kind of alternative reality in the midst of the world. With the exception of anarchist squats -- which do, at least, present a challenge to the authority of landlords and property -- these households relate to the world of external authorities in the same way everyone else does: paying their rent (or property tax) and bills, and working or collecting welfare. These households do little, if anything, toward undermining society, but they offer a structure for people to live in that maintains their feeling of rebelliousness and the subculture gives them a safe place to express this feeling.

The various publishing projects (including periodicals) and bookstores are the main sources of history, theory and information for the anarchist subculture. To some extent, these projects have to plug into the capitalist system and so rarely pretend to be inherently revolutionary. When they are group projects, they are usually run by consensus on the absurd assumption that there is something anarchistic about having to sit through long, boring meetings to work out the details of running a small business or producing a magazine or book. But the aspect of these projects that really bothers me is that they tend to become means of defining the framework of thought in the anarchist subculture rather than a provocation to discuss and explore the nature of alienation and domination and how to go about destroying them. To a large extent this lack of provocation is inherent in what is published. Most anarchist publications, whether books or periodicals, are uncritical reprints of old anarchist writings, uncritical histories, rehashing of leftist opinions with a bit of anti-statism thrown in or uncritical modernizations of out-dated anarchist ideas. Such writings reinforce certain standards and models of what it means to be an anarchist without questioning those models. Even those writings which do present a challenge rarely seem to evoke the sort of intelligent, critical discussion that could be part of a stimulating radical praxis. Rather, they are also often taken as a source of standards, models, ways of defining the parameters of revolt. This stems, in part, from the nature of the printed word, which seems to have a permanence that is not compatible with the fluid, living nature of thought or discussion. Most readers have trouble seeing through the printed word to the fluidity of thought behind it. So they react as though dealing with something sacred -- either worshipping it or desecrating it. Neither reaction pleases me, because both signify that the ideas have become reified, have become commodities in the marketplace of ideas -- an image reinforced by the fact that these ideas are mostly found for sale in bookstores. Another aspect of anarchist publication is propaganda. This is the advertising side of anarchism -- the proof that it is largely just a commodity in the marketplace of ideas. Most anarchist propaganda is an attempt to create an image of anarchism that is attractive to whomever the propaganda is aimed at. Thus, much of this literature seems to be aimed at easing people's minds, at proving that anarchy isn't so extreme, that it doesn't challenge people; it reassures them, showing them that they can continue to have secure, structured lives even after the anarchist revolution. Since most anarchist literature, including this sort, is bought or stolen by anarchists, I wonder if it isn't really an attempt at self-reassurrance, and reinforcement of the defining models of the subculture. The structures which make anti-authoritarian literature available could provide a network for challenging discussion aimed at creating and maintaining a truly rebellious praxis, but instead it creates a framework of models and structures for people to follow the "anarchist principles" to which so many blindly cling, which reinforce the anarchist subculture.

Radical activism is another aspect of the public image of the anarchist subculture, particularly the militant wing. It largely involves participation in leftist demonstration, though occasionally anarchists will organize their own demonstration on a particular issue. One motive behind much of this activism is to win people over to anarchism. To accomplish this, anarchists must separate themselves as a definable entity and make themselves attractive to those they are trying to convert. At present, most activism seems to be trying to attract youth and, particularly, punk youth. So anarchists tend to be particularly loud and rowdy at demonstrations, portraying an image of defiance and showing that anarchists mean "serious business." Since other groups, like the R.C.P., also get rowdy and defiant, anarchist militants have to make the distinction clear by loudly denouncing these groups and even getting into fights with them - ya kinda have to wonder about these anarchist militants, if their actions are so similar to Maoist hacks that they have to consciously put out an effort to distinguish themselves. But evengelicalism isn't the only reason anarchists participate in these rituals of opposition. Many participate because it is the approprate anarchist thing to do. In their minds, "anarchist" is a role that involves a specific social activity. It is a subspecies of leftist that is rowdier and a bit more violent than most. This allows them to separate anarchy and rebellion from their daily lives. Questions like, "Does this activity help destroy domination, undermine the spectacle and create free life?" are irrelevent since anarchism is defined by participation in militant activities, not by rebellion against everything that stands in the way of our freedom to create for ourselves the lives we desire. As long as one is active in demonstrations in the right way, one is an anarchist, upholding the image and maintaining the anarchist subculture.

Though some of these structures -- especially those dealing with publication -- have potential for being part of a truly anarchic challenge to society, the anarchist subculture diverts their energy to maintain and reproduce itself. The subculture offers us "harbors, certitudes, systems," tending to make us cautious, leading us to embrace the known rather than face the challenge of the unknown. So anarchists and anti-authoritarians, thinking themselves rebels, are in fact the ones who define the limits of revolt and so recuperate it. The anarchist subculture has undermined anarchy, turned it into another commodity on the idealogical marketplace and so made it into another category of society.

"The point is precisely to step aside, to diverge, abolutely, from the rule; to leap from the arena with hysterical verve; to elude forever the traps set along the way...Long live the Impossible!"

To leave a critique of the anarchist subculture at examination of some of its more important roles and structures is to miss its most important fault -- that it is a subculture. Subcultures constitute a particular sort of social phenomenon with particular traits. If those traits were conductive to rebellion, if they moved people to act for themselves, then it might be possible to reform the anarchist subculture, but those traits in fact tend in the opposite direction. There have been so many rebel subcultures, so many bohemias, all of them recuperated. This clearly indicates that there is something inherent in subcultures that keeps them from presenting a real challenge to the society of which they are a part. Let me try to examine why.

In order for a subculture to exist, its parameters must be defined in a way that distinguishes it from other groups in society. Because a subculture is not an official or legal entity, these parameters need not be in any offical or readily definable form. Most often, they are underlying, inherent in the nature of the subculture, consisting of shared values, shared ideals, shared customs and shared systems of relating. This means that participation in a subculture requires a certain level of conformity. This does not rule out disagreeements about the interpretation of those parameters -- such disagreements can be very intense, since those involved will see themselves as upholders of the real values of the group. But the real threat to any subculture is any individual who refuses parameters. Such a one is dangerous, amoral, a threat to all. What the parameters of a subculture really amount to is its system of morality. It provides a way to see itself as superior to society in general. It thus creates a method for relating to others through guilt and self-righteousness, two of authority's favorite weapons. The existence and maintainence of a subculture thus requires an internalized authority to maintain itself.

The creation of parameters will lead to an intolerance towords those perceived as irretrievably outside the parameters -- especially if they are competitors on some level (e.g., the RCP, SWP and the like, to anarchists), but it also leads towards a toleration of everyone perceived as part of one's subculture. Due to the different interpretations of the parameters of the subculture, arguments and fights, sometimes even vicious ones, are possible, but there is still a certain unity that is recognized and tends to keep disagreeements within a certain framework. Such tolerance is necessary to maintain the subculture. It also has the effect of reducing everything to a level of mundane mediocrity. Extremes are permitted only to the extent that they can be kept from presenting any real challenge to the subculture. Tact, caution and politeness are the order of the day in order to maintain the "unity within diversity" of the subculture. Conflictst tend to be ritualized and predictable. In the anarchist subculture in particular, there are rarely any face-to-face, honest and passionate conflicts. Instead, face-to-face interactions are of the politeness and subcultural ritual, of tolerance, and so are, as often as not, boring. Learning to relate through ritual, through tact, through social masks, has left us ignorant of how to relate freely. But within these rituals of toleration a subculture cannot maintain itself, because like society at large, a subculture requires conformity, social harmony and the suppression of individual passions for its continued existence.

