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Anarchism, insurrections and insurrectionalism

category international | anarchist movement | feature author Thursday July 20, 2006 17:15author by Joe Black - WSM - Red and Black Revolution Report this post to the editors

An anarchist communist examination of the history of insurrections in anarchism and of the modern ideas of insurrectionalism

Anarchist communists have no principled objection to insurrections, our movement has been built out of the tradition of insurrections within anarchism and we draw inspiration from many of those involved in such insurrections. In the present, we continue to defy the limitations the state seeks to put on protest where ever doing so carries the struggle forward. Again that is not just a judgement for us to make - in cases where we claim to be acting in solidarity with a group (eg of striking workers) then it must be that group that dictates the limits of the tactics that can be used in their struggle.

Insurrectionalism offers a useful critique of much that is standard left practise. But it falsely tries to extend that critique to all forms of anarchist organisation. And in some cases the solutions it advocates to overcome real problems of organisation are worse than the problems it set out to address. Anarchist communists can certainly learn from insurrectionalist writings but solutions to the problems of revolutionary organisation will not be found there.

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An anarchist communist examination of the history of insurrections in anarchism and of the modern ideas of insurrectionalism. [PDF booklet of this article]

Anarchism, insurrections and insurrectionalism

Insurrections - the armed rising of the people - has always been close to the heart of anarchism. The first programmatic documents of the anarchist movement were created by Bakunin and a group of European left-republican insurrectionists as they made the transition to anarchism in Italy in the 1860's. This was not a break with insurrectionism but with left-republicanism, shortly afterwards Bakunin was to take part in an insurrection in Lyon in 1870.

European radical politics of the previous hundred years had been dominated by insurrections ever since the successful insurrection in France of 1789 had sparked off the process leading to the overthrow of the feudal order across the globe. The storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 showed the power of the people in arms, this insurrectionary moment which changed the history of Europe probably involved only around one thousand people.

Insurrection and class politics

1789 also set a pattern where although the working people made up the mass of the insurrectionists it was the bourgeoisie who reaped the rewards - and suppressed the masses in the process of introducing their class rule. This lesson was not lost on those who saw freedom as something that had to involve the economic and social liberation of everyone, not the right of a new class to carry on 'democratic' exploitation of the masses.

In the republican insurrections that broke out in Europe in the century that followed, and in particular in 1848, the conflict between the republican capitalist and small capitalist classes and the republican masses became more and more pronounced. By the 1860's this conflict had led to the emergence of a specifically socialist movement that increasingly saw freedom for all as something that the republican bourgeoisie would fight against not for - alongside the old order if necessary. For Bakunin, it was the experience of the 1863 Polish insurrection where it became clear that the bourgeois republicans feared a peasant insurrection more than the Czar that conclusively proved this point. So now the fight for freedom would need to take place under a new flag - one that sought to organise the working masses in their interests alone.

The early anarchists embraced the new forms of workers’ organisation that were emerging, and in particular the International Workers Association or First International. But although they saw the power of the working class organised in unions, unlike the majority of the marxists they did not see this as meaning that capitalism could be reformed away. The anarchists insisted that insurrections would still be needed to bring down the old ruling class.

Early anarchist insurrections

Anarchist attempts at insurrection spread with the growing movement. In fact, even before the Lyon attempt the anarchist Chávez López was involved in an indigenous insurrectionary movement in Mexico which in April 1869 issued a manifesto calling for "the revered principle of autonomous village governments to replace the sovereignty of a national government viewed to be the corrupt collaborator of the hacendados".(1) In Spain in the 1870's, where workers’ attempts to form unions were met with repression, the anarchists were involved in many insurrections, and in the case of some small industrial towns were locally successful during the 1873 uprisings. In Alcoy for instance after paper workers who had struck for an eight-hour day were repressed "The workers seized and burned the factories, killed the mayor and marched down the street with the heads of the policemen whom they had put to death." (2) Spain was to see many, many anarchist led insurrections before the most successful - that which greeted and almost defeated the fascist coup of July 1936.

In Italy in 1877 Malatesta, Costa and Cafiero led an armed band into two villages in Campania. There they burned the tax registers and declared an end to Victor Emmanuel's reign - however their hope of sparking an insurrection failed and troops soon arrived. Bakunin had already been involved in an attempt to spark an insurrection in Bologna in 1874.

The limits of insurrections

Many of these early attempts at insurrection led to severe state repression. In Spain the movement was forced underground by the mid 1870's. This led into the 'Propaganda by Deed' period when some anarchists reacted to this repression by assassinating members of the ruling class, including a number of kings and presidents. The state in turn escalated the repression, after a bombing in Barcelona in 1892 some 400 people were taken to the dungeon at Montjuich where they were tortured. Fingernails were ripped out, men were hung from ceilings and had their genitals twisted and burned. Several died from torture before they were even brought to trial and five were later executed.

Arguably the fatal theoretical flaw of this period was the belief that the working people were everywhere willing to rise and that all the anarchist group had to do was light the touchpaper with an insurrection. This weakness was not limited to anarchism - as we have seen it was also the approach of radical republicanism, which meant sometimes, as in Spain or Cuba the anarchists and the republicans found themselves fighting together against state forces. Elsewhere the left sometimes slotted into this role - the Easter Rebellion of 1916 in Ireland saw a military alliance between revolutionary syndicalists and nationalists.

However the original organisational approach of the anarchists around Bakunin was not limited to making attempts at insurrection, but also included the involvement of anarchists in the mass struggles of the working people. While some anarchists responded to circumstances by constructing an ideology of 'illegalism' the majority started to turn to these mass struggles and, in particular, entering or constructing mass unions on a revolutionary syndicalist base. In the opening years of the 20th century anarchists were involved in or simply built most of the revolutionary syndicalist unions that were to dominate radical politics up to the Russian revolution. Very often these unions were themselves then involved in insurrections, as in 1919 in both Argentina and Chile which included in Chile workers who "took possession of the Patagonian town of Puerto Natales, under the red flag and anarcho-syndicalist principles."(3) Earlier, in 1911, the Mexican anarchists of the PLM, with the help of many IWW members from the USA, "organised battalions …in Baja California and took over the town of Mexicali and the surrounding areas".

Insurrections and anarchist communists

The anarchist communist organisational tradition within anarchism can be traced back to Bakunin and the first programmatic documents produced by the emerging anarchist movement in the 1860's. But these organisational ideas were not developed in any collective way again until the 1920's. Still there were individuals and groups that advocated the key features of organised anarchist communism; involvement in the mass struggle of the working people and the need for specific anarchist organisation and propaganda.

Anarchist communism was clarified in 1926 by a group of revolutionary exiles analysing why their efforts to date had failed. This resulted in the publication of the document known in English as the 'Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists' which we have analysed at length elsewhere.

Here the relevance is to note that, like their predecessors of the 1860's, this grouping of anarchist communists were trying to learn from the anarchist involvement in insurrections and revolution of the 1917-21 period. They include Nestor Makhno who had been the key figure of a massive anarchist led insurrection in the Western Ukraine. The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine fought the Austro Hungarians, anti-semitic pogromists, various white armies and the Bolshevik controlled Red army over those years.

These platformists as they have come to be known wrote "The principle of enslavement and exploitation of the masses by violence constitutes the basis of modern society. All the manifestations of its existence: the economy, politics, social relations, rest on class violence, of which the servicing organs are: authority, the police, the army, the judiciary... The progress of modern society: the technical evolution of capital and the perfection of its political system, fortifies the power of the ruling classes, and makes the struggle against them more difficult… Analysis of modern society leads us to the conclusion that the only way to transform capitalist society into a society of free workers is the way of violent social revolution." (4)

The Spanish experience

The next development of anarchist communism once more involved those at the centre of an insurrection - this time the Friends of Durruti group who were active during the Barcelona insurrection of May 1937. The FoD "members and supporters were prominent comrades from the Gelsa battle-front" (5)

The FoD was composed of members of the CNT but was highly critical of the role the CNT had played in 1936 "The CNT did not know how to live up to its role. It did not want to push ahead with the revolution with all its consequences. They were frightened by the foreign fleets... Has any revolution ever been made without having to overcome countless difficulties? Is there any revolution in the world, of the advanced type, that has been able to avert foreign intervention? … Using fear as a springboard and letting oneself be swayed by timidity, one never succeeds. Only the bold, the resolute, men of courage may attain great victories. The timid have no right to lead the masses...The CNT ought to have leapt into the driver's seat in the country, delivering a severe coup de grace to all that is outmoded and archaic. In this way we would have won the war and saved the revolution... But it did the opposite… It breathed a lungful of oxygen into an anaemic, terror-stricken bourgeoisie." (6)

Across much of the world anarchism had been crushed in the period up to, during and after World War Two. Anarchists were involved in partisan movements across Europe during the war but in the aftermath were repressed by eastern 'communism' or western 'democracy'. In Uruguay, one of the few places where a sizeable anarchist communist movement survived, the FAU waged an underground armed struggle against the military dictatorship from the 1950's. Cuban anarcho-syndicalists, in particular tobacco workers, played a significant role in the Cuban revolution only to be repressed in its aftermath by the new regime.

The ideology of insurrectionalism

There is a long tradition within anarchism of constructing ideologies out of a tactic. The long and deep involvement of anarchists in insurrections has, not surprisingly, given rise to an anarchist ideology of insurrectionalism.

An early self-definition of insurrectionalism in English is found in this 1993 translation: "We consider the form of struggle best suited to the present state of class conflict in practically all situations is the insurrectional one, and this is particularly so in the Mediterranean area. By insurrectional practice we mean the revolutionary activity that intends to take the initiative in the struggle and does not limit itself to waiting or to simple defensive responses to attacks by the structures of power. Insurrectionalists do not subscribe to the quantitative practices typical of waiting, for example organisational projects whose first aim is to grow in numbers before intervening in struggles, and who during this waiting period limit themselves to proselytism and propaganda, or to the sterile as it is innocuous counter-information"(7)

As an ideology insurrectionalism originates in the peculiar conditions of post war Italy and Greece. Towards the end of World War Two there was a real possibility of revolution in both countries. In many areas the fascists were driven out by left partisans before the allied armies arrived. But because of the Yalta agreement Stalin instructed the official revolutionary left of the Communist Party to hold back the struggle. As a result, Greece was to suffer decades of military dictatorship while in Italy the Communist Party continued to hold back struggles. Insurrectionalism was one of a number of new socialist ideologies which arose to address these particular circumstances. However the development of insurrectionalism in these countries is beyond the scope of this article. Here we want to look at the development of an insurrectionalist ideology in the Anglo world.

Insurrectionalism in the anglo world

One insurrectionalist has described how the ideas spread from Italy "Insurrectionary anarchism has been developing in the English language anarchist movement since the 1980s, thanks to translations and writings by Jean Weir in her "Elephant Editions" and her magazine "Insurrection". .. In Vancouver, Canada, local comrades involved in the Anarchist Black Cross, the local anarchist social center, and the magazines "No Picnic" and "Endless Struggle" were influenced by Jean's projects, and this carried over into the always developing practice of insurrectionary anarchists in this region today ... The anarchist magazine "Demolition Derby" in Montreal also covered some insurrectionary anarchist news back in the day" (8)

That insurrectionalism should emerge as a more distinct trend in English language anarchism at this point in time should be no surprise. The massive boost anarchism received from the summit protest movement was in part due to the high visibility of black bloc style tactics. After the Prague summit protest of 2000, the state learned how to greatly reduce the effectiveness of such tactics. Soon after the disastrous experience of Genoa and a number of controlled blocs in the USA, arguments arose that emphasised greater militancy and more clandestine organisation on the one hand and a move away from the spectacle of summit protesting on the other.

