This Is Parkdale (Click on the link to watch the documentary) is an inspiring example of dedication and the asserting of working-class autonomy. As well it illustrates where true struggle lies. Not in activism, but rather centered in our own day to day lives and the lives of those around us.
“In the summer of 2017, in the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale, over 300 tenants living across 12 apartment buildings went on rent strike to protest a wave of rent increases that would have displaced members of their community. Through months of organizing and a series of escalating actions, working-class people took on the biggest corporate landlord in their neighbourhood… and won. In an age where gentrification is rapidly transforming the nature and demographics of working-class neighbourhoods in cities across the world, pushing out poorer tenants, people on fixed incomes, immigrant communities and other long-term residents, the story of the Parkdale rent strike offers an important and practical lesson on how we can organize with our neighbours to fight back.”
Part I. Doomed to Fail: An Introductory Analysis of Collective Self Abandonment
This is the first of an undefined part series on the trauma that binds us, and the healing that will liberate us. It is a love letter to vulnerable conversations and the process of holding the misunderstood and disingenuous projection of the self accountable for the spectaclization of radical movements. Each idea in this introductory piece will be elaborated on, and given the space and analysis it is worthy of. However, we must first establish why these conversations matter, and the general harm their erasure has perpetuated.
Part I. Doomed to Fail: An Introductory Analysis of Collective Self Abandonment
The trauma we’ve experienced lives in our most intimate and genuine space, but our organizing doesn’t reflect this, and it fails because of this. It is significantly easier to organize direct action than it is to organize self awareness and healing, so we use external organizing as a bandaid for what we truly need. We pretend that dismantling the structures that condition our behaviors will resolve the trauma they’ve already inflicted upon us; thriving on the bypass of our own deconstruction. We repress the feelings we have when our parents abuse us, when our friends and partners manipulate or assault us, when strangers disempower us; we put the effects of these experiences in the “personal life” compartment. We repress our trauma from our organizing, instead of taking the foundational steps of organizing to resolve it. We have been broken by these structures and experiences, and we continue to break one another and fail in our efforts to organize a better world, because there are no internal roots being pulled, only continuous pruning of leaves. This is a call for organizing the self, organizing healing; not solely for the sake of an effective collective movement of liberation, but for sake of maintaining hope that it’s possible and we are worthy of its rewards.
Traumatic childhoods leading to traumatic relationships leading to wholly disconnected behaviors in our everyday lives; this is not a narrative that we find unrelateable. Yet still, we view theoretical and exploratory discussions around trauma and the self as a strange niche, relegated to the feminized world of radical discussions. These are the things that fundamentally define and shape who we are; things that our “movement” violently excavates from our organizing, only opportunistically and superficially pausing when the movement demands it in order for us to maintain a pure “radical” identity; the one that stands in for our own disconnection. We set up accountability committees when we “inevitably” harm one another, and view it as an obligatory process where the right words light the path to an empty objective. Our analysis around abuse/accountability bloomed in dead earth and its fruition takes the form of a hot topic; it allows regurgitated buzzwords to operate as social currency and unspoken confusion and incompetency to convolute any attempts to extract clarity. This is a refusal to reflect on our own trauma as a focal point for theory, and it mirrors our lack of investment in the words we say, and the organizing we do. It’s a denial of the self, not for the sake of the “community’, as its oftentimes romantically framed, but for the protection of our own static existence. The self, and the self’s trauma, is the foundation for the actions, individually and collectively, that obfuscate any positive path forward, and this requires an honest examination of what that means. It does not mean that we are devoid of agency, pre-disposed to harm others, and others us; it is not an excuse for harm, nor an analysis on how every survivor and perpetrator encompasses both; it is an exploration of why we fear the self and as a consequence, build nightmares.
These nightmares permeate our lives, yet there is an unfortunate tendency to discuss trauma solely as it relates to interpersonal abuse. When we recount the myriad of projects that have failed under the banner of “trauma begets trauma”, we cite instances of sexual assault and perpetrators who drove apart the community, and then sit back and savor the bitter analysis of how we are traumatized people traumatizing others, as if that statement is a period followed by the back cover of a book. We use this underdeveloped, misinformed, and woefully narrow idea to then drunkenly stagger our way through its inevitable praxis of failed accountability processes. We sit comfortably with the knowledge that this looming, abstract, and seemingly undefeatable, concept [trauma] creates impossible solutions in accountability efforts, but neglect to expand that pessimism to our organizing, as a whole. We fail to account for the projects failing due to burnout, authoritarian behaviors, martyr complexes, unclear objectives, and a host of other maladaptive tendencies. When we position trauma solely in a context of abuse, and not as a lens through which we process ourselves and the world, we have forfeited clarity and embraced failure.