In relating to people outside, subcultures tend to opt for either a sort of separatism -- minimalizing contact with the outside world -- or evangelism -- seeking to win people over to the perspective of the subculture. Since the anarchist subculture is decidely evangelistic, it is this that I will deal with. All evangelistic groups, from the Baptists to the R.C.P., from the Moonies to the anarchist subculture, are so because they are convinced that they have the answers to the essential problems of the world. Convincing others of this becomes a major motive behind the actions of those within such subcultures. They act and speak so as to present an image of self-assurance as well as a kind of solidarity with those whom they wish to win over. Individuals within such subcultures do not live for themselves but for the ideal, the answer that they are so certain will cure all. They live, or try to live, up to a certain image, and so are conformists.

Because of the nature of subcultures, the anarchist subculture can only exist by removong anarchy and rebellion from the terrain of our present day lives and turning them into ideals with corresponding social roles. It will praise "spontaneity" while defining its content and, thereby, supressing it. Free expression of passion and desires are notencouraged, in fact, quite often the opposite. Within its own framework, the anarchist subculture is quite conservative, its own maintenance being its top priority. Every new exploration and experimentation is a threat to its existence and must be quickly defined, limited and recuperated by it. This explains both the absurd, defensive reactions of certain anarchists to more daring theoretical explorations, as well as the tendency for these explorations to remain in a realm of seperated theory without practice. A subculture is a place of security, for safety, for finding social roles and systems of relationships by which one can define one's self, not a place for free explorations and encountering the unknown.

The anarchist subculture, then, cannot be an expression of lived anarchy and rebellion, but can only be society's way of defining, limiting and recuperating them. As children of society, we are all well-versed in distrusting ourselves, in fearing the unknown, in prefering security to freedom. It is no surprise that we that we so easily fall into activities that create and maintain a subculture. But its long past time that we admit that this is just our way of fitting in to the society we claim to hate, of creating a niche for ourselves in its structure. For this subculture is not a real challenge to society; it is merely a loyal opposition whose rules -- like all rules -- are just a subset of the rules of society.

So the time has come to throw caution to the wind, to diverge absolutely, as the surrealists say, from all rules, to leap from the arena of the anarchist subculture -- or to tear the arena down. Always there will be those demanding to know what we'll put in its place, but the point is precisely to put nothing in its place. The problem, the weakness of those of us who've claimed to oppose authority, has been our need to have an authority inside our heads, an answer, a way to keep ourselves in line. We have not trusted ourselves, and so at those moments when anarchy has actually broken forth, when authority has temporarily broken down opening all possibilities, we have not dared to explore the unknown, to live our desires and passions. Instead we have channelled our rebellion into the mere image of rebellion, but which keep us safe from ever having to confront our real passions and desires.

The refusal of authority, the refusal of all constraints, must include the refusal of the anarchist subculture, for it is a form of authority. With this support gone, we are left with nothing -- but ourselves. As transient, ever-changing, passionate individuals, we each become the only basis for creating our lives and opposing society as it strives to force our lives into its mold. Rebellion ceases to be a role and instead becomes our moment-by-moment refusal to let our lives be stolen from us. Anarchy ceases to be an ideal and becomes the havoc we wreck on authority, which undermines it and opens possibilities, new realms of exploration for us. To realize this, we have to cease to think as victims and begin to think as creators. The negative paranoia that permeates the way we relate to the world needs to be rejected so that we can accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of society as we confront it in our daily lives and can intelligently undermine it. A positive paranoia -- a recognition that society and the hell it puts us through are aberations and that the world is full of wonder and beauty, that within it all of our deepest desires and more can be easily realized -- needs to be cultivated. Then we will dare to face the unknown, to relate to each other freely and passionately, avoiding mere toleration and accepting honest conflict. We will dare to oppose society from the strength of our own desires, dreams and lust for life. We'll refuse easy answers, systems and security for the prisons they are, preffering the freedom found in ecstatically exploring the unknown, the adventure of discovering the world of wonder that authority tries to deny us. What has been denied us, we must take, and we must take it not by conforming to a subculture, but by plunging head first into the unknown, by taking the risk of leaving behind all that has suppressed us no matter how comfortable and rebelling totally against society.

"Everything is always and automatically to be risked absolutely. One knows, at least, that the thread one finds in the labyrinth must lead elsewhere."

-- This piece originally appeared in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Autonomous Self-Organization and Anarchist Intervention: A Tension in Practice

Introduction: a few definitions and explanations

Any potentially liberatory struggle among the exploited and dispossessed must be based on autonomous self-organization. As anarchists, who are also usually among the exploited, we have every reason to participate in and encourage these struggles. But since we have specific ideas of how we want to go about our struggles and a specifically revolutionary aim, our participation takes the form of an intervention seeking to move the struggles in a specific direction. Having no desire to be any sort of vanguard or leadership or to be caught up in the joyless game of politicking, we find ourselves in a tension of trying to live our conception of struggle and freedom within the context of an unfree reality, of trying to confront the real daily problems we face with our own refusal to play by the rules of this world. Thus, the question of autonomous self-organization and anarchist intervention is an ongoing problem with which to grapple, refusing to fall into easy answers and faith in organizational panaceas. To begin exploring this question let’s start with a few definitions and explanations.

Autonomous self-organization

When I speak of autonomous self-organization, I am speaking of a specific phenomenon that tends to arise whenever people, angered by their conditions and having lost faith in those delegated to act for them, decide to act for themselves. Autonomous self-organization therefore never manifests in the form of a political party, a union or any other sort of representative organization. All of these forms of organization claim to represent the people in struggle, to act in their name. And what defines autonomous self-organization is precisely the rejection of all representation. Parties, unions and other representative organizations tend to interact with autonomous organization only in the form of recuperators of the struggle, striving to take over leadership and impose themselves as spokespeople of the struggle – usually with the aim of negotiating with the rulers. Thus, they can only be viewed as potential usurpers wherever real self-organized revolt is occurring.

Autonomous self-organization has certain essential traits that define it. First of all it is non-hierarchical. There is no institutional or permanent leadership or authority. While someone who proves particularly knowledgeable with regards to specific matters relating to the struggle at hand will be given the attention she deserves for such knowledge, this cannot be allowed to become the basis for any permanent leadership role, because that would undermine another essential trait of autonomous self-organization: horizontal communication and relationships. This is a matter of people talking with each other, interacting with each other, expressing needs and desires openly, actually discussing the problems they face together and in practical terms, without any leadership to conform this expression to a set line. This brings us to another trait, one that may be controversial to collectivist ideologues, but that is the only way of guaranteeing the first two traits: the basic unit of autonomous self-organization is the individual. Otherwise, it could be argued that all states and businesses are autonomous self-organization, because on the institutional and collective level they do organize themselves, but the individuals who comprise their human component are defined by these institutions and placed in accordance with the institutional needs. So autonomous self-organization is first of all the individual organizing his struggle against the conditions this world forces upon her on her own terms, finding the means necessary for carrying out that struggle. But among the means necessary are relations with other people, so autonomous self-organization is also a collective practice. But that collective practice is not based upon conforming individuals to an organization imposed on them, but rather on the development of relationships of mutuality between them in which they discover the areas of commonality in their struggles and need, affinity in their dreams and desires. One could say that autonomous self-organization is the development of a shared struggle based on mutuality for the full realization of each individual involved. To further clarify this point (and to quickly counter a false dichotomy often made in revolutionary milieus), one can look at it in terms of revolutionary class struggle. While the details vary, anti-state, anti-capitalist revolutionaries generally agree that the “revolutionary task” of the exploited class is to abolish itself as a class as it abolishes class society. What does this mean and when does it happen in the course of struggle? It seems to me, that this means precisely the rediscovery of oneself as an individual with one’s own desires, needs and dreams which have no relation to what capital has to offer, desires, needs and dreams best fulfilled in free association with others based on mutuality and affinity. When, in the course of struggle, the exploited begin to find the methods of organizing their own activity together, this process of abolishing themselves as a class has already begun since they are beginning precisely to talk and act with each other as individuals. Finally, autonomous self-organization is practical. It is not the setting up of any formal organization to represent anything. It is rather the bringing together of the elements necessary for accomplishing the various tasks and activities necessary to the particular struggle. This will tend to include the development of ways to communicate, ways to coordinate actions, ways to gather necessary tools and so on. As will be seen below, in large-scale struggles, assemblies tend to develop for discussing what is necessary; these are not formalized structures, but rather specific methods for dealing with the problems at hand.