Alongside this, many young people who were entering anarchist politics for the first time often made the incorrect assumption that the militant image that had first attracted their attention on the TV news was a product of insurrectionalism in particular. In fact, most varieties of class struggle anarchists, including anarchist communists and members of the syndicalist unions, had participated in black bloc style protests at the summits. As these all see actual insurrections as playing a significant role in achieving an anarchist society, there should be nothing surprising in them being involved in a little street fighting on the occasions when that tactic appears to make sense. By the time of Genoa, when the state had obviously greatly upped the level of repression it could deploy, anarchist communists were debating whether such tactics had a future in the columns of this magazine and other publications.

The ideas of insurrectionalism

It is probably useful to dispel a couple of myths about insurrectionalism at the start. Insurrectionalism is not limited to armed struggle, although it might include armed struggle, and most insurrectionalists are quite critical of the elitism of armed struggle vanguards. Nor does it mean continuously trying to start actual insurrections, most insurrectionalists are smart enough to realise that this maximum program is not always possible, even if they are also keen to condemn other anarchists for waiting.

So what is insurrectionalism? Do or Die 10 published a useful(9) introduction with the title "Insurrectionary Anarchy : Organising for Attack!"(10). I use substantive quotes from this article in the discussion that follows.

The concept of 'attack' is at the heart of the insurrectionist ideology, this was explained as follows

"Attack is the refusal of mediation, pacification, sacrifice, accommodation, and compromise in struggle. It is through acting and learning to act, not propaganda, that we will open the path to insurrection, although analysis and discussion have a role in clarifying how to act. Waiting only teaches waiting; in acting one learns to act."

This essay drew from a number of previously published insurrectionalist works, one of these 'At Daggers Drawn' explained that

"The force of an insurrection is social, not military. Generalised rebellion is not measured by the armed clash but by the extent to which the economy is paralysed, the places of production and distribution taken over, the free giving that burns all calculation ... No guerrilla group, no matter how effective, can take the place of this grandiose movement of destruction and transformation." (11)

The insurrectionalist notion of attack is not one based on a vanguard achieving liberation for the working class. Instead they are clear that "what the system is afraid of is not these acts of sabotage in themselves, so much as their spreading socially." (12). In other words the direct actions of a small group can only be successful if they are taken up across the working class. This is a much more useful way to discuss direct action that the more conventional left debate that polarises extremes of 'Direct Action crews' who see their actions in themselves as achieving the objective versus revolutionary organizations that refuse to move beyond propagandising for mass action - and all too often actually argue against 'elitist' small group actions.

Riots and class struggle

Insurrectionalists often recognize class struggle where the reformist left refuse to, so writing of Britain in the early 1980's Jean Weir observed that "The struggles taking place in the inner city ghettos are often misunderstood as mindless violence. The young struggling against exclusion and boredom are advanced elements of the class clash. The ghetto walls must be broken down, not enclosed."(13)

The idea that such actions need to be taken up across the working class is also seen by insurrectionalists as an important answer to the argument that the state can simply repress small groups. It is pointed out that "It is materially impossible for the state and capital to police the whole social terrain"(14).

As might be imagined, individual desires are central to insurrectionalism but not as with the rugged individualism of the 'libertarian right'. Rather "The desire for individual self-determination and self-realization leads to the necessity of a class analysis and class struggle"(15).

Much of the insurrectionalist theory we have looked at so far presents no real problems in principle for anarchist communists. On the theoretical level, the problems arise with the organisational ideology that insurrectionists have constructed alongside this. Much of this has been constructed as an ideological critique of the rest of the anarchist movement.

The organiser

The insurrectionist criticism of 'the organiser', while a useful warning of the dangers that come with such a role, has expanded into an ideological position that presents such dangers as inevitable. We are told "It is the job of the organiser to transform the multitude into a controllable mass and to represent that mass to the media or state institutions" and "For the organiser... real action always takes a back seat to the maintenance of the media image"

Probably most of us are familiar with left campaigns run by a particular party where exactly this has happened. But our experience is that this is not inevitable. It is quite possible for individuals to help organise a struggle without this happening. A comrade has more time than anyone else so they take on a number of tasks that need to be done - are they not therefore an organiser?

The problem with the apparent blanket ban on 'organisers' is that it prevents analysis of why these problems arise and thus how they can be prevented.

In the case of media work there is no mystery. Anyone doing media work for a controversial struggle will be bombarded with questions about the likelihood of violence - in media terms this is a 'sexy' story. If they are getting this day after day, week after week then they will start to try to shape the struggle to follow this media agenda.

The solution is simple. This problem arises because the left tends to have their 'leader' who is doing the key organising of a protest also as the media contact for that protest. Our experience is that if you divorce the two roles so that the organisers of a specific event are not the people who speak to the media about it then the problem is greatly reduced if not eliminated. The actual organisers are isolated from the media but feed information to whoever is nominated as a media spokesperson. That media spokesperson however has no particular say about the organisation of the protest.

The media and popular opinion

This leads onto the insurrectionalist description of the media. "An opinion is not something first found among the public in general and then, afterwards, replayed through the media, as a simple reporting of the public opinion. An opinion exists in the media first. Secondly, the media then reproduces the opinion a million times over linking the opinion to a certain type of person (conservatives think x, liberals think y). Public opinion is produced as a series of simple choices or solutions ('I'm for globalization and free trade,' or 'I'm for more national control and protectionism'). We are all supposed to choose - as we choose our leaders or our burgers - instead of thinking for ourselves."

This all sounds pretty good - and there is considerable truth in it. But this blanket analysis again prevents a discussion about how these problems can be overcome. Until the time we have our own alternative media - and in that case some of the problems above would still apply - we would be crazy not to use those sections of the media through which we might be able to reach the millions of people that lack of resources otherwise cut us off from.

And while the media likes to simplify the story by reducing it to binary choices, this does not mean that everyone who gets information from the media accepts this division. Many if not all people have an understanding that the media is flawed and so tend not to accept its binary divisions.

Waiting for the revolution?

We are told the left in general and the rest of the anarchist movement in particular hold

"a critique of separation and representation that justifies waiting and accepts the role of the critic. With the pretext of not separating oneself from the 'social movement', one ends up denouncing any practice of attack as a 'flight forward' or mere 'armed propaganda'. Once again revolutionaries are called to 'unmask' the real conditions of the exploited, this time by their very inaction. No revolt is consequently possible other than in a visible social movement. So anyone who acts must necessarily want to take the place of the proletariat. The only patrimony to defend becomes 'radical critique', 'revolutionary lucidity'. Life is miserable, so one cannot do anything but theorise misery." (16)

Here we see the chief weakness of insurrectionalism - its lack of serious discussion of other anarchist tendencies. We are led to believe that other revolutionaries, including all other anarchists, favour waiting around and preaching about the evils of capitalism rather than also taking action. There are some very few groups for whom this is true, but the reality is that even amongst the non-anarchist revolutionary movement most organisations also engage in forms of direct action where they think this makes tactical sense. In reality this is also the judgement that insurrectionalists make - like everyone else they recognise the need to wait until they think the time is right. They recognise that tomorrow is not the day to storm the White House.

Critique of organisation

Another place to find fault with the ideology of insurrectionalism is where it comes to the question of organisation. Insurrectionalism declares itself against 'formal organisation' and for 'informal organisation'. Often quite what that means is unclear as 'formal' organization is simply used as a label for all the things that can go wrong with an organisation.

Insurrectionalists attempt to define formal organisation as "permanent organisations [which] synthesise all struggle within a single organisation, and organisations that mediate struggles with the institutions of domination. Permanent organisations tend to develop into institutions that stand above the struggling multitude. They tend to develop a formal or informal hierarchy and to disempower the multitude ... The hierarchical constitution of power-relations removes decision from the time such a decision is necessary and places it within the organisation ... permanent organisations tend to make decisions based not on the necessity of a specific goal or action, but on the needs of that organisation, especially its preservation. The organisation becomes an end in itself"

While this is quite a good critique of Leninism or Social Democratic forms of organisation, it doesn't really describe ongoing forms of anarchist organisation - in particular anarchist communism organisation. Anarchist communists don't, for instance, seek to "synthesise all struggle within a single organisation". Rather we think the specific anarchist organisation should involve itself in the struggles of the working class, and that these struggle should be self-managed by the class - not run by any organisation, anarchist or otherwise.

Solutions to the problems of organisation

Far from developing hierarchy, our constitutions not only forbid formal hierarchy but contain provisions designed to prevent the development of informal hierarchy as well. For instance considerable informal power can fall to someone who is the only one who can do a particular task and who manages to hold onto this role for many years. So the WSM constitution says no member can hold any particular position for more than three years. After that time they have to step down.

These sorts of formal mechanisms to prevent the development of informal hierarchy are common in anarchist communist organizations. In fact, it is an example of where formal organisation is a greater protection against hierarchy, our formal method of organisation also allows us to agree rules to prevent informal hierarchy developing. Insurrectionalism lacks any serious critique of informal hierarchy but, as anyone active in the anarchist movement in the anglo world knows, the lack of sizeable formal organisation means that problems of hierarchy within the movement are most often problems of informal hierarchy.

If you strip out the things that can go wrong with an organisation, then the insurrectionalist concept of 'formal' organisation boils down to an organisation that continues to exist between and across struggles. Although even here the distinction is clouded because insurrectionalists also see that sometimes informal organisation may be involved in more than one struggle or may move from one struggle to another.

From an anarchist communist perspective, the major point of an organisation is to help create communication, common purpose and unity across and between struggles. Not in the formal sense of all struggles being forced into the one program and under the one set of leaders. But in the informal sense of the anarchist communist organisation acting as one channel of communication, movement and debate between the struggles that allows for greater communication and increases the chance of victory.

The insurrectionalist alternative - Informal organisation

The method of organisation favoured by insurrectionists is guided by the principle that "The smallest amount of organisation necessary to achieve one’s aims is always the best to maximize our efforts." What this means is small groups of comrades who know each other well and have a lot of time to spend with each other discussing out issues and taking action - affinity groups.

We are told "to have an affinity with a comrade means to know them, to have deepened one's knowledge of them. As that knowledge grows, the affinity can increase to the point of making an action together possible.."(17)

Of course insurrectionalists know that small groups are often too small to achieve an objective on their own so in that case they say that groups can federate together on a temporary basis for that specific goal.

There have even been attempts to extend this to the international level.
"The Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionalist International is aimed at being an informal organisation... [It]is therefore based on a progressive deepening of reciprocal knowledge among all its adherents... To this end all those who adhere to it should send the documentation that they consider necessary to make their activity known... to the promoting group." (18)

Autonomous Base Nucleus

It is obvious that a successful libertarian revolution requires the mass of the people to be organised. Insurrectionalists recognise this and have attempted to construct models of mass organisation that fit within their ideological principles. Autonomous Base Nucleus, as they are called, were originally based on the Autonomous Movement of the Turin Railway Workers and the Self-managed leagues against the cruise missile base in Comiso.

