Anarchists reflect on tactics

Craven, Jim jcraven at clark.edu
Mon Sep 10 12:31:04 MDT 2001



Louis wrote:

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 among communities 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.

Response (Jim C): This is, in my opinion, beautifully put and quite
penetrating. I find some striking parallels between the types on these
"reality" shows like "Survivor", "The Weakest Link" (We have our own
pathologically narcissistic, arrogant and toxic shrew on this list
unfortunately) etc and SOME of these self-described anarchists in Seattle,
Genoa etc.: pathological narcissism, darwinian posturing,
ultra-individualism, "I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now" mentality,
narcissistic theatrics without regard to consequences, lack of any real
sophistication about the core issues and information required to
meaningfully discuss those issues, lack of ability to engage in and sustain
broad-based organizing in diverse communities etc etc. And just like these
"reality shows" which focus on "instant returns" of big money and the myth
that wealth versus poverty under capitalism is merely a matter of "luck", so
some of these anarchists equate some marginal chaos and property destruction
as "instant victory" and "success" to be followed-up not with patient
organizing and coalition building, but rather with the next narcissistic
theatrics and "actions" at the next demonstration.

In Seattle, there were gatherings all over the city late into the night. I
met and spent time with some of these self-described anarchists listening
carefully to their positions, level of awareness of core issues, talking
tactics etc. It was like a replay of Bakunin all over again (although most
of them were quite unaware of the works of their historical mentor). When
you would ask about their work and how long and where they have been
involved, all you got was a list of demonstrations they had been in and the
"actions" they had participated in--or imagined they had participated in;
their "resume" was nothing more than a list of "actions" and this is of
course perfect for the some of the young from the
"I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now" generation--go to a few demos and
become/acquire an instant "legend" as an "activist"; no need for long-term
very quiet and very patient work to build coalitions on core issues and
explaining patiently, to diverse audiences, the realities and inexorable
consequences of capitalism or neo-liberal globalization on those
communities. I asked many of these self-described anarchists how they
propose to link up with workers and other possible allies in the general
community and the answer I got over and over was basically they should join
us, get militant in ways that we define as militant or "fuck em." Many I
spoke to were unemployed or marginally employed--often students--who said
they would never work for "the Man" or the System. Great, but some were also
panhandling and taking "donations" from others who were themselves poor and
unable to just refuse to work for the "Man" (Their own Mommies and Daddies
could not pay their rent etc as they were also desperately poor). For sure
there were many Makah, Yakama and others, from near Seattle, so desperately
poor that they just couldn't afford to come to the demo in Seattle; they
didn't have the "mobility" of some of these pampered and self-indulgent kids
(there were very few older activists among the self-described anarchists)
whose mobility was often being financed by Mommie and Daddy or from
donations of others "working for the Man or the System" as they
self-described anarchists often put it.

We have people on this list, activists for ten, twenty, thirty, forty and
more years, who can/will never openly proclaim what they are doing quietly
and patiently in terms of direct action, surveillance/infiltration of
various agencies of the State, gathering State secrets, organzing and
linking-up diverse communities, writing in diverse media, reading a lot of
very dull books (not just cherrypicking the "fun" stuff to read that
ratifies own own views and proclivities) trying to gather evidence of the
real nature and consequences of the system and be able to discuss such with
diverse communities at diverse levels of awareness, making secure political
refugees, reading about andlearning from struggles in arenas and areas of
the world that are not--in space and time--immediate to local struggles etc.
Often there are no immediate rewards or recognition, often there are
setbacks, often activists suffer loss of employment or attacks at work (they
do not have the luxury of not working for "The Man"), wind-up divorced as
one partner refuses to join-in the fight, lose custody of children as
radical activism is seen as evidence of parental unfitness etc.

As this is a vicious system with myriad,diverse and sophisticated
mechanmisms/instruments of mind/soul control, mystification, repression and
oppression etc, so the fight against such a system must be protracted,
systematic and potentially ungratifying for those who
"Want-it-all-and-want-it-now." but minimizing the seriousness and protracted
nature of the fight and overblowing the "successes" and effects of isolated
demonstrations (which are part of not all of the overall struggle) and
equating one-shot activities with comprrehensive "activism" can only play
into the hands of and serve the interests of "The Man."

Jim Craven
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