Anarchist intervention

We anarchists are ourselves often among the exploited and dispossessed. Thus, we have an immediate need to struggle against this social order. At the same time, we come to these daily struggles with a conscious revolutionary perspective and with specific ideas about how to go about these struggles. Thus, it is inevitable that our participation as anarchists will take the form of intervention. So it is worthwhile to consider what makes our participation an intervention.

First of all, as anarchists, we come to every struggle with a conscious revolutionary perspective. Whatever the specific cause that provokes a struggle, we recognize it as an aspect of the social order that must be destroyed in order to open the possibilities for a free and self-determined existence. Struggles and revolts are generally provoked by specific circumstances, not by mass recognition of the need to destroy the state, capital and all the institutions through which domination and exploitation are carried out. Anarchist intervention, therefore, attempts to expand the struggle beyond the circumscribed cause that provokes it, to point out, not just in words, but through action the connection of the specific problem at hand to the larger reality of the social order that surrounds us. This would include finding and exposing the commonalities between various struggles as well as the differences that can enhance a broader struggle of revolt.

Because we anarchists come to any struggle with a specific revolutionary perspective, it is in our interest to propose a methodology of struggle which carries this perspective in it, a principled methodology which provides a basis for our complicity in any struggle. The methodology of which I speak is not just a methodology for struggle, but something to apply to all of life as far as possible. First of all, the struggle must be carried out with complete autonomy from all representative organizations. We need to recognize unions and parties as usurpers and determine our specific activities in any struggle for ourselves, without regard for their demands. Secondly, our practice needs to be that of true direct action – figuring out how to accomplish the specific tasks we pose ourselves on our own, not demanding any authority or any “representative” of the struggle to act for us. Thirdly, we need to remain in permanent conflict with the social order we oppose with regard to the specific matter at hand, keeping our attacks up in order to make it clear that we have no intention of being recuperated. Fourthly, we need to be on the attack, refusing to negotiate or compromise with those in power. This methodology carries within it both the principle of self-organization and the revolutionary necessity to destroy the present ruling order.

Because of the nature of our anarchist aspirations, our intervention in struggles will always express itself as a tension on several levels. First of all, as I said most of us are ourselves among the exploited and dispossessed of the current social order, not part of the ruling or managing classes. Thus, we face the same immediate realities as those around us, with the same desire for immediate relief. But we also have a desire for a new world and want to bring this desire into all of our struggles not just in words, but in the way we go about our practice. Thus, there is the tension of willfully moving toward autonomy and freedom under oppressive conditions. In addition, we have specific ways in which we desire to go about our struggles and live our lives. These methods are based upon horizontal relationships and the refusal of hierarchy and vanguardism. So there is the tension of striving to find ways of putting forth our conceptions of how to go about struggle that encourage already existing tendencies toward self-organization and direct action that do not fall into the methods of political evangelism. We are, after all, seeking to relate as comrades and accomplices, not leaders. And then there is the tension of wanting to act immediately against the impositions of this society upon our lives regardless of the current level of struggle while again avoiding any tendency toward vanguardism. In a sense, anarchist intervention is the tightrope between living our own struggle in our daily lives and finding the ways to connect this struggle with the struggles of all the exploited most of whom do not share our conscious perspectives, a connection that is necessary if we are to move in the direction of social insurrection and revolution. A misstep in one direction turns our struggle in on itself, transforming it into an individual radical hedonism without any social relevance. A misstep in the other direction turns it into just another political party (whatever name one might give it to hide this fact) vying for control of social struggle. This is why we have to keep in mind that we are not seeking followers or adherents, but accomplices in the crime of freedom.

Anarchist intervention can occur under two circumstances: where a self-organized struggle of the exploited is in course, or where specific situation calls for an immediate response and anarchists strive to encourage self-organized methods of responding. An example of the first situation would be a wildcat strike movement in course in which anarchists could express solidarity, encourage the spread of the strike, expose the betrayals by the union, share a broader critique of the union as institution and share visions of a different way of encountering life and the world than that of working to maintain a certain level of survival. We will look at a variety of other examples below. The second sort of intervention would be something such as the building of a nuclear missile base in the area where one lives or police murder of poor and minority people. These call for an immediate response, and anarchists facing such situations will want to carry out and encourage autonomous responses using direct action rather than making demands of those in power. The precise way in which anarchists might intervene in such situations would vary depending on circumstances. But the point is always to encourage the tendency toward autonomy, self-organization and direct action rather than to push a political perspective.

Some Historical and Current Situations

Fortunately, since those whose lives are stolen from them frequently reach a level of anger at their condition and distrust for both the rulers and those who claim to represent the exploited, it is not difficult to find examples of the practice of autonomous self-organization. In some of these circumstances, we can also find some examples of intervention by anti-political (if not always specifically anarchist) revolutionaries in these struggles. In addition, I have found one example of an anarchist intervention in response to a specific situation, where they acted to encourage self-organized direct action against the installation of a nuclear missile base in Sicily. Let’s look at some of these instances.

Italy 1970’s

During the 1970’s, Italy experienced a massive social movement of revolt involving workers, students and poor and exploited youth, with women playing a major role in much of the activity. One of the outstanding characteristics of this movement was precisely its autonomy from the usual organizations that claimed to represent the struggle of the exploited. Neither unions nor parties led the movement and suspicion of these organizations was high and became higher as blatant attempts by parties and unions to recuperate or discredit the struggles exposed their real nature.

In the course of these struggles, a variety of different forms of wildcat strike, massive demonstrations, sabotage, massive occupations of housing and other spaces, street battles with cops and fascists and a great number of other forms of direct action took place throughout the country. In addition, armed struggle began to develop in a variety of forms, often lacking the spectacular and specialized form of groups like the Red Brigades. In order to communicate the realities of this struggle with each other and to coordinate activity, spontaneous assemblies developed in factories, occupied universities and neighborhoods. The often vehement discussions and debates raised questions of the nature of this society and of how to fight against it to very high levels, including questioning of work as such and not just of specific working conditions, of marriage and the family as sources of oppressive gender and age relationships, of the technological apparatus and the nature of production and so on.

Of course, there were many anarchist and other anti-political revolutionaries involved in this movement. Their interventions took a variety of forms of which I will mention just a few. There were the myriads of publications for spreading anarchist and anti-political analyses of the insurrection in course. A large number of pirate radio stations come into existence helping enhance the spread of information about specific struggle within the area in which they were located. In addition, many anarchists (and others) would come together in small affinity groups to carry out specific attacks and acts of sabotage relating to specific aspects of the ongoing struggle. Most of these groups were temporary with the aim of a completing a specific action. One specific armed group, Azione Rivoluzionaria (AR) also grew out of an anti-political, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist perspective. In reading its communiqu├ęs and theoretical texts, it becomes clear that the group was largely influenced by Vaneigem. For all practical purposes, it was an informal federation of affinity groups that carried out various armed attacks against the institutions of power. Unlike the stalinist Red Brigades, which definitely intended to be the armed party leading the proletariat to victory, AR simply saw itself as a step toward the generalization of armed struggle. Nonetheless, it carried out its attacks in a fashion that allowed it to be spectacularized and separated from the larger struggle, thus on a practical level becoming specialists in one particular tool of struggle.