Alfredo Bonanno in The Anarchist Tension described the Comiso experience
"A theoretical model of this kind was used in an attempt to prevent the construction of the American missile base in Comiso in the early '80s. The anarchists who intervened for two years built "self-managed leagues". (19)

He summarized them as follow "These groups should not be composed of anarchists alone, Anyone who intends to struggle to reach given objectives, even circumscribed ones, could participate so long as they take a number of essential conditions into account. First of all "permanent conflict” that is groups with the characteristic of attacking the reality in which they find themselves without waiting for orders from anywhere else. Then the characteristic of being "autonomous", that is of not depending on or having any relations at all with political parties or trade union organisations. Finally, the characteristic of facing problems one by one and not proposing platforms of generic claims that would inevitably transform themselves into administration along the lines of a mini-party or a small alternative trades union." (20)

For all that they have 'self-managed' in their title these leagues in fact look pretty much like the front organizations used for linking into and controlling social struggles by many Leninist organizations. Why so? Well the above definition is one of an organisation that while seeking to organise the masses does so along lines defined by the informal groups of anarchists. If it was truly self-managed, surely the League itself would define its method of operation and what issues it might like to struggle around? And from the start the leagues exclude not only all other competing organisations but even relations with political parties or trade union organisations. Again, any real self-managed struggle would make the decision of who to have relations with for itself and not simply follow the dictat of an organised ideological minority.

Another insurrectionalist, O.V., defined the leagues as "the element linking the specific informal anarchist organisation to social struggles" and said of them
"These attacks are organised by the nucleii in collaboration with specific anarchist structures which provide practical and theoretical support, developing the search for the means required for the action pointing out the structures and individuals responsible for repression, and offering a minimum of defence against attempts at political or ideological recuperation by power or against repression pure and simple."(21)

If anything this is worse - the specific anarchist structures are given the role of making pretty much every significant decision for the league. This makes a nonsense of any claim to self-management and would turn such a league into a creature to be manipulated by a self-selected cadre of true revolutionaries supposedly capable of grappling with the issues that its other members cannot. This seems to fly so much in the face of what insurrectionalists say elsewhere that we should stop and pause to wonder why do they end up with such a position.

The question of agreement

The reason lies in the fact that common action obviously requires a certain level of common agreement. The insurrectionalist approach to this is quite hard to get a grasp of and is the reason why such odd contradictions open up in the self-managed leagues they advocate. The problem is that reaching agreement requires decision making and in the making of decisions you open the possibility of a decision being made by the majority that the informal cadre think is a mistake,

The Do or Die article tries to define this obvious problem away as follows "Autonomy allows decisions to be made when they are necessary, instead of being pre-determined or delayed by the decision of a committee or meeting. This does not mean to say however that we shouldn't think strategically about the future and make agreements or plans. On the contrary, plans and agreements are useful and important. What is emphasised is a flexibility that allows people to discard plans when they become useless. Plans should be adaptable to events as they unfold."

This asks more questions then is answers - how can you plan without pre-determining something? If a group of people "think strategically about the future" is that group not a "committee or meeting" even if it chooses not to use that name. And who argues for plans that are not "adaptable to events as they unfold"?

From an anarchist communist perspective, the point of thinking strategically about the future is to use that thinking to plan for the future. Plans involve making decisions in advance - pre-determining them to at least an extent. And plans should be made and agreed formally, that certainly involves meetings and may well involve the meeting of a committee. Why deny any of this?

Negotiation

Like the more ideological anarcho-syndicalists, insurrectionalists take an ideological position against negotiations. "Compromise only makes the state and capital stronger" we are told. But this is a slogan that only works if you are a small group that has no influence on a struggle. Short of the revolution, it will be unusual to win a struggle outright so if our ideas are listened to we will again and again be faced with either a limited and therefore negotiated victory or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory because we advise fighting for more than we know can be won. Surely our aim should be to win everything that is possible, not to go down to glorious defeat?

Apparently not. One insurrectionalist favourably describes how "The workers who, during a wildcat strike, carried a banner saying, 'We are not asking for anything' understood that the defeat is in the claim itself" (22) This obviously can only make sense when the workers concerned are already revolutionaries. If this is a social struggle for say a rent reduction or an increase in wages, such a banner is an insult to the needs of those in the struggle.

Short of the revolution, the issue should not be whether or not to negotiate but rather who negotiates, on what mandate and subject to what procedures before an agreement can be made. The reality is that if these questions are avoided, then that vacuum will be filled by authoritarians happy to negotiate on their terms in a way that minimises their accountability.

Repression and debate

Without going into the specifics of each controversy, a major problem in countries where insurrectionalists put their words into deeds is that this often means attacks that achieve little except on the one hand providing an excuse for state repression and on the other isolating all anarchists, not just those involved, from the broader social movement.

Insurrectionalists claim to be willing to debate tactics but the reality of state repression means that in practise any critique of such actions is presented as taking the side of the state. Nearly 30 years ago Bonanno attempted to define all those who thought such actions premature or counter productive as taking the side of the state when he wrote in 'Armed Joy' that

"When we say the time is not ripe for an armed attack on the State we are pushing open the doors of the mental asylum for the comrades who are carrying out such attacks; when we say it is not the time for revolution we are tightening the cords of the straight jacket; when we say these actions are objectively a provocation we don the white coats of the torturers."(23)

The reality is that many actions claimed by insurrectionalists are not above critique - and if workers are not allowed to critique such actions are they not simply reduced to passive spectators in a struggle between the state and the revolutionary minority? If, as Bonnano seems to imply, you can't even critique the most insane of actions then you can have no real discussion of tactics at all.

Towards an anarchist communist theory

Anarchist communists have adopted a different test to that of sanity when it comes to the question of militant action. That is if you are claiming to act on behalf of a particular group, then you first need to have demonstrated that the group agrees with the sort of tactics you propose to use. This question is far more important to anarchist practise than the question of what some group of anarchists might decide is an appropriate tactic.

As we have seen, anarchist communists have no principled objection to insurrections, our movement has been built out of the tradition of insurrections within anarchism and we draw inspiration from many of those involved in such insurrections. In the present, we continue to defy the limitations the state seeks to put on protest where ever doing so carries the struggle forward. Again that is not just a judgement for us to make - in cases where we claim to be acting in solidarity with a group (eg of striking workers) then it must be that group that dictates the limits of the tactics that can be used in their struggle.

Insurrectionalism offers a useful critique of much that is standard left practise. But it falsely tries to extend that critique to all forms of anarchist organisation. And in some cases the solutions it advocates to overcome real problems of organisation are worse than the problems it set out to address. Anarchist communists can certainly learn from insurrectionalist writings but solutions to the problems of revolutionary organisation will not be found there.

Joe Black


1 John M Hart's "Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class"
2 James Joll, The Anarchists, 229
3 Thanks to Pepe for information on these events in Argentina and Chile.
4 Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, Dielo Trouda (Workers' Cause), 1926 online at http://struggle.ws/platform/plat_preface.html
5 Jaime Balius (secretary of the Friend of Durruti), Towards a Fresh Revolution, online at http://struggle.ws/fod/towardsintro.html
6 Towards a Fresh Revolution
7 For an Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionist International-Proposal for a Debate, Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionalist International, (Promoting Group), Elephant Editions 1993 online at http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/inter.html
8 Andy posting in respone to an early draft of this article on the anti-politics forum, see http://www.anti-politics.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1052
9 It does however contain at least one basic error, it weirdly describe the synthesist Italian Anarchist Federation as a "platformist organisation" which suggests the authors made little or no attempt to understand what platformism is before moving to reject it.
10 Do or Die 10, 2003, online at http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no10/anarchy.htm
11 Anon., At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its False Critics, Elephant Editions Online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/dagger.html
12 Do or Die 10 , "Insurrectionary Anarchism and the Organization of Attack".
13 J.W., Insurrection, online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/insurr5.html
14 Do or Die 10 , "Insurrectionary Anarchism and the Organization of Attack".
15 Do or Die 10 , "Insurrectionary Anarchism and the Organization of Attack".
16 Anon., At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its False Critics, Elephant Editions Online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/dagger.html
17 O.V.,Insurrection, online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/insurr3.html
18 For An Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionalist International, Elephant Editions 1993 online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/insurint.html
19 Alfredo Bonanno, The Anarchist Tension, Original Title,La Tensione anarchica
Translated by Jean Weir, 1996, online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/tension.html
20 Alfredo Bonanno, The Anarchist Tension, Original Title,La Tensione anarchica
Translated by Jean Weir, 1996, online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/tension.html
21 O.V.,Insurrection, online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/insurr2.html
22 Anon., At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its False Critics, Elephant Editions Online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/dagger.html
23 Alfredo Bonanno , Armed Joy, Translated by Jean Weir, Original title ,La gioia armata, 1977 Edizioni Anarchismo, Catania, 1998 Elephant Editions, London online at http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/a_joy.html


This article is from Red & Black Revolution No 11, now at the printers

author by some random IApublication date Wed Jul 19, 2006 22:23Report this post to the editors

I want to be brief, but at the same time make a few modest corrections.

Insurrectionary anarchy is a contribution to tactical/strategic discussion. There are anarcho-communist insurrectionaries and anti-civilization insurrectionaries. Although the latter are more common in the states, there are quite a few people involved in the insurrectionary milieu who solely are oriented towards the class struggle. This correction shouldn't be taken too far, but I did want to respond to the strict dichotomization of anarcho-communist vs. insurrectionary.

This next claim is somewhat contradictory to the one above. While I stand by it, I also want to talk about the "mainstream" of insurrectionary discourse. While strictly speaking, the points of agreement are based on attack and permanent conflictuality, there are certain other places on which many of us agree.

Anyway, insurrectionary anarchists also generally are trying to grapple with the problem of how to intervene in a social conflict that is occurring on a mass scale. As anarchists (generally speaking), we are a tiny minority, and have remained a tiny minority ever since the crushing of the classical workers movement.

The emphasis in this article on the autonomous base nuclei is misleading, because many people agree that the ABN are the weakest link in the Italian insurrectionary tradition and no one much talks about them. This is because the ABN are a pretty feeble attempt to deal with the contradiction discussed above- they fall immediately into the same quantitative (and minoritarian) approach as traditional syndicalist organizing, though without the problem of the union structure.

Its particularly misleading to conflate the ABN with the contributions of Do or Die. DoD's response to these problems was to argue for using insurrectionary anarchist methods (antagonism towards the left, refusal of mediation, etc.) towards specific goals, usually resisting infrastructure projects. They (sometimes just implicitly) argued that a small number of militants could target weak points of capitalist development and thus have a much greater effect. This responds to the point made in the article regarding compromise: You can remain uncompromising if you pick your struggles well and don't become overly ambitious.

This is basically enough for now, though I will say one more thing. The anarcho-communist milieu consistently seems to churn out critiques such as this that emphasize isolated elements of theoretical appoaches, thus taking them out of context.

Basically, I feel that you can't really understand what many insurrectionary anarchists are saying without also grappling a more diverse range of their influences (beyond just the obvious like Alfred Bonanno). For example, this article refuses to look at ideology and how it functions (within the left or more generally). This is something many insurrectionaries think about, and is rooted in left communist theory, particularly that of the Situationist International.

author by an anarchistpublication date Thu Jul 20, 2006 07:43Report this post to the editors

Firstly, most if not all insurrectionary anarchists consider themselves anarchist communists.

“...the original organisational approach of the anarchists around Bakunin was not limited to making attempts at insurrection, but also included the involvement of anarchists in the mass struggles of the working people. While some anarchists responded to circumstances by constructing an ideology of 'illegalism' the majority started to turn to these mass struggles and, in particular, entering or constructing mass unions on a revolutionary syndicalist base. ”

Is an insurrection not in itself a mass struggle and usually the product of social struggles and social conflict? Some anarchists of the time, such as Emile Henry, Adolph Fischer and George Engel, involved themselves in social struggles without working to build unions or formal federations.

