Dissident #2 has been released in Sweden!
The Batko Group are an anarchist communist group that study, discuss and develop revolutionary theory. We are undogmatic and want to develop and participate in a constructive critical debate, moving it forward within the anarchist movement.
It’s finally here, Dissident #2, bigger, better and if possible even more interesting than before. Hopefully we have learned from our mistakes, and cured most of the childhood diseases that the first issue suffered from. Since then the editorial board has expanded, and the political composition of the group has shifted to some degree from a more platformist position (that we presented in Dissident #1) towards the perspectives that constitute the theme of this issue, “insurrectionary anarchism”.
For starters we have to stress that there is no such thing as “insurrectionalism” in the sense of it being a new ideological package that claims to contain all the questions and answers that the “revolutionary worker” may need. Also, it is not just a negative critique or denunciation of the contemporary “left” or some specific tendency or theory. If you think that is all there is to it, you’ve missed the point. Instead, insurrectionary anarchism should be understood as an attempt to formulate a tendency within the revolutionary movement, a perspective that is always present in the class struggle and emerges from it, and how we as revolutionaries should relate to this. This might seem abstract and hard to grasp right now, but hopefully this will become clearer as you read these texts.
What the insurrectionary anarchists have contributed with, and what makes them so interesting, is that they with a point of departure in the classical principles of anarchism (direct action, propaganda by the deed, an undogmatic view on theory etc.), and derived from their own analysis of the contemporary reality, have tried to cast the whole of the formal workers movement overboard, and with it everything it implies of ideological prejudice, traditions and alienating structures. Instead they have initiated the incredibly ambitious project of formulating a completely new coherent theory for the totality of revolutionary practice, something that actually can bring us closer to the revolution, not just talk about it. They try to formulate and rationalize the spontaneous perspectives that constitute the driving force of the class struggle and they have actually come quite a long way.
This is the most ambitious anarchist attempt to draw up a revolutionary concept of totality (where theory, practice and organizational form forms a logical unity) since syndicalism was formulated and put to the test in the beginning of the 1900’s. Apart from this the two best known and widely spread attempts to build revolutionary concepts of totality are Leninism and social democracy. And ever since these two gained hegemony within the formal workers’ movement, almost every current that has emerged and crystallized from the class struggle have either been variants of these or simply negative denunciations, without formulating any perspectives of their own. This is of course also true for the different anarchist initiatives that, instead of taking to heart the anarchist theory that actually do exists, often have been satisfied with letting principles decline to flat dogmas and theory transform to ideology, without any real ambition of changing anything.
To link the discussion to the political discussion in Sweden today, one can say that the perspectives put forward by insurrectionary anarchism give voice to many of the unspoken or spontaneous perspectives that, more or less, were the guiding lights of the so-called autonomous movement and extra parliamentary left throughout the 90’s. But precisely because the perspectives were unspoken and spontaneous they became eclectic; picking one bit here and one bit there, building a practice on fragments. And at the same time still identifying with the left rather than the class, and still trying to motivate their practice with chosen bits of ideology from the formal leftist movement.
Because of this anti-theoretical stance and negative demarcation, some things have been successful while others have gone completely wrong. This is why you could say that the insurrectionary perspective both confirm and refute the theory and practice of this so called “movement”. It confirms it in so far as it actually was an expression of real tendencies within the class struggle, and to the extent that groups within it were in the forefront and developed this in an insurrectionary way from the housing-occupations of the 80’s, through the environmental movement, militant anti-fascism, women’s struggle and so on, up to the rediscovery of the class struggle, with some sort of highpoint in the anti-globalization movement. On the other hand, it refutes it in so far that it actually was/is a part of the activist and alienating left, with everything that implies.