The insurgent struggle of the 1970’s in Italy advanced quite far. Certainly many smelled revolution in the air (including, unfortunately, the authorities). It would be impossible to know to what extent the specific activity of anarchists or other anti-political revolutionaries actually influenced the direction of the general revolt, but certainly much of the intervention (from pirate radio to sabotage and beyond) was useful. And the ways in which many of the autonomous struggles – particularly small-scale actions – were organized are reminiscent of ideas and practices of the anarchists influenced by Galleani’s ideas. If groups like Azione Rivoluzionaria fell into a specific role, thus blunting the usefulness of their activity, many did not, and there was a capacity for serious critique in the midst of struggle which allows us to learn from the events.

Ultimately, severe state repression combined with the sowing of misunderstanding among those in revolt led to the dissipation of this movement. When the state hit, the movement was not prepared to defend itself. Although hints of the possibility for generalizing armed struggle existed (individuals who were not part of any specialized armed group were beginning to arm themselves for defense purposes), the combination of statements from certain left groups saying that the time was not ripe for armed conflict combined with the media’s spectacularization of specialized armed groups to prevent any clarity on this question. Nonetheless, a great deal of anarchist analysis of these times does exist examining the questions of how insurgent struggles develop, of anarchist intervention, of armed struggle and so on. And a great deal of experimentation and exploration along these lines continues in Italy to this day.

Spain 1976-1979

In December 1975, Franco, who had been dictator of Spain for more than 35 years, died. As a new regime tried to reestablish order in the form of a democratic state, a wildcat movement broke out opening possibilities for a new society in which states and bosses would have no place. The wildcat movement reflected several aspects of the times: the opening provided by the fall of the Franco regime, the restructuring of Spanish capital desired by the ruling class at the expense of workers, the kowtowing of the unions and the various parties of the left to the demands of the ruling class in the hope of legalization, the readiness of the exploited to grasp this opportunity to act in their own interests.

The struggle spread through a large number of cities in Spain. Workers blockaded streets, went on flying pickets to spread news of the strike elsewhere, set up barricades, battled police and occupied factories and other spaces. The various actions of the strikers were organized through daily factory assemblies where real decisions were made and bi-weekly joint assemblies which only had a coordinating function. In addition, as the movement spread, neighborhood assemblies also formed, spreading the struggle against exploitation throughout the terrain of daily life. Interestingly, it was the spread of the assembly movement beyond the factories that led to deeper critiques and the questioning of wage labor itself.

The greatest weakness of this movement seems to be its tolerance for union and party hacks within the assemblies. These servants of the various oppositional bureaucracies were, of course, always calling for moderation and negotiation, and attempting to gain control of the assemblies. Though they were usually ignored, they were not driven out of the assemblies and in several incidents, they undermined struggles in course by usurpation and negotiation with the rulers. This played a major role in the eventual dissipation of this revolt.

Since Spain has such a strong anarchist history, anarchists undoubtedly played a significant role in this struggle. But not through any of the well-known organizations. The best known “anarchist” organization in Spain, the CNT, proved again that it is first of all a labor union, that is to say, an organization that represents the struggles of workers in negotiation with the bosses. Like all of the other unions, it was seeking legalization in the new regime, and so played the same role as they did – one of trying to manipulate the struggles in the direction of moderation and compromise.

On the other hand, there were anti-political revolutionaries involved in the wildcat movement in various ways. During that time anonymous writings were spread analyzing the situation from an explicitly revolutionary perspective and exposing the manipulations of the unions and parties. One group, calling themselves “Uncontrollables”, using the derogatory term that everyone from republicans to CNTistas used against those revolutionaries who would not obey the compromising leaders in the 1930’s, offered ongoing analyses of the situation.

In addition, there were the “autonomous groups” that were active later in the movement. These groups were made up of individuals from the exploited classes with a revolutionary analysis who decided to cease working and live outside the law, taking part in the struggles form this point. Their practice started from their own needs and desires, but since these included solidarity with others, their acts of expropriation, vandalism and sabotage would reflect this complicity. They did not see themselves as any sort of specialists, but simply as individuals who had made a choice about how they wanted to live here and now in battle with this social order, and acted on that choice. Their interventions were precise and targeted so as to be understood in terms of the wildcat movement in course.

Comiso, Sicily 1982-3

In December 1979, the US made an agreement with the Italian government to house Cruise missiles in Italy. The agreement was made in secret, but in spring 1981, the news began to leak out. An airport near the town of Comiso in southern Sicily had been chosen as the base in which to house 112 nuclear missiles. Immediately, there was anger over this obvious intrusion into the lives of the people of the area. People began discussing the matter and anarchists took part in these discussions, distributing leaflets and attending meetings about the base.

The usually recuperators were on the scene right away, with the parties of the left forming peace committees aimed at symbolic protest to influence the decisions of the rulers. But anarchists and other revolutionaries, interested in the radical potential of the angry people of the region, formed an Organizing Group aimed at an approach based on direct action and attack.

While the peace committees organized massive symbolic demonstrations demanding “peace”, the anarchists and other revolutionaries of the Organizing Group debated on how to develop and concentrate the struggle in Comiso and other areas facing similar intrusions with specific objectives for struggle. Anarchists from Catania said the struggle should take place on a social and revolutionary basis, using a methodology of attack aimed at striking the people and structures responsible for the decision to install the base. In 1982, due to irresolvable contradictions, the Organizing Group split.

In April 1982, peace committees organized another peace march in Comiso. It was the usual pacifying bullshit, reflecting the opportunism of the leftist parties. So in May, the anarchists of Ragusa and Catania decided to intervene in order to bring together the massive opposition to the base, with the aim of occupying the base site.

Throughout the next few months they held a series of public meetings and distributed leaflets and other literature on the topic. Anarchist women went door-to-door in order to talk with the women of the region who rarely left their homes due to the extreme patriarchal nature of the regional culture. There was a positive response from the local population, so the anarchists proposed a method for organizing the struggle in an autonomous manner. Sicily has known insurgence in the past, and one of the common forms self-organization took was the self-managed league. Anarchists recommended that people consider adopting this form again for this struggle. An anarchist conference took place on July 31/August 1 ending with another open-air meeting in which the struggle against the missile base was connected with refusal of militarism as one anarchist destroyed his conscription papers.

Self-managed leagues began to develop and anarchists set up a coordinating office for technical assistance and to facilitate communication between the leagues. Anarchists continued to hold public meeting and distribute leaflets. As leagues were forming among workers, students, unemployed and so on, various actions, often aimed at taking the time and space necessary for discussing the matter took place. In particular, high school students in Vitoria carried out strikes, using the time to discuss what to do.

In the meantime the effects of the base became clearer and clearer as local peasants were evicted from their land to make room for missile test ranges, as American and NATO officers reserved use of various hotels and other services and as the Mafia* used intimidation and terror to try to frighten those who opposed the base. Anarchists continued to contact workers, unemployed, students and housewives in the area, but the forces of repression acted to obstruct their activity through intimidation, false information and so on.

The occupation itself never occurred. As the project went forward a large number of anarchists came to Comiso, and most felt that the occupation was much too risky at that time. Nonetheless, the ongoing activity against the base during this time did lead to a number of explosive situations and certainly indicated the openness of many people in the area to self-organized struggle. The initiative ended with a huge demonstration that went to the missile base. The cops made several violent attacks against the demonstrators that lasted for several hours. The cops, in fact, pursued demonstrators for kilometers. The missile base went into operation in the mid-1980’s, but was taken out of operation in 1992.

What is interesting in this initiative is not its success or failure, but the attempt to encourage a self-organized revolt against the base as opposed to the symbolic protests that the Italian Communist Party and other parties of the left were promoting. To this end, anarchists showed the connections between the missile base and the realities of exploitation in the area – the eviction of peasants from their land, the worsening economic situation for workers, the transience of the jobs promised during the period that the base is being built, etc. They also referred back to past insurgence in the region, bringing up methods of self-organization that developed in this instances. Beyond this, they simply helped to provide necessary tools. Did they escape the practice of politicking in the way they went about this? It seems to me that they did, but this is a matter for debate.