At its core, trauma is an emotional reaction to events that cause us disempowerment; the feeling that we are no longer in control or afforded agency. We then become traumatized, leading to an internal, self generated feeling of disempowerment, frequently accompanied by the compatible, and equally volatile, feeling of shame. This will manifest in many ways, certainly not excluding, but more importantly, not at all limited to, or inherently bound to, the abuse of others. With this being said, it’s mandatory to acknowledge that trauma exists on a spectrum, many of us are traumatized from horrific experiences of abuse, and those experiences will carry their own range of consequences specific to the self. However, if we are to view trauma as a cornerstone of our collective failure to cultivate liberation, we must expand this scope. The traumatic structures that we exist under have not endured as long as they have, by chance. There is no chance in sustained oppression, only strategy, and that strategy is to disempower in such a way that the only purpose the self sees for existence is survival; this strategy shames the self for wanting more, or for failing to understand that a life comprised solely of surviving for death is a life worth living. This is our collective trauma, but it is not a consistent or generalizable one; it is merely our skeleton awaiting the muscles and tendons of our own individualized trauma – informed by the foundation they lie on. These individualized events will compound onto themselves, and their complexity will form a skin resistant to even our own understanding of what has occurred. The structural influences we fight to dismantle are nested, and guarded, within these individual traumas. How then are we able to liberate ourselves from the foundation of our oppression when we are unable to connect with the highly personalized lived reality that conceals it? The answer is that we are not.
There are whispers about broad mental health and trauma analyses; certain circles discuss it as being integral to organizing, as being integral to living a life worth fighting for. However, there are very few instances of this wisdom being accompanied with concrete solutions regarding how to move forward. Social media vomit garners approval, and we mull over these revelations for a minute or so, agree, and then blindly move forward, unable to materialize any sort of change within ourselves. Zines call for vulnerability, podcasts call for honest reflection, and we ourselves call for the end of our own self destructive tendencies. Yet, we continue to disempower ourselves by not militantly demanding the tools we need to accomplish these things. We resign ourselves to idealistic fantasies surrounding who we could be, and disempowerment, and its accomplice shame, are not solved merely by ideas; without tangible action, these ideas make a mockery of our imprisonment. We trust that the only tools we need for emotional liberation are flowery think pieces focused on creating terms, and piecing together definitions through the backdrop of something resembling a coming of age novel. Zines about relationships are particularly inundated with this; they’re beautiful in many ways, and resonate with many people, but once our mind resumes with its everyday activities, we forget these noble notions of perfected interpersonal interactions, until we find ourselves stumbling, stuck once again in a web that’s foreign to us because we are foreign to ourselves.
We do not need empty definitions, void of painful self awareness. We need constant conversations, constant self-reflection, and real connections, but most importantly, we need the tools to engage in these things honestly, for that doesn’t just occur because we wish for it, and we must take this task seriously. We must mine for things outside of our confined and limiting “radical analysis”. We must acknowledge the failures of the psychological industrial complex, while strategically drawing from the pool of their gate kept knowledge and liberating it for ourselves, and each other. We must touch on every miniscule way our trauma impacts our collective goals, and we must treat the self as an all encompassing form of political analysis. This will be our materialization as individuals, and as a movement.
There is never a final analysis, and this series will never be complete.
As the class has intensified its struggle against capital, the state and white supremacy in the United States, and as counter-revolutionary forces mobilize to fulfill their role in protecting the old order, those predisposed to physical confrontation or militancy have found themselves intoxicated with a blinding sense of urgency. This text seeks to form a critique of the spetacular and de-contextualized revival of tactics of class struggle that have been given their prominence due to the sense of urgency. Namely, the relentless call for everything to be a general strike and most pertinently, the re-emerging popularity of armed vanguard groups.
The movement of the class1 has developed organically and the bar that it has set for militant engagement has (as it always does) surpassed what the militant left even thought was possible. From prisoner resistance to Ferguson, to young latino youth being the first to mob up on Trump rallies, the class is conscious and its response has been organic. On the other hand the left2, including its militant section, have scrambled not only to catch up, but to impose themselves as the “directors” of the movement. Given that militants of the left have continually failed to distinguish themselves, let alone break free from the recuperative nature of the left, they continue to act from a need to recuperate the generalizing struggles of the class. This is a subconscious need shaped by insecurity, ultimately a fear of succumbing to the realization that the left is a cultural phenomenon, merely the residual form of historical movements that remain entirely irrelevant to the development of class antagonism today. Whereas the left seeks to be the the representative form of that antagonism, the substance of that antagonism (unlike the left) still remains formless. That antagonism has and can only ever arise from a foundation built from the daily grind of struggle under capitalism and the shared experience of having endured it.