“Insurrections and anarchist communists - The anarchist communist organisational tradition within anarchism can be traced back to Bakunin and the first programmatic documents produced by the emerging anarchist movement in the 1860's. But these organisational ideas were not developed in any collective way again until the 1920's. Still there were individuals and groups that advocated the key features of organised anarchist communism; involvement in the mass struggle of the working people and the need for specific anarchist organisation and propaganda. “

The anarchist communist movement of that time was certainly not limited to the tiny group that wrote the Platform or the Friends of Durruti. Their were significant anarchists communist movements in other parts of the world, such as the USA, Mexico, South America, Japan, China, and Europe. Many of the anarchists involved in these movements rejected syndicalism and/or unions, but did not know about or take influence from the Platform either. In Spain, anarchist communist guerrilla activity continued after the revolution in the 30s and eventually had to break with the inactivity and bureaucracy of the CNT in exile. Starting in the 60s, non-Platformist anarchist communist armed action groups formed throughout Europe, including the First of May Group, the Angry Brigade (England), the June 2nd Movement (Germany) and Revolutionary Action (Italy). These groups engaged in armed struggle before the explictly “insurrectionary” anarchist movement developed.

“The ideology of insurrectionalism - There is a long tradition within anarchism of constructing ideologies out of a tactic. The long and deep involvement of anarchists in insurrections has, not surprisingly, given rise to an anarchist ideology of insurrectionalism.“

Insurrectionary anarchists have often critiqued ideology and an excessive focus on any one tactic used in the revolutionary struggle. If you are going to critique insurrectionary anarchism as an ideology it would be useful to offer your definition of ideology and explain how insurrectionary anarchism fits into it.

“As an ideology insurrectionalism originates in the peculiar conditions of post war Italy and Greece. Towards the end of World War Two there was a real possibility of revolution in both countries...
...Insurrectionalism was one of a number of new socialist ideologies which arose to address these particular circumstances. ”

The use of the term insurrectionary anarchism grew out of the desire of some Italian anarchists to distinguish themselves from the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI) in the 60s and 70s, in the context of rebellions and insurrections that were taking place across Italy at that time and the tendency of the FAI to denounce independent anarchist direct actions and armed attacks. But the basic principles of insurrectionary anarchism (rejecting unions and formal organizations while upholding attacks on Capital and the State) were present in the movements which Fischer and Engel and Sacco and Vanzetti were a part of decades before, just to name a few examples.

“Insurrectionalism in the anglo world - That insurrectionalism should emerge as a more distinct trend in English language anarchism at this point in time should be no surprise. The massive boost anarchism received from the summit protest movement was in part due to the high visibility of black bloc style tactics...
...many young people who were entering anarchist politics for the first time often made the incorrect assumption that the militant image that had first attracted their attention on the TV news was a product of insurrectionalism in particular.”

This may be the case in Ireland, but I doubt it is so in the rest of the English-speaking countries.

“The media and popular opinion - ...we see the chief weakness of insurrectionalism - its lack of serious discussion of other anarchist tendencies. We are led to believe that other revolutionaries, including all other anarchists, favour waiting around and preaching about the evils of capitalism rather than also taking action. ”

Insurrectionary anarchists have also often critiqued other anarchists who take action in the form of activist make-work-projects, such as protests or propaganda evangelism. The point is that these anarchists are often against attacking structures of Capital and the State directly, independently and in the here and now.

“Critique of organisation - Anarchist communists don't, for instance, seek to 'synthesise all struggle within a single organisation'. Rather we think the specific anarchist organisation should involve itself in the struggles of the working class, and that these struggle should be self-managed by the class - not run by any organisation, anarchist or otherwise.“

Platformist, syndicalist or federationist anarchists maintain a specific anarchist organization based on a political program and then involve themselves in other organizations. The specfic anarchist organization almost always forms sub-committees to address different social sectors and their struggles and conflicts. Insurrectionary anarchists on the other hand organize themselves on the basis of affinity and specific projects, according to the needs of the moment, rather than working to recruit members to a specific anarchist organization which is intended to grow over time.

“Solutions to the problems of organisation - Insurrectionalism lacks any serious critique of informal hierarchy but, as anyone active in the anarchist movement in the anglo world knows, the lack of sizeable formal organisation means that problems of hierarchy within the movement are most often problems of informal hierarchy...”

Actually, insurrectionary anarchists have critiqued and opposed what you call informal hierarchy as it exists within formal organizations and as it plays out in the democratic decision making process, in which the charasmatic speaker manipulates the process and debate with rhetoric.

“Autonomous Base Nucleus - If it was truly self-managed, surely the League itself would define its method of operation and what issues it might like to struggle around? And from the start the leagues exclude not only all other competing organisations but even relations with political parties or trade union organisations. Again, any real self-managed struggle would make the decision of who to have relations with for itself and not simply follow the dictat of an organised ideological minority...
...the specific anarchist structures are given the role of making pretty much every significant decision for the league. “

Insurrectionary anarchists define an organization as autonomous if it is independent from parties and unions, since these are not independent from Capital or the State, and if it is in conflict with a structure of exploitation and control. Often exploited and excluded people form their own autonomous organizations without any participation by anarchists. But insurrectionary anarchists also sometimes try to form similar organizations to bring together anarchists and other people of the exploited and excluded class. Of course, anarchists would work to keep such organizations from being taken over by political parasites. Non-anarchists are not forced to join such organizations. They only do so if they desire it and feel they share a common project with the anarchists. And the anarchists aren't there to make every important decision. The decisions should be made in common. Everyone involved will have different knowledge and skills they can contribute, whether they're anarchists or not, but no one will have special decision-making power.

“The question of agreement - ...how can you plan without pre-determining something?”

You can't. But I think Do or Die were saying that there should also be the flexibility of making decisions in the moment of conflict, of adapting to circumstances as they change on the ground, rather than delagating everything back to some kind of democratic assembly (which we're against anyway). Insurrectionary anarchists aren't generally against meetings, we're just against fetishizing them.

“Negotiation - Short of the revolution, it will be unusual to win a struggle outright so if our ideas are listened to we will again and again be faced with either a limited and therefore negotiated victory or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory because we advise fighting for more than we know can be won...
...Short of the revolution, the issue should not be whether or not to negotiate but rather who negotiates, on what mandate and subject to what procedures before an agreement can be made. The reality is that if these questions are avoided, then that vacuum will be filled by authoritarians happy to negotiate on their terms in a way that minimises their accountability. “

Insurrectionary anarchists have been involved in various struggles that have met with some success without negotiation, such as the lowering of the sentence of Nikos Maziotis or the shutting down of the immigration detention centre in Lecce, Italy.

“Repression and debate - Without going into the specifics of each controversy, a major problem in countries where insurrectionalists put their words into deeds is that this often means attacks that achieve little except on the one hand providing an excuse for state repression and on the other isolating all anarchists, not just those involved, from the broader social movement.”

We don't think the State needs an excuse for repression. We think repression is a constant process under capitalism. We also think that a project of attack should be expansive, rather than isolating. Repression is something to overcome, not something to tailor or projects to. We don't believe we are ever in harmony or a cease-fire with our class enemy.

“Towards an anarchist communist theory - Anarchist communists have adopted a different test to that of sanity when it comes to the question of militant action. That is if you are claiming to act on behalf of a particular group, then you first need to have demonstrated that the group agrees with the sort of tactics you propose to use. This question is far more important to anarchist practise than the question of what some group of anarchists might decide is an appropriate tactic.“

But insurrectionary anarchists don't claim to act on behalf of some other group. We don't say that others can't critique our actions or approach, but denouncements of direct action do sometimes have a concrete effect beyond abstract debate, limiting potential solidarity.

“...in cases where we claim to be acting in solidarity with a group (eg of striking workers) then it must be that group that dictates the limits of the tactics that can be used in their struggle.”

But we don't see solidarity as mere support, as a kind of charity, or a duty to be fullfilled. If we are in solidarity with striking workers it's because we see their struggle as not merely being connected to ours but as being an actual part of our struggle. We see ourselves as having a stake in what others do, and don't agree to allow others to dictate what we do. We enter into discussion and attempt to come to mutual agreements when possible.

author by Joe Blackpublication date Thu Jul 20, 2006 22:28Report this post to the editors

Apologies today is the last time I will be online for a while and my time is brief so I can only respond to some of the above.

1. On the issue of the label anarchist communist. If you look carefully at the article you'll see I refer to the "anarchist communist organisational tradition". 'Platformism' is a clunky label that was of some use when platformist groups were few and far between and smaller than other anarchist groups. Today things are different, 'platformist' groups are quite geographically widespread (Europe, North America, South America, Africa) and are often the largest anarchist group in a country (True of at least Chile, Ireland, USA, Canada, South Africa). In addition the spread of especifist groups which reached similar conclusions but which don't use the platfromist self description make it less useful. And also there is a consious effort to reclaim other parts of the organised anarchist communist tradition, eg Lucy Parsons. No one has come up with a snappy new title, hence my "anarchist communist organisational tradition". There are ovbiously anarchist communists outside that tradition but it is precisly the organisational questions that seperate us.

2. I don't think the idea that sometimes decisions need to be made on the ground without going back to an assembly is a unique insight of insurrectionalism. Pretty much any anarchist group involved in activity will realise this through their own experience. Mandates should be constructed to allow whatever flexibility will be needed - where they are not then comrades are most likely to do what is needed and defend it afterwards.

3. Of course some struggles can have success without negotiation - this is not the same though as saying all struggles can. It depends on relative strength, negotiation is a process of salvaging what can be won when complete victory is not possible. A general critique of insurrectionalism that this is an example of is an attempt to apply the particular to the general as if what holds in the 'best case' will hold for every case.

4. It doesn't matter how you define solidarity - it should be a basic principle that if you are acting because you indentify with the struggles of a group you should respect the boundaries of that group. Otherwise your getting into 'we know better than you' vanguardism.

5. While the state may not need an excuse for repression it does need to be sure that repression will not make a situation more difficult for it to police. Extreme small group actions that are isolated from and hostile to mass campaigns can create a situation where the state can intervene without the risk of a backlash. Tactically this is something we have to acknowledge and discuss. It's also why the respect for those in the struggle I suggest above is useful - that eliminates the possibily of the state driving such wedges into the struggle.

6. On the 'Autonomous Base Nucleus' - here I think insurrectionalism runs into the limits of its ideology. The ABN were one attempt to transcend this - I respect that not all insurrectionalists may follow this but those who don't need another method of mass intervention. The retreat to small group actions as an answer in themselves just conceeds the ground to the more charactured attacks on insurrectionalism.

Overall I'm of the opinion that insurrectionalism is a somewhat useful critique of the problems of organisation. It is not a set of solution and in so far as it becomes an ideology it becomes a barrier to such solutions.

author by anarcho-communist commentator - Myself, Humanity, IWW, SDSpublication date Fri Jul 21, 2006 08:33Report this post to the editors

It is ironic how anarchist communism is viewed by many knee-jerk ideologes as a form of "Communism" too similar to the horrible authoritarian marxist-leninist type of "communism" (both by conservatives and liberals) simply because of the word "communism" in the name and the adherence to the statement "from each according to ability, to each according to need" - when in fact, anarchist communists are communists BECAUSE they are individualists, and BECAUSE they believe in themselves, and BECAUSE they believe in individual liberty as the highest expression of human justice and happiness, but they know that liberty does not reject society (this is a false dichotamy), rather it rejects capitalist economic behavior. They are individualists who know that individualism for the poor and for the working class is anti-capitalist in nature.

Fake Liberty - for the privileged and property class - is capitalism.
True Liberty - for the rest of us - is anarchist communism.