Here it’s important to stress that we in our discussions, both within the group and with others, have realized that insurrectionary anarchism often is perceived as being a theory of activism (or even ultra-activism), and that nothing could be more wrong. This misunderstanding is probably a result of the fact that people who make this interpretation (both its critics and some of its supporters) are themselves so deeply entangled in the leftist way of thinking that they have a hard time conceiving of an autonomous class struggle without mediating leftist organizations. The insurrectionary perspective should instead be understood as a way out of activism. In order to understand this you have to see insurrectionary anarchism as a theory for class organization, not a theory for left organization. Insurrectionary anarchism doesn’t relate to the left. It makes the left meaningless. This simply means that the left as a point of reference is meaningless for us as revolutionaries (or communists, or anarchists, or whatever we chose to call ourselves).
The tendencies and currents that the insurrectionary perspective tries to unite as a coherent theory for practice, are an expression of tendencies that always are, and always have been, a part of the class struggle; they have always been present, and have made themselves visible in different ways and forms. Sometimes it has been called “the other workers movement,” sometimes “faceless resistance,” and it expresses itself through wild cat strikes, sabotage, riots, stealing etc. Struggles that have in common that they completely break with the bourgeois order. But obviously, no clear line can be drawn between a “stupid left” and a “pure class struggle”—reality isn’t that simple. Instead, the fact is that in the same way that there is always a strive towards insurrection present in the class struggle, groups and initiatives are always emerging and crystallizing from these struggles which try to formulate new theory and/or adopt already existing theory to confirm and develop these insurrectionary tendencies. This becomes even clearer in revolutionary situations and in great upheavals of struggle, but it is a constant process that goes on all the time, in one way or another. In this sense these groups actually do become part of the left (if they weren’t already). This isn’t really a problem in itself, because the tendency to constitute oneself as an institution within the left is always immanent in all class struggles and class organizations, just as the “real class struggle” is always, in one way or another, a part of the institutional left as a whole.
The big problem has instead been that the groups and theories that in one way or another is an expression of the insurrectionary tendency continue to have the institutional left as their point of reference. They only use their theory as a negative demarcation towards certain aspects of leftism, but uncritically continue to swallow others, and they seek unity with other groups on the basis of rejecting the formal workers’ movement, even if they don’t reject the same aspects of it, instead of uniting around a common class struggle. This creates a confused mishmash of currents and tendencies, usually called “the extra parliamentary left” or “the autonomous movement,” that instead of being a tool in the class struggle becomes the borderland, or the uniting cement in the cracks, between the old formal workers movement and the real communist movement, and in this way actually counteracts its own expressed purpose. A critique of activism must always be based on a class struggle perspective. If it is based on a leftist perspective it misses the point, and in the worst case becomes a denunciation of the class struggle itself.
The insurrectionary perspective is nothing new to anarchism, it has been present since the time of the very first anarchists. Its roots can mainly be traced back to Bakunin1 and Malatesta2. Bakunin fought against the conception that democracy and representation (i.e. the state in all its forms) could be used in the name of social revolution. Instead he advocated direct and uncompromising attack against state and capital, at the same time as he took active part in the formation of autonomous grass root groups all across Europe. Bakunin was not the elitist or hypocritical authoritarian his adversaries accused him of being. Instead Bakunin stood for a direct nonrepresentative method of organization and struggle that through the propaganda of the deed would push the social conflict to its peak, i.e. to insurrection, and ultimately social revolution:
“As invisible pilots amidst the popular tempest, we must steer it not by any open power, but by the collective dictatorship of all the allies. A dictatorship without any insignia, without titles, without official rights, and all the stronger for having none of the paraphernalia of power.”3
One of Bakunin’s comrades and followers was the Italian anarcho-communist Errico Malatesta. He criticized the platformists from an insurrectionary perspective. What makes Malatestas critique relevant (as opposed to the advocators of synthesis and the individualists) is that he has a communist standpoint, that he advocates collective and social struggle, i.e. class struggle. Malatesta agreed with the platformists about the need for theoretical and tactical unity, and that the class struggle must be a social struggle, but he criticized the organizational proposition of the Platform for being too state-like.