Albania 1997

In 1997, an uprising took place in Albania in which the apparatus of power was nearly dismantled. As is so often the case, the uprising was sparked by immediate banalities rather than grand ideologies. At the encouragement of Albanian president Sali Berisha, huge numbers of Albanian families had invested all their savings in a few finance companies that promised huge profits. These companies apparently operated some version of a pyramid scheme. In January, these companies went bankrupt one by one, depriving the already impoverished Albanian populace of what little they had.

The Socialist Party called a demonstration in the capital hoping to make themselves leaders of a peaceful protest movement. The rage expressed at the demonstration showed all the parties that this explosion was not controllable. Violent demonstrations spread further and further. Police stations, courts, and ministerial and party offices were attacked with stones. Town halls were set on fire. The vice premier was held hostage and beaten. Parliament was attacked and there was a prison revolt. All within the first couple of weeks.

As the resistance spread attacks against the structures of the state and capital increased. People began arming themselves through attacks on policing stations, through raids on military armories (in which the conscripted soldiers were often complicit) and by various other means. Where at first demands were made, attacks became the usual practice. Government buildings, party headquarters, police headquarters, banks and the offices of the secret service all became fair game for attack. As the revolt spread, more and more people were armed. They were able to set up blockades to stop riot-control vehicles moving between various towns. They would disarm the police (thus, arming themselves further), strip them and burn their vehicles. Even Berisha’s public residence was attacked and torched. Prisons, as well, were attacked and prisoners freed. The insurgents showed practicality in storming and taking weapons from police stations (and freeing any prisoners in custody) before burning them, as well as in always making police operations more and more difficult by stealing or destroying police equipment. Everyone, men, women and children armed themselves to fight the police and the military. Barricades and blockades were set up in the regions where the insurgents had control in anticipation of government counter-attack. Police agents were sometimes captured or killed; military personnel often deserted and joined the insurgents.

As it became more obvious that the Albanian military would not be able to defeat the insurgents (due in part to desertions), the forces of recuperation came into play. The leaders of the opposition parties, defining themselves as representatives of the insurgents declared conditions for the surrender of arms by the rebels – conditions that merely meant a change of government. None of this, of course, was done at the request of the insurgents.

In the meantime, insurgents continued to attack government buildings, to loot shops, to arm themselves and to build defenses. Much of the military deserted, either joining the insurgents or fleeing to Greece. The spread of the revolt forced Berisha to attempt a reconciliation with some opposition parties in an effort to recuperate the resistance. Public Health Committees, consisting of members of opposition parties that wanted to control and tame the insurgence, were formed in a number of insurgent towns. When they approved the agreement Berisha made with the Socialist Party, insurgents ignored the PHC, and made their own decisions. The insurgence was spreading rapidly and countries bordering Albania began to fear that it would spread across borders. By mid-March, the government, including the secret police, was forced to flee the capital. Looting of arms and goods was rampant, and the secret service headquarters and the State Bank were attacked.

At this point the EU promised a “humanitarian intervention” with fifty thousand troops as well as technical advisers to help the Albanian authorities reestablish functioning police and military forces. By this time, the insurgence had reached the point where an Albanian minister claimed, “There are no functioning prisons.” By the end of March, outside military intervention began. Between April and August, the combination of repression, recuperation and military occupation restore public order. With the elections at the end of June, it could be said that the threat of revolution had disappeared due to the return of politics, and on August 12, the multinational forces left Albania.

Even after the fall of Hoxha’s “Communist” regime, Albania has not been the easiest place to get information from, so it is hard to know precisely how the insurgents organized their struggles. It appears that they did form assemblies. There were also “insurgent councils”, though whether they were truly autonomous organizations of the exploited, or organizations for recuperation by oppositional parties is not known. Since much of Albania is still fairly rural, it seems likely that old peasant structures offered some basis for creating horizontal decision-making structures.

Because of the large extent of Italian economic interests in Albania, it played a major role in the international suppression of the revolt. At the same time, Italian anarchists sought to examine the situation and figure ways of expressing solidarity with the Albanian insurgents. Unfortunately, the immediate repression they were facing due to the Marini investigation limited their possibilities, particularly as a number of these anarchists found themselves in prison.

Bolivia 2000 – present

There has been much unrest in South America over the past several years and Bolivia has been a center of some of the most interesting activity. There have been a number of reasons for the rebellions in Bolivia: the government’s attempts to give control of water rights to foreign powers; the situations of various workers, indigenous groups, coca farmers (cocaleros), small debtors; the government’s attempts to sell natural gas rights to multinationals, etc. These official decisions have been met with road and city blockades, strikes, rioting, attacks on police stations and other government buildings, various acts of sabotage and so on. The protests have tended to be ongoing, keeping the pressure on, forcing at least one president out of office. There has also been quite a bit of coordination of activities.

Although unions and parties, as well as other political organizations have had some involvement with the various revolts, it has generally seemed to be peripheral and aimed toward moving things in the direction of reform and the establishment of a “more democratic” government. Nonetheless, certain of the leaders of these groups seem to have more influence than is healthy on the movement.

But despite this reformist factor, the method of struggle in the past few years has generally taken the form of autonomous direct action. Indigenous farmers of the plateaus and cocaleros have turned to traditional informal and non-hierarchical methods of organization as ways of organizing their struggles. At one point, those in struggle called for the abolition of parliament and the development of popular assemblies, indicating a desire for the self-organization of life as well as of the immediate struggles. In addition, the high plateau farmers and cocaleras responded to repression by beginning to arm themselves.

Anarchists have been very much involved in these revolts. Juventades Libertarias (Libertarian Youth) has been active in the struggles, participating, providing immediate critiques of the recuperative activities of unions, parties and political groups and getting news to the outside.

Mujeres Creando (Women’s Initiative), an anarcha-feminist group, has been very active as well, particular in helping small debtors organize their struggles. Perhaps their best known action was when small debtors armed with dynamite and molotov cocktails, among whom were women involved with Mujeres Creando, took over three government buildings.

The struggles in Bolivia have been particularly interesting in several ways. All groups of the exploited, each with their own specific problems and experiences, have been able to coordinate their revolt, acting in solidarity. Methods of self-organization that are useful for the struggle have been found in the indigenous traditions of the country. Anarchists have played a very significant part in the struggles and frequently exposed recuperating forces.

Kabyle region, Algeria 2001-present

In April 2001, police in the area of Tizi Ouzou in the Kabyle region of Algeria killed a high school boy. Riots began immediately in Beni-Douala, a village of the area. Riots and demonstrations quickly spread to the other towns and villages of the region. Rioters attacked police stations and troop detachments with stones, molotov cocktails and burning tires, and set fire to police vehicles, government offices and courts. The targets of attacks quickly widened to include all sorts of government buildings, the offices of political parties and of Islamic fundamentalist groups. By the end of April the entire Kabyle region was in open insurrection. Government attempts to suppress the insurrection led to open conflict with death and injuries on both sides.

The region already had an ancient indigenous tradition of village and regional assemblies. Thus, it was simple enough to begin to hold these assemblies as a way of organizing the struggle. In addition, during the 19th century a movement of resistance to French colonial rule had developed a method for coordinating the activities of village and regional assemblies known as the aarch. This was also revived. Its purpose is purely coordination, and the delegates from the village assemblies are specifically mandated and revocable at any time. They also must adhere to a very interesting “code of honor”. Through this form of self-organization, the people of Kabylia have organized massive demonstrations, general strikes, actions against the police and against the elections.

By mid-June, state control in the region had been almost completely routed, police headquarters were in ruins and the police themselves were completely shunned, forcing the government to supply them with food and other basic needs via helicopter and armed convoys. The aarch refused to meet with the government, and in mid-July, the aarch “code of honor” went into effect which required delegates “not to carry forward any activities or affairs that aim to create direct or indirect links to power and its collaborators”, “not to use the movement for partisan ends or drag it into electoral competitions or any other possibility for the conquest of power”, “not to accept any political appointments in the institutions of power”, etc. This pledge was put to the test immediately when unionists and party members tried to infiltrate the movement. The failure of their attempt to hijack the movement was made clear when demonstrators at a general strike chanted, “Out with the traitors! Out with the unions!”