Anarchist communism is true and pure egoism - it is "for ourselves". Those who believe in anarchist communism believe in it for selfish reasons, and even though they share the product of their labor, they know that everything they do betters themselves and improves their own persoal lives and personal existance as self-interested beings.

The anarchist communist flag is black, or red and black, but never (or very rarely) simply red. The black stands for liberty and individual freedom as the essense of a just, workable communism. We are thus as anarcho-communists not "Reds", we are "Blacks".

It is also funny that some "post leftist" types who claim to be individualists or egoists seem to think that only the anarchists who reject socialism believe in insurrection, when in fact it has always been those anarchists who embrace socialism (workers ownership and control of the means of production) who have led by example when it comes to insurrections and direct action for positive social change.

author by another random IApublication date Fri Jul 21, 2006 08:55Report this post to the editors

There seems to be far more anarcho-communist insurrectionaries in the US than anti-civilization insurrectionaries, but the anti-civ types make a lot of noise and try to use force and censorship to ban and block any mention of anarchism's socialist aspect in online forums they control and places like San Francisco, Berkeley, Olympia, and Eugene... but even so, there are still many anarcho-communists and even anarcho-syndicalists in these places, many of them frusterated by the blind devotion of key activists to assholes like John Zerzan, Bob Black, Wolfi L., Alfredo Bonanno, etc. and their tiresome writings shoved in people's faces, telling them to turn the proud tradition of anarchist insurrection into a just another fight for borgeous liberal ideals.

author by another communist IApublication date Fri Jul 21, 2006 11:19Report this post to the editors

I say this fearing that it will be taken as part and parcel of hero-worship, etc. but I want to go ahead anyway.

I don't personally know any of the people listed by the person above but I think its ridiculous in particular to smear Bonanno as a bourgeois idealist. His point of reference has always been the class struggle and he has always argued for a communist position. Just because he has sought to update the means of struggle (see From Riot to Insurrection, for example) and doesn't accept the platform or whatever doesn't mean that he's a bourgeois pig or whatever.

The same goes for Wolfi (in that he is oriented towards social struggle), though Wolfi is somewhat more indulgent with the personal liberation stuff, and maybe does/doesn't (I don't know) have the same history of involvement with social movements.

author by an anarchistpublication date Sat Jul 22, 2006 08:41Report this post to the editors

In response to Joe Black:

Your term "anarchist communist organisational tradition" is just as clunky. Pretty much all anarchist communists are in favor of anarchist organization.

2. "I don't think the idea that sometimes decisions need to be made on the ground without going back to an assembly is a unique insight of insurrectionalism. Pretty much any anarchist group involved in activity will realise this through their own experience."

I never said it was a unique insight. I was responding to your implication that insurrectionary anarchists are against meetings, which was incorrect. Not sure what you mean by "mandates."

3. "...negotiation is a process of salvaging what can be won when complete victory is not possible."

Is it? Why does our class enemy promote negotiation over confrontation? Why does the enemy offer concessions once a struggle has caused him damage? Why does he refuse to negotiate with the group as a whole, preferring to speak with a representative or small group of representatives instead? Because it is in the enemy's interest. The insurrectionary critique of negotiation is part of the critique of representation . We are all for intermediate struggles and intermediate gains, but we also try to take the struggle further than this. Our goal from the outset is not to re-establish normality and wage-slavery, as is the case with the trade unions and their fake strikes that are just a chess piece in the negotiation game. Of course complete victory in a particular struggle is never a sure thing, but we are more likely to succeed if we don't play into the hands of the enemy by talking things over reasonably and ending the struggle before its potential has been exhausted.

"A general critique of insurrectionalism that this is an example of is an attempt to apply the particular to the general as if what holds in the 'best case' will hold for every case."

This is assumption or misunderstanding on your part.

4. "It doesn't matter how you define solidarity - it should be a basic principle that if you are acting because you indentify with the struggles of a group you should respect the boundaries of that group. Otherwise your getting into 'we know better than you' vanguardism."

I said "mutual agreement", which requires respect obviously.

5. "While the state may not need an excuse for repression it does need to be sure that repression will not make a situation more difficult for it to police. Extreme small group actions that are isolated from and hostile to mass campaigns can create a situation where the state can intervene without the risk of a backlash. Tactically this is something we have to acknowledge and discuss. It's also why the respect for those in the struggle I suggest above is useful - that eliminates the possibily of the state driving such wedges into the struggle."

How do you define an action as "extreme"? Why would anarchists take an action that would be hostile to a social struggle? Obviously, sometimes people in struggle aren't open to certain tactics and this is something for anarchists to be aware of and take into account. People in struggle also often engage in direct action, sabotage and open clashes.

"Overall I'm of the opinion that insurrectionalism is a somewhat useful critique of the problems of organisation. It is not a set of solution and in so far as it becomes an ideology it becomes a barrier to such solutions."

But we don't agree on the "problems of organization".

author by another communist IA - insurrection, anarchy, autonomy, anti-elitist communismpublication date Sat Aug 05, 2006 20:29author address Planet EarthReport this post to the editors

To criticize Alfredo M. Bonanno as having bourgeois liberal ideas, or even to say he is an "asshole", is not a character smear but an attempt to address the fact that the guy has some very serious problems (the ideas he expresses) and he should not simply be uncritically accepted by anarchists. His writings reject "production" and he acts like we can abandon the idea of class struggle at the level of the shop floor, in unions or collectives or even affinity groups with formal organization (and if he does not say this outright then it is implied) .. and very much like Murray Bookchin was he's sort of a figure that stands opposed to things like anarcho-syndicalism - without actually addressing ordinary (employed or not) individuals and asking them honestly what sort of world they want to live in and if they want to completely abandon industrialism (and return to some sort of pre-industrial existence), or would they rather retain industry and science and technology but make it anarchist and libertarian and grass-roots democratic/horizontal in nature?

Alfredo M. Bonanno may seem to have some legitimacy because he has an Italian name or because he is a European, he may seem like because he uses the language of class struggle when he seems to reject the main ingredients of class struggle (organizing at the point of production) and his writings usually appear in anarchist bookstores in pamphlets that do not appear to be made on a cheap inkjet printer or copy machine. He may seem legitimate to some anarchists because he is called an insurrectionary anarchist. But this does not change the fact that if we follow his ideas they will have bourgeois, liberal outcomes.

Whatever a person's class background is does not exempt them from having ideas that lead to the negation of anarchist goals. Stalin was of plebeian (common people, peasantry, working class) origins and look what his bullshit led to!

It must be possible for insurrectionary anarchist communists to reject Alfredo M. Bonanno's anti-industrial ideas just as we have rejected Proudhon's french nationalist (but not anarchist) ideas, superseded Bakunin's collectivist (but not communist or syndicalist) ideas, critically listened to Malatesta's criticism of anarchist unions and anarchist democracy (which he did not completely reject), rejected (or not?) Kropotkin's support for World War I, considered (with or without criticism) Goldman's ideas opposing majorities or for birth-control for the poor, and looked critically at Chomsky's argument that we must support social democracy to "widen the floor of the cage" long before some time of revolution.

We must be able to reject ideas that any individual theorist has no matter what the background of said individual if those ideas go contrary to actual practical successful anarchy as a movement and an idea. The point of anarchy is ideas, and not uncritical support of specific people.

Some anarchists and socialists from before World War II have said anti-Semitic things. Some anarchists and socialists then and now say pro-Zionist things. Do we uncritically accept everything they have said too? If the core (and not just some) ideas of a person are bad, then in general we can write them off as an "asshole". People like Zerzan or Bob Black (for example) seem to be nothing but negative, sectarian, destructive forces within the entire anarchist movement, and unless we see some positive pro-anarchist communist or pro-insurrectionary (without being rash, tactless, clueless and stupid) ideas from Alfredo M. Bonanno, what are we anarcho-communists and insurrectionists to think of him?

The people within the anarchist movement who have rejected industrialism, organization at the point of production, and grass-roots democracy have led anarchists in America (on both the west and the east coast) and in Europe, such as in Greece, Turkey, Spain and Italy (including Bonanno himself) to jail time for silly destructive actions as well as thievery-as-radicalism. Those of us anarchists who saw it coming warned these people ahead of time that if they abandon the people, abandon direct-democracy, abandon industrialism, abandon formal organization and abandon reason they will not only have no noticeable effect on society and the poor who need anarchy and direct democracy so desperately, but they will end up in prison and attempt to drag the rest of us with them without even qualitatively and quantitatively changing the consciousness of the average person-on-the-street or in the workplace.

In some European countries, the social democrat, marxist, and even leninist parties' control of the labor unions and influence in liberation and anti-racism movements has led some anarchists and autonomists to reject industrialization or even formal organization along working class lines. What we really need to realize is that simply because the social democrats may control some unions, their support for bureaucracy and lack of commitment to freedom and liberty for the working class and poor will always leave room for anarchists to spread their ideas to the people, who will remain unsatisfied with the marxist "medicine". It is up to us anarchists to use our imagination and knowledge and wisdom to figure out how to get our ideas to our fellow workers in the workplace, and not to reject industry in itself.

author by Joe Blackpublication date Wed Aug 09, 2006 22:51Report this post to the editors

1. I think the organisational anarchist communism label is useful not because other anarchist communists are all anti-organisational but because of the emphasis our current of anarchist communism puts on organisation as a solution to some of the problems of the anarchist movement. Like all labels though it is just shorthand, don't read too much into it.

2. I made no suggestion that insurrectionalists are against meetings. I do think there is a lack of developments of insurrectionalist ideas however in terms of a consistent position on how the decisions of meetings are implemented. A mandate for instance is where individuals take on, or are tasked to implement the decisions of a meeting. Some insurrectionalist writing appears to want to be similtaneously for and against such a thing. Confusion in this are is very destructive to relations when a cruch point is reached.

3. I don't think you have tackled my point head on around the confusion about ' autonomous organizations'. I don't see how such organisations can be autonomous if in reality core questions about goals and who can get involved are predetermined by the anarchists. Again a lack of clarity on this is going to cause big problems when a cruch is reached.

4. I'm not aware of any anarchist organisation that insist all decisions have to be deferred back to an assembly in the face of changed circumstances. Generally a mandate needs to have flexibility built into it so the comrades responsible for implementation can adopt to circumstances. But at the same time they cannot simply do there own thing - they may be required to defend their actions if it is felt they went too far from mandate.

Again the insurrectionalist material I have read is confused on this - probably because of the need to pretend no other anarchists realise that plans need to be modified as they are implemented. Again confusion on this causes bad feeling when the cruch comes.

5. On negotiation. Of course it is possible to have succesful conclusions in some cases without negotiation. A straightforward victory requires no negotiation. But this does not imply the reverse. In many cases where a struggle is not strong enough to win the choice may be between negotiating a 80% victory or ending up with a 100% defeat because refusal to take what is possible shatters unity. EG in a struggle for a weeks extra holidays are we better negotiating 4 days or getting no days and having our unity shattered. A blanket ban on negotiation makes little sense.

6. Yes 'repression is a constant process under capitalism' but also it is limited, at least in 'democracies' by the need for capital to have the consent of most of the population for such repression. Revolutionary actions that are unpopular with the masses open the door for greater levels of repression. Actions that are popular cannot be so easly repressed without capital risking spreading the struggle throughout the population. This is why anarchists in Greece can get away with actions on the street that in the US result in prison sentences of many years.

Within any region what is popular changes over time and with changing circumstances. Revolutionaries will acheive a lot more through recognising and indeed studying this then simply seeing their militancy as existing in a vacum of their own ideology. Popular actions make more possible, unpopular actions only achieve the reverse.