In the footsteps of Malatesta, there was another Italian anarchist-communist with central importance for insurrectionary anarchism. His name was Luigi Galleani4, and he was contemporary with Malatesta, but in 1901 he was forced to flee to USA to avoid imprisonment for his revolutionary ideas. Galleani criticized formal organizations of any kind, which he saw as having a tendency to develop into hierarchical and bureaucratic institutions, and thus lose their anarchistic and revolutionary potential. He didn’t see any contradiction between individual and collective struggle, and he advocated spontaneity, autonomy, independence and direct action etc. at the same time as defending anarchist communism and stressing the unity between Kropotkin’s5 “mutual aid”6 and insurrection. The emphasis that there isn’t any contradiction between individual and social struggle, between anarchism and communism, and the critique of formal organization has been an important point of departure for later insurrectionary anarchists.
With the upheaval of struggle in the 60’s and 70’s the insurrectionary perspective got revitalized, and was able to deepen even further through the analysis of, and participation in the struggles of that time, especially in Italy. In Italy the young unschooled industrial workers, the “mass-workers,” revolted violently against the wage slavery, with its peak during the “hot autumn” of 1969. One of the ways that the state responded to this insurrection was with the “strategy of tension,” bombings carried out by the state and then blamed on the anarchists. Provocations that served to justify harder repression. During the later half of the 70’s a larger movement of students, women, youth and unemployed was formed. This movement was in many ways different from earlier proletarian movements: anti-hierarchical, ideologically open and loosely organized. In 1977 a radical student was murdered by a fascist, and the “movement of ‘77” exploded all over Italy.
It was in this context that Alfredo Bonanno7 and other Italian anarchists laid the foundation for a modern insurrectionary standpoint. Their critique of the struggles of the 70’s focused on how the organizational forms effect the content of the struggles, and a deeper critique of formal organization was formulated. The insurrectionalists were most notably involved in the anti-nuclear and peace movement, for example in the resistance to the military base in Comiso in Sicily. From this they derived three basic principles for insurrectionary struggle: 1) permanent conflictuality; that the struggle should never turn to mediation, bargaining or compromise, 2) autonomy and self-activity; that the struggle should be carried out without representatives and “specialists”, and 3) organization as an attack; that the organization should be used as a tool in the attack against state and capital, and not be a goal in itself. This way activity becomes primary, and the struggle doesn’t transform to organizational fetishism.
Insurrectionary perspectives have, of course, also been developed outside of the anarchist tradition. A Marxist variant was the Johnson-Forest-faction8 that started to research ordinary workers everyday life in America. They published publications that were written by workers themselves who analyzed their own situation. They focused on the workers’ self-activity, and criticized the left’s view on class consciousness. Their inquiries into how the production is formed and politically met by the workers was something you could also see parallels to in the studies of Socialisme ou Barbaries9 in France in the 50’s and in the inquiries of The Operaists10 in Italy.
Those who probably have been of most importance for us in The Batko Group are the French “ultra-left”, with Gilles Dauvé11 and Jacques Camatte12 in the forefront. Dauvé’s communist perspective allows him to see beyond false dichotomies, like democracy/dictatorship. Instead he correctly understands the state, in all its forms, as an enemy. It is the self-activity and autonomous antagonism of the working class that is the priority, and the organizational form does not become a fetish, but rather something that has to be adapted accordingly to the content of the class struggle. This is put in relation to the real subsumtion of labor under capital. This means that labor isn’t only formally subsumed by capital (that capitalists own the means of production) but that capital has colonized the entire social body, so to speak. The labor-process has been totally subsumed to the logic of capital; all social activity has become commodities on the market. From this, the critique of all forms of organization of synthesis is derived, as they in this way only reproduce the social relationship between humans that is dictated by capital. The real subsumtion requires a deeper critique of synthesis. For example, things like democracy and self-management now become something we need to relate to critically.
In other words, there are ties between different theoretical currents that bridge ideological boundaries and complement one and other. This is why we, once again, would like to point out that the insurrectionary perspective isn’t some new ideological package deal, and that you make it much easier on yourself if you take the old anarchist principle of an undogmatic approach towards theory seriously.