When government officials tried to convince certain people in the aarch to negotiate, insurgents banned all government officials from the Kabyle region. Those who attempted to enter would be greeted with stones. In October, demonstrators tried to present a list of demands to the government, but were greeted with severe repressive measures. In response the aarch and other assembly groups decided that they would no longer submit their demands to the government, that the demands were absolutely non-negotiable and that anyone who sought negotiation with the government would be kicked out of the movement. Among the demands was the removal of all police brigades from the region.

Complete refusal of compliance with the state became the norm in Kabylia. When police dared to reappear on the street conflict was immediate, and to a great extent police were driven out of the region. The movement was also able to coordinate two massive election boycotts in which almost no one in Kabylia turned out to vote and in the Algeria as a whole, voter turnout was greatly reduced.

In late 2002-early 2003, the Algerian government took repressive action against the movement and particularly against the aarch. There were hundreds of arrests, but there was also ongoing action in protest. Although the repression has slowed down insurgent activity and police have returned to the region, the revolt has not stopped. Rioting continues to be the usual response to state negligence as well as atrocities. In addition, Algerian president Bouteflika can expect to be welcomed with rioting and a hail of rocks whenever he visits the Kabyle region. The aarch called for a general strike in the region that happened on March 18 (2004) and another election boycott for the most recent presidential election (April, 2004).

It is doubtful that there are many self-proclaimed anarchists in Algeria. Outside Algeria, in Italy and France, a number of anarchists spread information about the struggle and took actions in solidarity. It is questionable whether direct intervention in Algeria would be appropriate or helpful, but solidarity activity here most certainly would.

Argentina 2001-?

Well before the uprising of December 2001, there had been unrest in Argentina. A crumbling economy was having devastating effects, and with an unemployment rate of more than 25%, the jobless, among others, were already involved in massive protests involving blockades and other forms of direct action. But in December 2001, the Argentine economy began to collapse. People started to withdraw their money from banks and the Economic Minister placed a limit on how much could be withdrawn. The response was immediate. On December 20, rioting and looting began in Buenos Aires along with massive demonstrations. Banks and government institutions were attacked. Though often portrayed as a “middle class”* movement, it in fact encompassed all of those outside of the political and economic ruling class.

The rioting, looting and demonstrations spread far beyond Buenos Aires, involving all major cities and large portions of the country. In demonstrations, people often called for the complete dismantling of the government, and in fact during the first several weeks of the uprising, several presidents were forced to give up power.

Already in December, the first neighborhood assemblies began to appear in Buenos Aires with the aim of providing space for people to discuss the problems they faced and how they wanted to go about their struggles. The assemblies took place on street corners and in parks. Being open assemblies, of course, the vultures from the political parties and unions came in hopes of taking over the movement, but their attempts to proselytize were not tolerated. As the uprising spread, so did this method of self-organization, adapted to the specific situation.

While demonstrations, attacks upon government institutions and businesses, blockades and even attacks on specific politicians (one despicable fellow was beaten in a restaurant where he was eating) continued, the assemblies began to take other kinds of actions as well. Spaces were occupied in order to develop various activities and projects. Workers also occupied factories and held factory assemblies. There were several meetings between workers of occupied factories, people of the neighborhood assemblies and those in unemployed groups to discuss where to take the struggle. This was a significant question, because the various occupations meant that more and more of the tools through which the present society functioned had been reappropriated by insurgents. The question really was what to do with them.

The places occupied by the neighborhood assemblies were already looked upon as spaces for those involved to carry out activities and projects they found desirable. The workers at occupied factories seemed less clear about creating something truly new. In fact, a number of the workers simply started production back up under “workers’ control”. In one factory, the demand was “nationalization with workers’ control”. There has been no new news from Argentina since word of these occupations. It is possible that the “realism” of the workers, or the simple difficulty of trying to live differently when the world continues to follow the path of exploitation and domination has cooled things down for now.

Argentina has an old anarchist history, so it should be no surprise that there are several anarchist groups there. What is surprising is how ill-prepared they were for this uprising. In fact, the first statement I saw from Argentine anarchists was distancing itself from the looting and rioting, very nearly speaking of it as mere hooliganism. Of course this changed, but nonetheless, the anarchists there seemed to take their time catching up to the movement. Once they did, they were active participants in neighborhood assemblies, occupations and the like, and one can assume they played a part in maintaining the suspicion of politicians and leaders that was such a healthy part of the revolt.

Basilicata, Italy, November 2003

The governor of the region of Basilicata had the unwelcome surprise last November of finding out that sometimes people don’t just sleep through the decisions that are being made over their lives. The governor had made an agreement to build a nuclear waste deposit site in the region, near to the town of Scanzano Jonica. The people of this town did not just sit back. Nor did they go out with petitions to beg their governor to change their mind. Instead they decided to take direct action, blockading the roads of the entire region and shutting it down.

There were no political groups of any sort involved in the organization of this activity. Rather people met together in assemblies to discuss the question and to organize the blockades. Apparently one small-time politician did try to get involved, but found no welcome. For several weeks in November, the movement kept the region blockaded. By the end of November, the governor took back his plan to building nuclear waste deposit site. Although the people of Scanzano Jonica stopped the blockades then, they have continued to hold general assemblies to discuss the realities of their lives. Their distrust for those in power is obvious, and the continuation of the assemblies provides a potential basis for further struggles.

I have not heard of any anarchists taking part directly in this struggle, but if there are anarchists living in the region, I assume that they participated. The movement itself expressed in practice the essential elements: a practice of direct action, the development of a method for direct, horizontal communication and coordination, a distrust of political solutions and a refusal to negotiate or back down.

Wildcat strikes in Italy, Winter 2003-4

On December 1, 2003, the streetcar drivers of Milan went out on a wildcat strike for the day. The day was a good one for such an action, because it was also the first day of an official summit on the environment in Milan – a summit in which political and economic leaders would discuss how to minimize the damage and depletion of resources while continuing to maximize profit and power. The immediate reason for the strike was the loss of real wages due to inflation and the betrayal of previous contracts. However, from the beginning the strike reflected a broader anger at the outrages of the bosses and the complicity of the unions in these outrages.

On December 15, there were wildcat actions by streetcar drivers all over Italy. In Turin and Brescia, the drivers went on strike and many of them burned their union cards. In several other cities there were massive sick-ins by the drivers. A few days later, airport workers in Rome staged a wildcat strike, blockading the entrances to the airport, to protest impending lay-offs.

On December 19, the unions signed a new agreement with the transit bosses over the heads of the transit workers. The response was immediate as transit workers throughout Italy staged wildcat strikes, sick-ins and “work-to-rule” slowdowns over the next several days. Spontaneous assemblies were created in many stations and more and more workers were burning their union cards.

On December 22, despite a government back-to-work order, the strikers chose to continue the struggle. Police were called in to force them back to work, but in some places, such as Brescia, workers were able to repel police attacks.

Various wildcat actions continued, with a few strikes in January. On January 9, the base unions (COBAS and other legally recognized rank and file organizations) called a nation-wide legal strike to protest the union agreement of December 19. Because these unions, despite their relatively decentralized form, are nonetheless essentially organs for negotiation like the large confederal unions, this can be seen as a recuperative event. Nonetheless, in Genoa, the transit workers chose to make the strike illegal. On January 12, workers in Milan staged a surprise wildcat strike. The government issued another “back-to-work” order. The Milanese workers defied it, extending their strike through January 13 as well. And on January 19, airport workers in Rome once again shut down the airport for eight hours.