7. If you carry out an action in solidaity with workers on strike but that action is objectionable to the workers they you have only managed to shoot yourself in the foot. I don't see any point in pretending otherwise.

author by insur anarpublication date Fri Sep 01, 2006 05:20Report this post to the editors

"Insurrectionalism in the anglo world

One insurrectionalist has described how the ideas spread from Italy "Insurrectionary anarchism has been developing in the English language anarchist movement since the 1980s, thanks to translations and writings by Jean Weir in her "Elephant Editions" and her magazine "Insurrection". .. In Vancouver, Canada, local comrades involved in the Anarchist Black Cross, the local anarchist social center, and the magazines "No Picnic" and "Endless Struggle" were influenced by Jean's projects, and this carried over into the always developing practice of insurrectionary anarchists in this region today ... The anarchist magazine "Demolition Derby" in Montreal also covered some insurrectionary anarchist news back in the day" (8)

That insurrectionalism should emerge as a more distinct trend in English language anarchism at this point in time should be no surprise. The massive boost anarchism received from the summit protest movement was in part due to the high visibility of black bloc style tactics. After the Prague summit protest of 2000, the state learned how to greatly reduce the effectiveness of such tactics. Soon after the disastrous experience of Genoa and a number of controlled blocs in the USA, arguments arose that emphasised greater militancy and more clandestine organisation on the one hand and a move away from the spectacle of summit protesting on the other. "

>>>>you make a jump in time here from 1980s to 2000. when I began reading this It seemed as though you would analyze what lead to the interest in insurrectionary ideas in the 1980s. you left out that part, and what happened in the 80s and 90s, did it spread? Etc…

>>>>I think many of the criticisms of summit protests did not come from a Point Of View that emphasized more militant action, but rather one of being based in one’s own communities to build long term struggles that built upon themselves instead of going somewhere, protesting, and then leaving and going home, with home in no better shape because of it.

"Alongside this, many young people who were entering anarchist politics for the first time often made the incorrect assumption that the militant image that had first attracted their attention on the TV news was a product of insurrectionalism in particular."

>>>>>I really doubt that. When people get into anarchism, they don’t immediately recognize the little divisions into platformist, primitivist, insurrectionalist, syndicalist, communist, etc….

"By the time of Genoa, when the state had obviously greatly upped the level of repression it could deploy, anarchist communists were debating whether such tactics had a future in the columns of this magazine and other publications."

>>>>Let me refer to your quote from Friends of Durruti: "… It did not want to push ahead with the revolution with all its consequences. They were frightened by the foreign fleets... Has any revolution ever been made without having to overcome countless difficulties? Is there any revolution in the world, of the advanced type, that has been able to avert foreign intervention? … Using fear as a springboard and letting oneself be swayed by timidity, one never succeeds. Only the bold, the resolute, men of courage may attain great victories. The timid have no right to lead the masses... In this way we would have won the war and saved the revolution... But it did the opposite…"

"Anarchist communists don't, for instance, seek to "synthesise all struggle within a single organisation". Rather we think the specific anarchist organisation should involve itself in the struggles of the working class, and that these struggle should be self-managed by the class - not run by any organisation, anarchist or otherwise."

>>>> what about the IWW? Isn’t there goal ‘one big union’ with the entire working class participating? What if the IWW got really huge but there was another organization that was also getting a large share of the working class’s attention? What if they thought the way forward was different than the IWW? Would the IWW let those people carry on, and in their opinion jeopardize progress of a revolution? Or would they fight the other group in order to create a condition in which the IWW itself would be better held together?

"Anarchist communists have adopted a different test to that of sanity when it comes to the question of militant action. That is if you are claiming to act on behalf of a particular group, then you first need to have demonstrated that the group agrees with the sort of tactics you propose to use. This question is far more important to anarchist practise than the question of what some group of anarchists might decide is an appropriate tactic."

>>>>the thing is, insurrectionists do not claim to act on behalf of any particular group, they act for themselves, because, are they not part of the working class, with the right to take action to try and improve their conditions? So you say the workers’ agreement with an action is what is important, so if the insurrectionist WORKERS agree with themselves, is it okay, even if “some group of anarchists might decide…” whether it “is an appropriate tactic”, such as a group like you and your organization???

"It depends on relative strength, negotiation is a process of salvaging what can be won when complete victory is not possible."

>>>>when there isn’t a complete victory, you haven’t really won anything. If the same power structures are in place, then when the particular struggle is over, those in power will over time just reverse the gains made. The above argument is an excuse for denouncing actions taken by the people in the working class who decide to fight back without compromise, and leads to their isolation from the anarchist groups who should be supporting them. Again I’ll refer to the F of D quote, because you keep arguing for negotiation and compromise and restraint. And you speak of platformists being different than the small groups of authoritarians who will negotiate for everyone without consulting them about what terms are being agreed to when anarchists refuse to negotiate, but if some people in the struggle are refusing to negotiate and then your platformist group negotiates in order to try and win some amount of concessions, you are doing the same exact thing. You are becoming the force for compromise and the end of the struggle and the return to the capitalist social peace enforced by the barrel of the police’s gun.

"It doesn't matter how you define solidarity - it should be a basic principle that if you are acting because you indentify with the struggles of a group you should respect the boundaries of that group. Otherwise your getting into 'we know better than you' vanguardism."

>>>>I’d agree with you there, I think the only struggles I can intervene in in any way I see fit are those that are directly affecting me. If the struggle is one that others have taken up for themselves and I wish to help, then talking to them and working with them in the struggle is the only logical way to go about it. But believe me if I do work with them, I will let them know what I think about compromising with the enemy and negotiation, etc…


My Response to some comments:

Comment made by:
"Valid Theory Criticisms, Not Character Smears, of Bonanno
by another communist IA - insurrection, anarchy, autonomy, anti-elitist communism Saturday, Aug 5 2006, 2:29pm
address: Planet Earth:

“without even qualitatively and quantitatively changing the consciousness of the average person-on-the-street or in the workplace”

>>>>You keep making refernces to “average people” as if they are separate from yourself. Maybe insurrectionary anarchists, and even the ones who are in jail, are NOT separate from the working class as you seem to imply you are. Maybe they ARE the working class after being affected by and recognizing an anarchist critique of society, and so then attempting to fight the forces of capitalism and the state. Insurrectionary anarchists generally do not see themselves as separate from the working class. They are the expression of the working class when it encounters anarchist ideas. You know, you platformists say “workers rise up” a million times, but when it happens you criticize it as ‘not the right time’ or ‘not the right way’.

And the question of whether industrialism should be done away with is one that is best suited for after power is destroyed and people have control of their own communities. To talk about what is the best idea for after the revolution now only clouds things. I am anti-civ but I’d be happy with an anarcho-syndicalist revolution because at least we’d have the power to change our communities in the ways we see fit (i.e.- dismantle the polluting factory if we want to, or decide we can live with the pollution, on a community basis, with decisions made by those affected by them). Then we’ll see how much of industrialism people want to keep around. I have a feeling things will be very different than now though.

Comment made by Joe black:
"EG in a struggle for a weeks extra holidays are we better negotiating 4 days or getting no days and having our unity shattered."

>>>>I think unity is shattered in negotiation as well. Who determines when it is time for negotiation? Who negotiates? If your organization feels it is time for negotiation to win 4 days off and negotiates such a deal, I would be pissed.


there is room for every type of struggle against capitalism and the state, my only request is that we respect one another's decisions on how to go about that struggle, i.e.-platformists not step in and try and negotiate if they are not representing everyone's desires, and insurrectionary anarchists shouldn't take action on behalf of others without it being okay with them. and platformists support those workers who've become radicalized and take action, no matter what the state's response to it is. the state is the problem, not those taking action against it.

author by Joe Blackpublication date Fri Sep 01, 2006 21:13Report this post to the editors

1. The article isn't meant to be a history of insurrectionalism - I simply considered it useful to look at the origins in the Anglo world in modern times and then to jump ahead as to why it has become somewhat popular in recent years.

2. It is true that on day 1 of discovering anarchism few also discover and understand every minor current within anarchism. This wasn't what I was suggesting.

3. There is a huge gap between the idea that the revolution will always be difficult and the idea that you never need to make tactical decisions. Every insurrectionalist makes tactical decisions otherwise they would be dead or in prison. By far the stupidist aspect of pseudo insurrectionalist politics is the denial of this need, a 12 year old can recognise that those denying it do it. The more honest insurrectionalist writing acknowledges this truth.

4. Your reference to the IWW is an example of the laziness of the insurrectionalist critique of other anarchists. The IWW after all makes no claim to be anarchist never mind anarchist communist or even platformist. The questions you ask about the IWW far from being a critiue of anarchist communism are pretty much the same questions anarchist communists would ask. I might as well try and critique insurrectionalists by referring to the actions of the Boy Scouts of America.

5. On the question of 'acting on behalf' of I think you are avoiding cases where insurrectionalists claim to act in solidarity with a particular struggle.

6. It is simply not true that "when there isn’t a complete victory, you haven’t really won anything". If I go on strike for a 10% wage increase but end up with 8% after negotiations there will be 8% more in my wage packet. That is a partial victory and will be viewed as such by my fellow workers. It will certainly be viewed as a lot better than 0% and the sacking of militants.

BTW as you seem confused on the whole negotiations issue as I am obviously not talking of an anarchist communist group negotiating on behalf of a struggle. Frankly I cannot understand how you can imply this.

I am talking of a group of workers deciding to negotiate with the boss and what attitude anarchists should take to such a decision. Your solution of 'let everyone do their own thing' is no solution because in the real workplace that would leave the isolated minority exposed, isolated and probably sacked. The nature of some, indeed many struggles is that you either preserve a high level of unity or you lose. We all go out together and we all go back together or we lose.

7. Whether you see the insurrectionalists as seperate from the working class or not is an irrelevancy. What is important is that the working class is not a single body with a single thought. Sections of the class including perhaps some insurrectionalists have ideas that are far in advance of other sections. Sections after all support George Bush, even the KKK includes workers. Some workers obviously have downright reactionary ideas.

While we might want to write such sections off the fact is the vast majority of workers are not revolutionaries, this is something we have to take into account. That is why the question of the "consciousness of the average person-on-the-street or in the workplace" cannot be answered by declaring that some or even all insurrectionalists are also workers. Most are not, what do we say to them?

9. The question of 'Who determines when it is time for negotiation? Who negotiates? ' is key. But again I make no suggestion that this is the role of my organisation - indeed I find that concept ludicrous and would love to know on what basis you made that claim.

These questions can only be answered, collectively, by those involved in the struggle. They cannot be answered from the outside, not can they be answered by simply pretending the questions do not exist because there is no such thing as a partial victory.

Note that while workplace struggles are a clear example where we already know who can answer those questions but there are other struggles where no one can and in those struggles and where there therefore can be no negotiation.

9. Finally when you say " the state is the problem, not those taking action against it." you seem to be making some sort of moral statement along the lines of 'we should blame the state, not those fighting it'. I can agree with that moral statement but it misses the point of most of the article which is not about the moral question of 'who to blame' but rather the tactical one of 'how to win'. They are seperate questions, it is quite possible to consider a tactic conter productive while sympathising with the reasons why someone might choose to use it.

author by javierpublication date Sat Sep 02, 2006 19:15Report this post to the editors

Here in Argentina, in Las Heras, an oil drilling town, workers were striking, blocking roads and installations. One of their most active memebers was arrested and they surrounded the police station claiming his release. There was some confussion, repression began, someone shot a policeman and it died.