The content of this issue is divided into three sections. The first two sections represent two different generations of insurrectionary anarchism. The first section contains texts from the first era of modern insurrectionary anarchism in the 70s and 80s with Bonanno in the forefront, and texts from the British magazine Insurrection influenced by the struggles of that time. The second section contains texts from the group around the American magazine Killing King Abacus that was a part of, and clearly has its point of reference in, the so called anti-globalization movement in the 2000s. The third section consists of texts that are a little bit older again, from the 70s, that are not explicitly anarchist, but none the less are very important for an understanding of the insurrectional perspective. They complement the first two sections, and perhaps should even be read first. Last but not least we have added a little glossary, where we try to explain some of the words we use in this issue. It is in no way complete, but if you find some incredibly strange word it can be worth a look. All footnotes in this issue are written by us unless stated otherwise.
Section one begins with two texts by Alfredo Bonanno that introduce insurrectionary anarchism and the insurrectional approach to organization. After that we have compiled a couple of shorter articles from the British magazine Insurrection issue 4, May 1988. These give a brief presentation of the central terminology, such as affinity group, autonomous base nucleus, structure of synthesis and so on, and also constitute the conceptual foundation that the texts in the second section base themselves on and deepen.
The second section also begins with two introductory texts. 13 notes on class struggle was first published as non-editorial in Green Anarchy issue 18, an issue particularly devoted to class struggle, and Some Notes on Insurrectionary Anarchism is taken from the second issue of Killing King Abacus. These are followed by The Insurrectionary Act and the Self-Organization of Struggle, that was published in Aporia Journal issue 2, and The Anarchist Ethic in the Age of the Globalization Movement, also taken from the second issue of Killing King Abacus. In the latter, the authors explain their understanding of anarchism, and put forward their insurrectional view on how anarchists should act in the present time, that is in the “age of globalization”. This text goes deeper, and is more difficult than many of the other texts, and it can in many ways be seen as an attempt to unite, further develop and go beyond the other texts in this issue. Together with Anti-Mass: Methods of Organization for Collectives, in the third and last section, it constitutes one of the cornerstones in this issue of Dissident. And ending this section we have chosen to publish an excerpt of The Batko Group’s ongoing conversation with Sasha, one of the editors of Killing King Abacus.
Section three begins with the two situationist classics The Revolutionary Pleasure of Thinking for Yourself and Anti-Mass: Methods of Organization for Collectives. Neither of these are explicitly anarchist, but are still central both for an understanding of where insurrectional anarchism is coming from, and for a revolutionary way of thinking in general. The first of these two gives a short and pedagogic explanation of the difference between a so-called revolutionary self-theory with its base in the class struggle, and the ideology that is enforced upon us from the outside to keep us down. The second text tries to highlight the difference between an organization of synthesis (what is called “mass organization” in the text) and a class organization. In parts, it can be pretty hard to grasp and sometimes the authors use their own concepts and definitions, and they get their inspiration from many different and diverse sources, from Mao to American situationists (and has sometimes been called “anarcho-maoist”). Also, you have to have oversight with some references and examples that may be hard to understand today, but you have to consider that the text has been around for over 30 years, and that it’s a product of its time. All things considered, it is still highly relevant for revolutionaries today, and it is written anti-ideologically and should be read “openly” with undogmatic eyes. The text focuses on self-activity, collectivity, class struggle, innovative thinking and the need for analysis, long term strategies and initiative. The third text, Autonomous Movement of the Turin Railway Workers, was written by a group of militant workers during the Italian struggles of the 70s. They were a part in the development of the autonomous forms of struggle, that the modern insurrectional current in many ways can be said to descend from. They emphasize the need of organization outside of the unions in autonomous base nuclei, and the need for permanent conflictuality. If you have a hard time picturing “real life insurrectional organization”, you have a great example in the Turin railway-workers. The text is taken from the pamphlet “Workers Autonomy” (Bratach Dubh/Elephant Editions).
The insurrectional perspective has become a great challenge for us, and has, as mentioned earlier, forced some of us to thoroughly rethink our role as revolutionaries. Some of us have, completely or in parts, left platformism behind them (the current we presented in our last issue), while others remain skeptical. We hope that the material we present in this issue of Dissident is enough to fuel a further discussion.