In addition, there have been struggles going on against Alfa Romeo, protesting layoffs. In some of these actions, the laid-off workers and those still employed have acted together. In addition, it appears that workers in the metal industry, fed up with the complicity of the union with the bosses, have been taking note of the wildcat actions of transit workers. However, the Alfa-Romeo struggles seem to be largely under the control of the base unions, and beyond the expression of dissatisfaction, I have heard of no specific action taken by the metal workers. So It is hard to say where this might lead. In fact, for now it seems that things have calmed down.

The assemblies in the stations and the blockades of public ways that were the main method of these strikes provided a space for some direct communication between transit workers and others. In some of the strikes, other workers and supporters of the strikers took part in blockades. By the end of January broader assemblies were taking place, but they seemed to have come under control of the base unions. At one such assembly, workers promised to hold meetings in their workplaces to increase support for the transit workers and those of Alfa Romeo. If any transit worker is touched by repression, a mass response would be organized in all the workplaces. But the control by the base unions makes this seem rather suspicious, especially since from the time of their first direct involvement (January 9), there has been no autonomous action outside of the two day wildcat in Milan and a half day in Genoa.

In February, the hand of repression began to fall. Solidarity committees were formed. Although I haven’t heard details, there have apparently been continuing actions by laid-off Alfa Romeo workers and others throughout Italy, though all under the control of the various base unions.

So the situation has calmed. It is hard to know how long the calm will last or what the precise role of recuperative forces was in cooling off this struggle. Certainly without spreading in a truly self-organized manner, the struggle could not have lasted. Most transit workers have families, work under precarious conditions (many as temporary workers or on a probationary training status) and have fairly low wages for unionized workers. The confederal unions were enemies of the wildcats from the start, and the base unions also have their legal status as intermediaries in labor disputes to protect. So the workers cannot count on either. The insurgence of the 1970’s in Italy was largely sparked by wildcat activity, but circumstances are different now. So it is hard to make any predictions.

Anarchists and other anti-political revolutionaries involved themselves in this struggle through flyers and direct communication, expressing solidarity and encouraging people who have been getting free days off school and work due to the strikes to use the time to discover different ways of encountering each other and the world. In addition, sabotage of ticket machines and other transit company property in solidarity with the strikers occurred.

A few significant features

There are a few significant features that stand out in these situations:

1) Riots, uprisings and insurrections are not generally inspired by grand ideas, utopian dreams or total theoretical critiques of the social order. Often the spark that sets them off is quite banal: economic instability, bad working conditions, betrayal by those who claim to represent one’s rights, police brutality. These seemingly minor details spark revolt when rage combines with a distrust in both the ruling and oppositional institutions. This fact calls for anarchists to avoid an ideological purity that calls for participation only in total struggles. It also calls for the a keen theoretical development capable of immediately understanding specific situations in terms of the totality of domination, exploitation and alienation, and at the same time capable of making a practical application of this theory. This requires a willingness to constantly examine the developing realities around us, making connections that show the necessity for a revolutionary rupture, while at the same time singling out appropriate areas for intervention and appropriate targets for attack.

2) When an uprising or spontaneous struggle moves beyond the initial stages, the exploited recognize the need for horizontal communication. Assemblies or something similar are spontaneously developed. The rejection of politics and representation express themselves in these methods. At the same time, there are always party and union hacks, along with other predators, looking for the weak spot where they can “offer their assistance”. Here again, anarchists and anti-political revolutionaries need to have their shit together to keep an ongoing attack against these recuperative tendencies in play, as well as constantly pushing the struggle in a plainly anti-political direction in which negotiations and, thus, representation have no place.

3) Spaces which have tended to bring people together for purposes that are not their own are transformed to the extent possible into spaces for people’s own projects. This aspect is of major importance, because the ruling order is doing all it can to shut down or control public spaces. In the 1970’s factories could actually provide space for assemblies and other insurgent activities. With changes in the ways production is carried out, this is not a real option any more. Other public spaces are being designed to extend surveillance and limit the possibilities of gathering. This is an area where immediate resistance is necessary and where imagination needs to be focused.

4) Where there are traditions and known histories of self-organization, these can often provide a basis for the self-organization of revolt. Indigenous traditions in particular often provide such structures. On the other hand, where no such traditions exist, imagination and the capacity to be able to create from nothing are essential. This points to another area where immediate resistance is necessary: the increasing degradation of the capacity for creative thought needs to be fought tooth and nail. The standardization of thought into mere calculation and the rote recital of commonplaces must be rejected and countered, so that the capacity to really grapple with situations continues.

The Situation in the US

The absence of a social movement

None of the examples that I have used come from the United States. This is not because there have been no examples of self-organized struggles and revolt in this country, but most of them are more distant in time and didn’t go nearly as far as the events above. There was the wildcat movement among coal-miners in the ‘60’s. Although there were plenty of political hacks around, the anti-war, black liberation and other movements of the ‘60’s also had significant self-organized aspects. The mutinies among American military personnel in Vietnam were self-organized revolts. And in more recent times, apparently in one or two of the cities to which rioting spread after the Rodney King verdict in 1992, spontaneous assemblies actually took place to decide how to go about the rioting and looting effectively.

But in significant ways the situation in the United States now is not the same as it was in the 1960’s (and even then different movements and struggles seemed to have trouble connecting), nor is it like Italy or Spain (where, even now, wildcat strikers get support from others, including revolutionaries), Algeria or Bolivia.

Perhaps, the first thing we have to face as revolutionary anarchists in the US is that presently there is no social movement in this country. Collective social revolt only occurs in sudden explosions in response to immediate situations and quickly dissipates as repression and recuperation move in to defuse the situation.

The illusion that there is a movement in this country (to the extent the illusion exists) is the result of specialized activism, the myriad of groups, organizations and networks that publicize this, that or the other cause, issue or ideology. But specialized activism is in fact the very opposite of a social movement for a variety of reasons. First of all, it is essentially political rather than social in nature. The various activist groups represent the cause, issue or ideology that is their specialty. This representation can only occur through the reification of whatever reality stands behind the cause of the group, its transformation into a spectacular image (the clear-cut forest, the dead Iraqi baby, the cat with the electrode in its head, …). And this process of spectacularization guarantees that these matters will continue to be perceived in a fragmented manner which maintains the specialized role of the activist groups and prevents any revolutionary analysis or practice in relation to the particular matter they specialize in. The protests of these activists groups can give the image of resistance, but they do not spring from the daily lives and lived experiences of those involved, and so do not constitute real social resistance.

The specialization of activism around spectacular causes also transforms those involved, at least potentially, into representatives of struggle. In the US, this is not a minor matter. The number of times that activist groups and religious leaders have quelled a riotous situation by playing the role of “representatives” of the oppressed before the authorities is truly telling. With cries of “justice” and “rights”, they move an immediate response of rage against this society away from the area of social rebellion and into the area of politics and petition to the authorities. Those who play this role have to be recognized as the enemies of any social movement of rebellion, the guarantee that every immediate rebellion will remain a mere fragment, an event without past or future and without any relationship to rebellions elsewhere – the endless now of the media in which meaningful activity becomes impossible. We can’t let some ridiculous politically correct morality prevent us from exposing their role fiercely.

Specialized activism is itself a symptom of deeper problems. In all of the situations described above, there were levels of social cohesion that do not currently exist in the United States. Without trying to trace all the reasons here, it is necessary to recognize that ours is one of the most atomized societies in existence. Although there have been some significant workers’ struggles in this country since World War 2, these have tended to be isolated, because class consciousness has nearly disappeared in America. To a large extent, workers in this country have acquired “middle class” values of consumption: the desire for the single family house, at least two cars, fancy home entertainment centers, a personal stereo, etc., etc. So many of the products that are deemed desirable, in fact, act in a practical manner to separate people, to prevent communication with those around us. In addition, the well-paid union worker has been so ingrained with the bourgeois work ethic as to see anyone without a job, even the homeless street person, as a leech “living off his taxes”.