In Buenos Aires, the MTR-CuBa of Oscar Kuperman marched in solidarity with the workers. And Its speaker/leader/boss said that they supported the killing as an act of class self-defense and it was good that for once they were the ones receiving the bullets and not us. He said it on television.

Repression was to be expected but that helped to diminish opposition to it in the capital of the country. It was like puring gasoline over the workers and lighting a giant human bonfire.

Also, the most important thing about this. The workers of Las Heras denied any connection with the policeman's death. Kuperman's speech played against them with no regard of good intentions.

author by Andrewpublication date Fri Dec 01, 2006 17:16Report this post to the editors

There is Spanish translation of this article on Anarkismo at http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=4324

author by Joepublication date Wed Dec 27, 2006 22:46Report this post to the editors

There is a detailed reply / extension of this article at

Related Link: http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=4542
author by one insurrectionary anarchistpublication date Sun Jan 07, 2007 04:57Report this post to the editors

In response to Joe Black:

In your article you stated: "There is a long tradition within anarchism of constructing ideologies out of a tactic. The long and deep involvement of anarchists in insurrections has, not surprisingly, given rise to an anarchist ideology of insurrectionalism."

In his article, Gutiérrez wrote: "Another way for this tactical dogmatism to be expressed, as we were reminded by comrade Black, is in the tendency to construct a whole ideology or current around a single tactic: we find traces of this in certain forms of anarcho-syndicalism as well as in insurrectionalism. This is a particularly weak line of thought that reduces the complexity of the political landscape and of the libertarian struggle to unique and sacred formulas."

But you, Joe Black, don't explain what this single tactic is or how insurrectionary anarchism is an ideology constructed around that tactic (which isn't "attack", as you admit). You also don't define what you mean by ideology, or how insurrectionary anarchism is an ideology in contrast to Platformism, which we are supposed to assume isn't an ideology.

Your main problem with insurrectionary anarchists seems to be our forms of organization, and our refusal of negotiation with the class enemy and corporate media representation. But these aren't tactics either, they're strategies that reflect our desire for social revolution. the kind of world we desire in the future and the kind of life we want to live right now and during the course of the revolutionary struggle.

You also seem confused about many aspects of insurrectionary anarchism. For example, you wrote: "...if you are claiming to act on behalf of a particular group, then you first need to have demonstrated that the group agrees with the sort of tactics you propose to use. This question is far more important to anarchist practise than the question of what some group of anarchists might decide is an appropriate tactic." But a central principle of insurrectionary anarchism is to not act on behalf of anyone, and to instead act for ourselves and in solidarity with others, because that is also a form of acting for ourselves and because we desire beneficial reciprocal relations.

In regards to insurrectionary anarchists' proposal of informal base organizations you wrote: "...from the start the leagues exclude not only all other competing organisations but even relations with political parties or trade union organisations. Again, any real self-managed struggle would make the decision of who to have relations with for itself and not simply follow the dictat of an organised ideological minority." But this indicates that you have a completely opposite definition of "self-management" than we do, since in our view the involvement of parties, unions, or any hierarchical or State/Corporate-connected organization would negate the self-organization of a base structure and make the term "self-organization" meaningless in its total generalization.

You wrote: "...the specific anarchist structures are given the role of making pretty much every significant decision for the league." But this in untrue and I don't understand where you got this idea from. The point of the structure is for decisions to made by the whole organization, which is to consist of anarchists and non-anarchists working together. The organization comes to formation on the basis of certain agreed principles that determine its self-organization, that determine that the group isn't just a subsidiary of a party or union.

You wrote: "...formal organisation is a greater protection against hierarchy, our formal method of organisation also allows us to agree rules to prevent informal hierarchy developing. Insurrectionalism lacks any serious critique of informal hierarchy but, as anyone active in the anarchist movement in the anglo world knows, the lack of sizeable formal organisation means that problems of hierarchy within the movement are most often problems of informal hierarchy." But insurrectionary anarchists do critique what you call "informal hierarchy" since this in fact is the essence of democracy, manipulation through rhetoric and a hierarchy shrouded in a meaningless, formal, legalistic "equality".

author by Joe - WSM - personal capacitypublication date Sun Jan 07, 2007 18:35Report this post to the editors

I'll start off by saying that in my article I was not using 'ideology' as a sort of swearword as I've often seen it used in North American anarchist circles. That is I don't see having an ideology as a bad thing or something to deny. So your incorrect in imagining that I don't intend the view 'platformism' as an ideology.

I don't paticularly want to waste on time on arguing about the term, there is a reasonable wikipedia entry on it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideology and lets just say I'm using in the sense of "a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things". That doesn't sound nasty and we can probably agree that insurrectionalism amounts to a a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things, even if you don't like the term ideology.

In terms of the idea of insurrectionalism creating an ideology out of a tactic, because this is obviously a critical point, its probably a bit hard to see it if your fond of insurrectionalism. So consider the same point in relation to anarcho-syndicalism. You can probably see how the ideology of the IWW or the IWA is very much determined by the sucess of the tactic of building mass syndicalist unions in the opening decades of the 20th century. That is their world outlook today, the way they approach struggles and their sets of rules about what can and cannot be done are all based around that tactic.

As to the tactic, is this not as obvious as it is with syndicalists. I may have argued against a narrow understanding of insurrectionalism as based only on armed attacks but the tactic insurrectionalism is based around is clear - it is insurrection. Of course we need to understand insurrection in its full sense and not simply think of armed men. As insurrection is more that point at which a large segment of the working class 'come to the boil' and attack the totality of state and capitalist relations that face them. In the Anglo sphere one of the clearer examples in the last decades was the London poll tax riot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poll_tax_Riots

These are indeed moments when the things you list that I criticise 'our forms of organization, and our refusal of negotiation with the class enemy and corporate media representation' make a certain amount of sense although perhaps only in that moment. On the organisational level for instance they are moments when spontaneous and affinity group organisation come to the fore. And such a situation may not be brief. Although based around nationalist ideology 'Free Derry' lasted from August 1969 to July 1972 and required the use of several thousand troops equiped with tanks and armoured bull dozers to bring to an end http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Derry . Incidentally the issue of the magazine (RBR11) that my article appeared in included another article looking at an actual armed insurrection, the 1916 insurrection in Dublin.

Just as we have seen with the case of syndicalism I think it quite obvious that the "world outlook, the way they approach struggles and their sets of rules about what can and cannot be done are all based around that tactic" in the case of insurrectionalists as well. They make sense in terms of insurrections, broadly defined, it is outside these period that I primarily question their usefulness.

In terms of the leagues the reason I say the anarchists get to make "pretty much every significant decision for the league" is the reason you repeat in your reply. That is the anarchists have already decided who can and cannot be in the league based on the ideology those anarchists hold. Or as you put it "in our view the involvement of parties, unions, or any hierarchical or State/Corporate-connected organization would negate the self-organization of a base structure". This indeed is your view and one you have declared you will impose on the league from the start. It is you imposing this on the league that is the problem

Self management is where workers come together and make the decision of how they will struggle, who they will struggle alongside and on what terms. It is not where anarchists set up front organisations in which they have already answered these questions for the workers and the workers are allowed in only on the understanding that they follow the anarchists predetermined rules.

BTW I don't see the point of you last paragraph which appears to refuse to even recognise "informal hierarchy" by treating it as part of "formal hierarchy". Perhps if you were to explain things further this point would become clearer?

author by one insurrectionary anarchistpublication date Wed Jan 10, 2007 02:58Report this post to the editors

Now I understand what you mean by ideology. Yes, insurrectionary anarchism is a "comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things". Since your article heavily focuses on a critique of insurrectionary anarchism as an ideology built around a tactic and such anarchists' incorrect positions and methods that result from this contructed ideology, I thought you were using the term ideology in its negative sense (ideology as a dogma that misleads and controls people).

Coming back to tactics, I consider the anarcho-syndicalists' efforts to build mass unions, or One Big Union, to be a strategy and method moreso than a tactic. Sabotage would be a tactic that anarcho-sydicalists would use as part of their strategy and goals, to build unions that will become the instruments of a federated, worker-controlled global society.

In the same vein, I don't consider "insurrection" a tactic, and if anything, it's even less so a tactic than building mass unions. I believed in the necessity of insurrection as part of a revolutionary process before I got into insurrectionary tendency within anarchism. I essentially agreed with Malatesta and Kropotkin's early positions on the matter. The existence and class interest of the State and its security forces is what creates the need for insurrection. How can one change material conditions without coming into conflict with State power? This is not what divides insurrectionary anarchists from other revolutionary anarchists. The difference is in the methodology, strategy, forms of organization and goals of insurrectionary anarchists in contrast to others.

Another difference is that insurrection is viewed as immediately possible and as an event which we can contribute to bringing about, in contrast to some revolutionary anarchists who view insurrection as something that the "workers" must engage in before anarchists can get involved and as something that follows a process of education and organization-building/recruiting.

"Our forms of organization, and our refusal of negotiation with the class enemy and corporate media representation" are also shaped by the material conditions we live under and our decision to struggle against them. They aren't relevant to every situation, because we are struggling against the power structure at every moment of our lives. When we do decide to struggle against the power structure, we think it's necessary to be autonomous from the structure and not use the methods of struggle that it provides for, as long as we are engaged in that struggle. We also don't want any particular struggle we engage in to end with a reconciliation with the power structure.

Our world outlook is primarily shaped by material conditions and modest, small-scale rebellions, not mass social insurrections.

In regards to base organizations you said: "...the anarchists have already decided who can and cannot be in the league based on the ideology those anarchists hold," and "It is you imposing this on the league that is the problem."

But we don't impose it on a pre-formed league. We form a base organization on autonomous principles if that is possible, otherwise the organization is not formed, at least not with our participation. They aren't formed on anarchist ideology. The principles and organizational form of the group are only related to a specific struggle (to stop a development project, for example), hence people who aren't anarchists can be involved alongside anarchists. The only things they need to share is a desire to stop the development project and an agreement on the tactics and strategy that will allow the group to potentially stop the development. The anarchists don't decide for everyone else exactly how the struggle will proceed, what methods will be used at which moment, etc.

Of course, there are also example of self-organization that anarchists aren't involved in creating, and anarchists have to come to agreements with the people involved in those organizations in order to participate in them directly.

In regards to hierarchy, I said that informal hierarchy can also exist under a formal hierarchy. It exists elsewhere, but also within formal hierarchy. Informal hierarchies are often times reinforced by formal hierarchy. My point was that democracy, which is a central tenent of many Platformists and of capitalism and other slave systems (such as that of its origins in ancient Greece), is based on a supporting interaction between formal and informal hierarchy. The formalities of democracy serve to cover-up informal hierarchy and real inequality.

author by one insurrectionary anarchistpublication date Sat Jan 13, 2007 08:43Report this post to the editors

"They aren't relevant to every situation, because we are struggling against the power structure at every moment of our lives."

...Should read: "...because we AREN'T struggling against the power structure at every moment of our lives."

author by AllisLostpublication date Sun May 20, 2007 05:22Report this post to the editors

First of all I think this article and many of the comments as well as the longer crtical article are very well thought out and have given me much to think about.

Personally this is an issue that I have not been able to come to any solutions on, and I think it is a most important one for all of us to dicuss.

I have long considered myself an Anarcho Communist and believe that without question the primary duty of an Anarchist is to work for social revolution. To me this means that the working class will emanicpate itself through class warfare. But to me I have always seen labor as the primary force of chage. I think of revolution in terms of community groups and town meetings and labor unions. I do believe in the necessity or armed revolution, but I have always felt that that would be an inevitability.

