Rethinking Anarchism

The Proletariat for President

Organizing is very hard work. The tasks themselves are not often that complicated. The hard part is just keeping moving. If you don’t keep moving, the enormity of the task seems overwhelming. What can keep you going?

Saul Alinsky had a saying: “Action is Oxygen.” And direct action is like super-concentrated caffeinated oxygen. When we take direct action, we glimpse the top of the mountain through the trees. We know it’s still far away, but we know we can get there.

Of course, Alinsky was no anarchist. He wasn’t even a socialist. For him the top of the mountain was much closer than it is for us. As Anarchists, our goal is social revolution, the abolition of capitalism and its attendant oppressions: sexism, homophobia, racism, ageism, on and on. We are unique amongst organizers because our road is the longest. We don’t believe in shortcuts or half-measures.

This approach demands a high degree of discipline and determination. There are many temptations. Currently, many on the left have fallen for the temptation of electoral participation. They hope that Barack Obama will do it for us. He won’t, for the simple reason that the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be emancipation. The democrats, even the progressives, do not desire the emancipation of humanity from capitalism and the state.

And  yet, we find them as fellow travelers on our path. They walk with us at times, encouraging us to participate in the diversion of electoral campaigns or union staff positions. They even use grassroots organizing for their ends, sometimes dabbling in direct action. Because of this, many Anarchists end up working for them (in all the senses of this word.) The progressives in Minnesota are currently the best-organized political force in the field.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about organizing strategy lately because a number of my friends have been accused of terrorism under the Patriot Act. To fight these charges, and ensure our right to organize, we need support from inside the political arena. In such moments, it’s hard to maintain support for abstentionism. Indeed, at such times I find myself looking for allies amongst the progressive and liberal left. Through grassroots organizing, they have built a base amongst students, professionals, and the petit-bourgeois in general. They have managed to suck working people into their party through union patronage of the Democratic Party. We need the support of these political organizations to avoid being destroyed by the state. We can manipulate divisions amongst the rulers to win our battles, as well.

In the short term, I think these tactics are acceptable and necessary to maintan the right to organize. Bordiga was wrong to advocate for abstention from parliament as Mussolini came to power. Many communists died for this mistake. We need to develop a more sophisticated use of the political system to ensure our right to organize, while building a political subject that needs no allies: the proletariat.

The political strategies used by groups like Wellstone Action, the Obama campaign, and other groups are tools that can be used for any ends. It is incumbent on us to learn to use these tools to bring about social revolution.


To the Brink

Insurrection in Greece. Riots in China. Factory occupation in Chicago.

The pace of things seems to be quickening. A friend of mine says, this is our time. Which of course raises the question, what do we do?

Fortunately, we don’t really need to answer this question ourselves. People already are doing something, it’s up to us to support them, and perhaps, draw out the most radical content of the struggle.

As moments of resistance multiply, the radical lessons become clearer. We don’t need capital and the state. If workers can occupy the factory, workers can run the factory. If workers can run the factory, workers can run the world.

This is the syllogism of direct action. Direct action is not only a tactic to be used to win victories within a larger strategy based on a diversity of tactics. Direct action is inherently revolutionary in that it points beyond itself. Within direct action are the seeds of a new social order, an order without bosses or bureaucrats, capital or the state.

As long as reformist trade union bureaucrats or politicians remain the ideological leaders of the working class, they will seek to stifle the potential of the working class and obscure the meaning of direct action. Workers will take society to the brink, and the reformists will coax them back down.

It’s our job to push the world over the edge.

So how do we do this? How can we act to realize the radical potential of mass struggle?

Here’s a few ideas I’ve some up with based on thinking about how I would act if I lived in Greece, or Chicago, or China. In the abstract,:

-Prefiguration. In a revolutionary situation, the struggle is final. In this sense, the struggle does not prefigure the future. The struggle is the future. The seizure of capitalist assets does not prefigure the seize of capitalist assets in a future revolution; the seizure of capitalist assets is the revolution. There is no turning back. For this reason, the struggle must create the kind of society we want to live in: non-hieararchical, non-oppressive.

-Polarization. Without the support of broad strata of the people of this planet, any alternative will be unable to expand, and will be crushed. It is necessary to polarize the world against the enemy to ensure the safety of liberated areas and enable future expansion. We should act to bring the broad masses to the side of the insurgent workers, even if this means making compromises on the public message in the media.

-Dual Power/Reclamation. Any challenge to capital or the state must endeavor to not only hold territory or assets hostage to win demands, but actually establish a permanent base, linked to other bases in a network of counterpower. The goal should not just be to win isolated struggles, but to hold on to assets, neighborhoods, and constituencies. In the decisive moment, assets should be seized rapidly, then set into motion to create more resources to use in the war against capital. For example, media installations should be taken over permanently in order to spread news of the revolution. This will help maintain and deepen social polarization.

-Generalization. Support is not enough. If the revolution does not expand, it will collapse. The struggle must be generalized, or globalized, in order to stretch out the forces of the enemy (at minimum) or establish a sustainable counterpower culminating in revolution (at maximum). This requires global solidarity and organization.

-Defense. Polarization will only go so far. The working class must build the capacity to defend liberated areas from capitalist attack– by any means necessary. Defense organization should also be ‘prefigurative,’ in other words, democratic. The militant defense of spaces from attack will reinforce popular support for the struggle and prepare the workers forces for future battles.

-Offense. The power of the state must eventually be destroyed. We will not be able to reach certain areas through “generalization.” We will need to either invade or isolate these areas. It’s worth remembering that the capitalist class has no right to exist. Although armed struggle should not be a primary tactic in the struggle, we must build the military power of the working class to defend the revolution.


-Organization. We can’t wait for things to happen. We must organize locally now in order to be able to effectively support struggles as they intensify across the globe. This means building up democratic union organization in the workplace, and solidarity organization in neighborhoods as well. This will help build a revolutionary social bloc.

-the Revolutionary Social Bloc. Through organization, we need to build a social majority that is opposed to capitalism in its concrete manifestations of cutbacks and wage slavery, as well as its domination as a social form. We must polarize society against corporations specifically, and capitalism in general.

-Globalism. We must link all struggles as widely as possible geographically. Currently, there are very weak links between the Middle East, China, and the “West.” This is unfortunate, since China and the Middle East are currently central to capitalist globalization. It would make sense to make a concerted effort to build ties to workers organizations in those regions.

-Subversion. Radicals should consider careers in the military and law enforcement. We need to undermine the repressive apparatus as much as possible, and if possible, bring it to the side of the workers.

-Armed Struggle. This is a failure as a revolutionary strategy, but may have its place as a tactic of defense and offense. It would make sense to start building up armed workers organizations right now.

These are some ideas that have crossed my mind as I have watched Greece burn. The pace of change will probably quicken again over the next year. This is our time. Let’s not waste it.