Anarchists reflect on tactics

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Sep 10 10:42:55 MDT 2001

Privilege Shapes Our Methodology

We need to carefully examine how privilege shapes our political
methodology. In my own experience when I started to become aware, as a
white, male, middle-class teenager, of the unjust systems of global
capitalism and U.S. imperialism, I was rightfully disgusted. I didn't want
to have any part in this oppressive system, so I changed my consumption
habits and started attending various protests. Through a chain of events, I
got involved in the plowshares movement. Soon I started getting arrested at
demos, and before long I was pouring blood on the Pentagon. I was
contemplating taking a hammer to some random weapon of mass destruction,
when a high school friend pointed out an interesting dynamic. Within the
movement I was immersed in, there was an arbitrary hierarchy of tactics.
Coming to a protest was good, taking a bust better; pouring blood on a
military target was just grand, but the pinnacle of resistance was to
hammer on a missile. I recalled that many people granted me more respect
and attention the further I traveled down this established tactical path.
The effect was that newcomers to this movement were socially encouraged to
imitate rather than to be creative and critical. And no one was talking
about strategy and concrete goals.

I believe that this same dynamic is endemic in many anarchist circles
today. Some variation of: taking the streets is good (as long as you don't
have a permit!), direct action is better, and fucking shit up is the
pinnacle of resistance. People are often cool to the extent that they
embrace militant tactics, and are definitely uncool, even liberal, if they
are passé enough to suggest that the group considers applying for a permit,
or refraining from certain tactics in certain situations. And little, if
any, time is spent discussing strategy and concrete goals.

Tactical hierarchies without regard for context, and the self-righteousness
which accompanies them, persist because white activists are by and large
based more in our ideological subcultures than we are in our particular
communities. This is understandable. As a trend, many of us came to
activism as individual defectors from places of privilege (class, race,
gender, etc.). Our introductory thought processes were thus framed in
individualistic terms (What can I do? How should I live?).

Patrick Reinsborough of Rainforest Action Network notes, "Most people who
are involved in resistance are involved in resistance due to survival.
Their community is under attack." A marginalized community under attack is
much more inclined than a subculture of defectors to think collectively and
to be goal oriented. Their immediate survival depends on it. They have more
at stake and they did not have the privilege of choosing their issues.
Abner Louima had his issue chosen for him. Residents of Viequez had their
issue chosen for them. The indigenous people of Chiapas had their issues
chosen for them. These people are, without their choosing, on the front
lines in the war for justice and autonomy. Are they thinking in
individualistic terms? Or are they thinking in terms of collective
liberation? Are they trying to figure out the most militant, radical or
righteous thing to do? Or are they trying to win? Sometimes an armed
uprising is most effective, sometimes a peaceful demonstration, sometimes a
communiqué, sometimes a strike, sometimes a boycott, sometimes a lawsuit,
sometimes a petition, etc. Tactics are evaluated on the merits of how they
bring the struggle closer to realizing its goals. The militancy--or lack
thereof--of any particular tactic is of little or no concern.

These struggles are fought to be won. Fighting an advantaged opponent
without the intention of winning is not so much fighting as it is coping.
The tendency of the outgunned resister to run headlong kamikaze-style into
enemy lines, is the tendency of someone who wants to be righteous- not of
someone who seeks to effect change. This revolutionary self-righteousness
stems from an individualistic approach to resistance, which tends to be
much more prevalent among privileged defectors than amongcommunities under
attack. Resisters who come from places of privilege must ask ourselves, is
our intention to bring about collective liberation, or is it to be
militant, radical, righteous individuals.

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Louis Proyect
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