By the same token, I see spontaneous acts of revolt as a long standing component of struggle. When the state pushes, people push back whether they are anarchists or not.

What I have a serious problem with is the current American Anarchist movment. I have found it to be a depressing place that has offered me no hope for the future, and more than once led me to consider abandoning it all together to work in labor unions or other groups.

I do not understand anarcho-punk, or primitivism, or college students as working class. I do not mean to be arrogant, but I simply do not know what to make of these things. I have found that many of the people that push ideas like insurrectionalism are deeply rooted in the middle class as well as deeply anti worker ideas

And this to me is the root of the problem with focusing overmuch on insurrection. Without going into details, let me just say that I have been involved in things like black bloc tactics and have generally found them lacking. I liked that there was space created for conflict, but found that it was not a space that most working people found welcoming or hopeful, from what I have heard in conversations with fellow workers and non anarchists. I do not feel that 200 people with sticks can defeat a heavily armed state, and to focus on that is to focus on a weak strategy.

To be sure we need to attempt to push conflict when we can, but I think Anarchists have not made much advances in making this conflict resonate with society. And that is the real issue. When the labor unions oppose the bosses openly, we will see conflcit. When every community is armed against the cops, we will see conflict. But I am not sure what the point of militant fighting is before we have come to that point is.

I see why we should not wait for the revolution, but I think that it is a weaknenss of theory to consider ideas like organizing labor as waiting. In my mind this represents instead the most fundamental revolutionary activity. We dont need to worry about being able to shoot cops. That we can do. Organize more Anarchists? That seems hard.

What I would like to see is more ways in which militancy does not outdistance totally the majority of people. I do see hope in ideas like the White Overall movement which allows people to focus on creating space and challenging the state, but does not seem to ask as much as throwing bombs. Mass action is always more powerful than individual action. And I believe it is the only thing that can change society.

And on a personal level, I must say that I find a great lack of hope or future in many insurrectionary tendancies. I do not know how much I have helped the movement by being beaten by cops on several occasions. I am not too proud to admit that it has left me feeling vulnerable and afraid, and alone. I do not think I would feel this way if it had been in circumstances when much of society supported the action. In addition, we need to be aware of how much we can match our propaganda. I have been in conflict more than many green anarchists I know, many of whom decry me as weak or cowardly for not supporting ideas like picking up a gun right now (not that they plan to of course)

Propaganda that most people will not act on is merely masturabatory. We all must find the courage to struggle in ways that push the state and pull us together, but there is a certain ammount of truth I think to the idea that revolutions come when circumstances push them on people. And I do not know if we can expect people to risk everything and end up in jail for years on a large scale.

In the end I do not have any complete answers, just observations. But I know how I feel. And I am sick of feeling this way about Anarchism. I would also add that no matter what I hope the animosity between camps ends. I am as guilty of it as any, but I truly think now that for many, there is no one they hate as much as anarchists of a different stripe, and that is a victory for the state. But we must also continue to argue and articulate our postisons. I really do believe if this trend towards an emphasis on fighting cops and burning cars continues, we will only see comrades dead or in jail, a stronger police state, and NO revolution.

For all black hearts that bleed red (or green) for the injuries of the world

author by javierpublication date Mon Apr 28, 2008 10:46Report this post to the editors

Recently reviewing this works with a comrade we agreed that it is quite good but had one criticism of a particular point. That is on autonomous base groups. We think comparing the relationship between informal anarchist groups and these autonomous base groups to the one between leninist parties and front organizations is going over the top. Most commonly the relationship is the same as that between plataformist organizations and base organizations, that is acting as an organized minority inside other organization with respect for its decissions and internal dynamics while keeping our own views and promoting them. I personally do see a very big problem of insurrectionalists to working with people of other tendencies, even anarchist ones and this is why most of the time they unite between affinity groups for what i would consider an initiative or project or campaign but not a base organization (as the level of agreement they need to be able to work with others is too high).

It would be very wothwhile to write an article explaining the problems of bureaucratism and authoritarianism tthat contemplate the problem between organizations and inside them, both formally and informally.

author by Andrewpublication date Tue Apr 29, 2008 01:39Report this post to the editors

My problem with the Autonomous Base model is not that it involves anarchists putting forward their ideas within a broader group (obviously I think anarchists should do this). The problem is that insurrectionalist writings on this basically presume the insurrectionalists will exclude other organised political tendencies from such 'broad' organisations, converting them into nothing more that (informal) party controlled fronts that like some similar Leninist fronts pretend to be 'open' to lure workers into a relationship with the party.

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textReport from St. Imier International Congress, 8th-12th August 2012 21:28 Mon 10 Sep by Collective Action 0 comments

This year marks the 140 year anniversary of the first anarchist International held at St.Imier, Switzerland, in 1872. In celebration of the anniversary an international gathering was called in St.Imier in mid-August. A contingent of Collective Action militants attended the gathering along with thousands of other anarchists from around the world to discuss politics, create new international ties and, of course, have some fun.

anarkismotent.jpg imageDelegation returns from International Anarchist Gathering at St Imier 15:13 Wed 22 Aug by Andrew Flood 4 comments

August saw a gathering of a couple of thousand anarchists from all over the globe in St Imier, Switzerland. This small town was the site of the founding of the Anarchist International in 1872, the gathering was organised to commemorate this event and involved dozens of political, organisational & cultural events. As part of this gathering Anarkismo, the international network that the WSM is the Irish section of, held both a European conference and a global gathering. [Italiano]

300_0___20_0_0_0_0_0_5423_popupp.jpg image"Black Flame" blog updated again 20:09 Tue 13 Dec by Lucien van der Walt 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism".

zababooks_logo_2011.png imageNew Zabalaza Books website 22:25 Thu 08 Sep by Zabalaza Books 0 comments

The Zabalaza Books pages have moved to the new ZB site.

Freedom Bookshop, venue for the event imageConference of European Anarkismo organizations in London 18:02 Wed 23 Mar by European Coordination Committee 0 comments

On the weekend of 26-27 February 2011, delegates representing organizations from the UK, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Italy met to discuss how they could work more closely together. [Dansk] [Deutsch] [Italiano] [Ελληνικά] [Nederlands]

videoComunique from A(A)A. Anon Anarchist Action 03:47 Thu 24 Feb by NetAnarchist 0 comments

In the last few years, Anonymous has gained increasing notoriety for its action against websites, agencies and organizations that promote censorship and control. It has helped spread information and supported protestors demanding freedoms and rights. But the popularity of the movement, the attention it brings along, and the structure it has engendered threaten to push Anonymous away from the decentralized, collective movement it has been. As decisions become more centralized and newcomers jump on the bandwagon, Anonymous risks becoming yet another ineffective reformist group, fueled by well-meaning rethoric but subject to third party interests and paralyzed by its fear of authority...

book.jpg imageNew Book: Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? 02:23 Thu 26 Aug by Wayne Price 0 comments

Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution?
by Wayne Price

From the Foreword by Andrew Flood (Workers Solidarity Movement--Ireland):

"This collection of essays by Wayne Price…will hopefully play a significant part in helping us build the movement we need…..This volume represents a good foundation to this process. It revisits many of the essential basic questions and lays down a coherent position in regard to them. Wayne's insights are important to us because they are based not just on a theoretical study of revolution but on five decades of practical experience in the North American left and the anarchist movement"

organisational_platform_of_the_general_union_of_anarchists_draft1.jpg imageAnnouncing the new Anarchist Platform Archive 05:54 Tue 22 Jun by AP Archive 0 comments

Announce the new Anarchist Platform Archive. The Anarchist Platform Archive is an archive of texts relating to the publishing of the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft) by the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad (“Delo Truda” Group) in 1926.

cover_v_1_b.jpg image"Black Flame" blog updated 20:07 Sat 24 Apr by Lucien 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' .

start.gif imageZabalaza Books Update - 7 January 2010 15:05 Fri 08 Jan by Griffin 0 comments

As of 7 January 2010 the Zabalaza Books website has just been updated with the following:

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imageA Response to Rojava: An anarcho-syndicalist perspective Nov 14 by Hüseyin Civan 0 comments

We are not fortunetellers, we can't possibly know what will happen in Rojava a month or a year from now. We can't know that this social transformation which not only gives us hope as revolutionaries that struggle in a geographically close region, but also feeds our struggle in the regions that we struggle in, would move towards a positive or negative future. But we are revolutionary anarchists. We can't just sit aside, watch what's happening and comment; we take part in social struggles and take action for an anarchist revolution.

imageStuart Christie's Preface to "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndica... May 11 by Red and Black Action 0 comments

Stuart Christie's Preface to Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism" (AK Press, San Francisco)

imageThe Political Thought of Errico Malatesta Mar 08 by Felipe Corrêa 1 comments

This text is divided into four main parts for the presentation of Malatesta’s political thought: a.) a brief description of the author’s life, the political environment in which he found himself and his main interlocutors; b.) a theoretical-epistemological discussion, which differentiates science from doctrine/ideology and, therefore, the methods of analysis and social theories of anarchism. A notion that will be applied to the discussion of Malatestan thought itself; c.) theoretical-methodological elements for social analysis; d.) conception of anarchism and strategic positions. [Português]

textSpecifism explained Sep 11 by Collective Action 0 comments

In discussing the platform of Collective Action some individuals have expressed confusion at our use of the label "specifism" to describe the tradition of social anarchism we associate with. The following is a short introduction to what we consider to be the most essential concepts within the specifist model. This text is an adaptation of a forthcoming interview with Shift Magazine on anti-capitalist regroupment. [Italiano]

imagePutting the record straight on Mikhail Bakunin (1976) Feb 01 by Alliance Syndicaliste Revolutionnaire et Anarcho-syndicalist 3 comments

This text was a translation from the French, and was published in English in the Libertarian Communist Review, no. 2, 1976. It is an excellent discussion of Bakunin, his method and his views on issues like dual organisationalism and taking power. Therefore it merits more exposure to contemporary militants.

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image"Black Flame" blog updated again Dec 13 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism".

imageNew Zabalaza Books website Sep 08 Zabalaza Books [ZACF] 0 comments

The Zabalaza Books pages have moved to the new ZB site.

imageConference of European Anarkismo organizations in London Mar 23 Anarkismo European Coordination 0 comments

On the weekend of 26-27 February 2011, delegates representing organizations from the UK, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Italy met to discuss how they could work more closely together. [Dansk] [Deutsch] [Italiano] [Ελληνικά] [Nederlands]

videoComunique from A(A)A. Anon Anarchist Action Feb 24 Anon Anarchist Action 0 comments

In the last few years, Anonymous has gained increasing notoriety for its action against websites, agencies and organizations that promote censorship and control. It has helped spread information and supported protestors demanding freedoms and rights. But the popularity of the movement, the attention it brings along, and the structure it has engendered threaten to push Anonymous away from the decentralized, collective movement it has been. As decisions become more centralized and newcomers jump on the bandwagon, Anonymous risks becoming yet another ineffective reformist group, fueled by well-meaning rethoric but subject to third party interests and paralyzed by its fear of authority...

imageNew Book: Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? Aug 26 0 comments

Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution?
by Wayne Price

From the Foreword by Andrew Flood (Workers Solidarity Movement--Ireland):

"This collection of essays by Wayne Price…will hopefully play a significant part in helping us build the movement we need…..This volume represents a good foundation to this process. It revisits many of the essential basic questions and lays down a coherent position in regard to them. Wayne's insights are important to us because they are based not just on a theoretical study of revolution but on five decades of practical experience in the North American left and the anarchist movement"

more >>
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