In the United States, the question of race cannot be ignored in dealing with this problem. The way this question is often dealt with in anarchist circles, with mental self-flagellation, p.c. moralizing and guilt, is useless from a revolutionary point of view. It is essential rather to note that, on the one hand, the social creation of race was developed through the use of very different methods of exploitation and oppression on people of different skin-colors and cultural backgrounds, and, on the other hand, that the rulers have used these differences in experience to create and maintain deep separations between those of different backgrounds, to guarantee that the exploited continue to be blind to the need to interweave their various struggles in order to more strongly attack the ruling class. It is not a matter of a melting pot, but of a weaving together of different strands of struggle. But as it stands now, in the United States, consciousness of race tends to be far stronger than class consciousness and this plays a major role in enforcing atomization and preventing significant struggles from coming together in a way that could be the basis for a real social movement.

Another factor enforcing alienation and preventing the development of a social movement here is the use of a propaganda of fear as a major factor in social control. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the rhetoric of fear has greatly expanded, but it has always been an important tool of the ruling class. The specter of crime is constantly raised in the media – before September 11, lightly spiced with terrorism, since then heavily spiced. The various modes of policing and real or (more often) apparent surveillance help to reinforce this message of fear. Others are not to be trusted. This is the basic message. The “never talk to strangers” of our mothers or teachers turns into the standard for adult behavior as well. This is reinforced by the various technological apparatuses that make communication between strangers difficult: personal stereos, cell phones, handheld computer games and the like. In the midst of the crowd, we each remain in our own little world, afraid to come out. Even within the anarchist milieu, the rule of fear finds its place. The very real need for security is often transformed into a paranoid distrust of anyone who doesn’t have the right appearance, thus reinforcing ghettoization in a subculture. If we have any desire for social transformation, it is safer to stay within the confines of the specialized activist milieu. Of course this will guarantee no such transformation occurs.

It would be easy to despair in the face of American social reality. It is difficult to see how any social movement can be revived out of such extensive atomization. And yet, there has been some evidence that among those at the bottom some awareness of a need to actually communicate is developing. The recent economic decline has pushed more people into precarious positions, opening some, at least, to examining deeper questions. Nonetheless, the creation of any real social movement here will have to involve a real and concrete practical rejection of activist politics and exposure and fierce confrontation with the recuperators it fosters. Since we desire a radical social transformation, one of our tasks as anarchists is precisely to encourage those who are becoming outraged at the conditions of their existence in this society to think and act for themselves rather than relying on the various ideologies and organization that will offer to represent their rage and resistance.

Two examples of the problem

When the Bush administration started to talk of the “necessity” of the current war in Iraq, there was some protest immediately. As the claims of the administration about the reasons for the war became increasingly suspect, the questioning of the war moved far beyond any activist milieu. From January 2003 through the beginning of the war, one saw huge demonstrations in which the vast majority of those involved were not activists. But most of the marches and demonstrations were organized by specialists in activism, petty politicians of the left with their own agendas. In L. A., the activist coalition that organized the demos was dominated by ANSWER (a front group for one of the multitude of ABC-socialist parties) and Not In Our Name (a front group for the Revolutionary Communist Party). The demonstrations were well regulated marches ending in rallies with the typical boring rhetorical speakers – the preachers to the crowd that activists love. Perhaps the most absurd thing was the competition between ANSWER and Not In Our Name for the attention of the crowd. ANSWER would call for a more reserved approach to the protest, while Not In Our Name would call for a more militant approach, but both were obviously seeking to establish their leadership over the movement. I would not be surprised if there were similar dynamics in many other cities. So it comes as no surprise that the anti-war movement has dwindled back down to a mainly activist movement, and not a particular energetic one. Undoubtedly, with the increasing exposure of the extent of the dishonesty of the administration, there is still a great deal of questioning, but no outlet. Since the morale of American soldiers in Iraq is extremely low and the desertion rate high, it is clear that there is potential for resistance among soldiers, but without a social movement of resistance to the war effort, soldiers may feel that they would have no support if they rebelled.

Another example of what can happen when the representatives of struggle take control happened in the neighborhood where I live. In May 2003, three blocks from the house where I was living, a cop murdered a woman who had been in a car they pulled over. There was an immediate response of outrage throughout the neighborhood, with a spontaneous memorial at the place she was killed, and demonstrations and rallies. The woman was an African-American, and in this area religious leaders play a central political role in the African-American “community”. So religious leaders immediately imposed themselves as representatives of the outrage, and immediately directed any potential struggle into the “proper channels”, calling for nonviolence. A few anarchists wrote and distributed flyers about the nature of the police, but got little response. The trajectory of this particular “struggle” had already been set by the religious leaders who had set themselves up as its representatives, and that direction was toward appeal to the ruling powers to reform their practices, an appeal that proved worthless, since the murdering officer is back on the streets with the authorities and the media protecting his identity.

Conclusion

Autonomous self-organization would have to be the basis both of a truly free existence and of the struggle to achieve that existence. It is the very opposite of politics and in practice either rejects it or is destroyed by it. The practice of self-organization seems to develop spontaneously when people rise up in revolt. What distinguishes it from politics is its opposition to representation and compromise – not just with the ruling order, but within the self-organized movement itself. Thus, rather than seeking to impose collective decisions involving compromise, it seeks to find a method for interweaving the desires, interests and needs of all involved in a way that is actually pleasing to each. This is not just a minor aspect, but is essential. Once the aim of organizing our struggles and our lives together ceases to be that of finding the ways for interweaving our differing desires, interests and needs so that all find fulfillment and instead becomes that of finding compromises, positions, programs and platforms start to take the place of desires, dreams and aspirations. Then, the representatives of the various positions, programs and platforms can find their place in the situation and transform self-organization into politics. It has happened before in revolutionary situations with horrible results.

This gives an indication of the way anarchist intervention is best carried out. We do not need to create any sort of political organization to represent anarchy. To do so would, in fact, be to work against self-organization. Instead we should start from ourselves, our own condition as individuals who have had our lives stolen from us, our struggle against that condition and our desire to be the creators of our own existence. From this basis, anarchist intervention would not be evangelism for a political program or for true revolutionary consciousness. It would rather be the search for accomplices, the development of relationships of affinity, the intertwining of our desires and passions, of our destructive rage, our ideas and our dreams with those of others in their struggles and revolts. Such a search can find its way in the midst of social movements of revolt, discovering the spreading affinities that offer an informal federation of complicity. It can also find its way where no social movement seems to exist, discovering the hidden veins of other individual revolts seeking complicity, and in these hidden veins perhaps finding the embryo of a new social movement.

In any case, this intervention, in refusing politics and its methods, becomes a tension toward revolution and freedom in life and struggle, perpetually pushing against the grain for the destruction of all domination and exploitation, for the end of every practice of specialization and representation including that of specialized activism. It is the tension that springs from knowing what one desires and at the same time knowing that one is facing a world that is designed to prevent one from realizing that desire – knowing, in other words, that one’s life is a battle. It is, at the same time, the tension of the complicity of desires in which the differences between individuals create the interweaving harmonies of affinity that indicate the direction for a new truly free way of living. It is in this tension that the specific self-organization of consciously anarchist revolt can find the way to intertwine with the daily struggles of all the exploited at the points where those struggles begin to experiment with direct action and self-organization. A new world based on joy and the exploration of our desires is possible, it will begin to grow wherever the self-organization of revolt against this world flows into the self-organization of life itself.



* In Sicily, the Mafia remains a significant part of the power structure. It also clearly recognized several areas of profit in the coming of the base ranging from its “legal” operations to prostitution and drugs.

* This term is relatively meaningless as it is used today. In the context of this uprising it refers to the fact that among those effected by the collapsing economy were people in occupations that paid moderately well, not just the poor.