However, the left’s diffuse yet concerted involvement can only see the fight for bread, dignity and liberation recuperated into the spectacle of struggle (i.e. struggle in its representative form but without content), which in the era of media saturation, has forced militants to further submerse themselves in the “go big or go home” aesthetics of struggle. Yet, they do so without any ground to stand on, precisely because they represent no one, let alone a diverse and divergent working-class that is already finding itself through struggle. Unfortunately these criticisms extend to the anarchist and anti-authoritarian movement3 as well, a movement that in spite of it’s efforts, has yet to find it’s autonomy in socially and materially breaking from the left. As such, the anti-authoritarian movement passively contributes to the reproduction of the left and subsequently it own continual recuperation.
A salient quote from Alfredo Bonanno touches on this dynamic, stating:
“it is not within the enclosure of the specific anarchist movement that one works for the revolution, but outside in the reality of struggles, which at this moment do not see us present.”
As a participant in the anti-authoritarian movement, this quote written in 1977, sadly still speaks to our current context of revolutionary alienation from the class. It is why contemporary movements are trapped in a mobilization mindset and why their dependency on the left still remains prevalent. Their aim is to preach to the choir, to mobilize those already in movement to achieve a symbolic end. This rush towards mobilization reproduces the alienation of militants as the goals are symbolic and entirely performative. Rooted in exclusivity and left protectionism, it is at odds with organizing to generalize the autonomous activities of the class against capital. Instead, anti-capitalist struggle has become a commodity that is quantified by media exposure and the alleged reach it purports to have. It has, in essence, been recuperated into the spectacle of capitalism.
Taking this into account, the “go big or go home” aesthetics of revolutionary politics, essentially represent a de-contextualized revival of old revolutionary tactics that occurred at high-water marks within the autonomous struggles of the class. However, these revivals are entirely without a material base or popular participation, rendering them representative of the struggle and alien to the class. Instead their life, longevity and substance are largely dependent on their representation in alternative and bourgeois media and their reproduction within the confines of the left’s echo chamber. Within this echo chamber, this nostalgic revitalization gives the illusion of a revolutionary trajectory and gives the left the perception of once again being ahead of the curve in struggle, without them ever having to put their ear to the street, to feel and relate to the nuances of the day to day struggle. To seek out the commonalities in those nuances, to explore the contradictions of a dual conscious expressed within them and through them, truly understand that our class can turn either way, for the better or for the worst. Neither some sense of historical precedence (or materialism) nor a fatalistic belief in the end of capital and the beginning of our liberation, can make it so. There is no inevitability in struggle, and from the past or the present, we are entitled to nothing we ourselves will not take. Yet there seems to be little effort put into seeing that these tactical revivals have substantial meaning, or to ensure that they’re based on principles that are reflective of a desire to achieve an anti-authoritarian end.
As mentioned, most notable of these tactics would be both the call for everything to be a general strike, and the other is the rising popularity in the U.S. for the armed vanguard.
Both are recuperative and vanguardist in that they express an intent to direct a broad struggle without broad participation and to impose on the class the will of a minority, which seeks to determine what direction the struggle will take.
. Yet it is the rise in armed vanguard formations that are the most alarming. Even more concerning however is the uncritical acceptance ( if not praise) of these formations, which cumulatively present the greatest threat to the broader generalization of class struggle. It risks derailing us from a truly liberatory end. However, this should not be mistaken as a critique of arms in and of themselves, nor of the spontaneous acts of armed violence attributed to the class in heightened moments of conflict and rupture. It is not they who stifle and impede moments of intense class antagonism, but rather specialized armed formations that exist as a force distinct form the riot or demonstration.
As such, part one of this series,The Theft of Conflict4, is dedicated solely to this rising trend of armed vanguards and the danger they present towards the building of a genuine anti-authoritarian movement.
Armed Vanguards and the Rise Thereof
Armed vanguardist organizations have long lingered on in the United States (U.S.) since their heyday in the 60’s and 70’s, albeit as small, isolated and largely irrelevant. That is until the Ferguson rebellion seized the collective consciousness of our class and struck fear into that of the ruling class. In the three years following the rebellion, riots, occupations and violent clashes in the streets have become commonplace, accumulating in the military having been deployed six times across the country to quell social unrest: twice in Ferguson,then in Charlotte, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and at Standing Rock. It is the embryonic development of a class that is finding itself through conflict. However, these developments largely took the left and the anti-authoritarian movement by surprise. Simultaneously, a foreseeable backlash by reactionary elements within the class occurred, which saw a right-wing populist and peddler of nationalism ascend to the Presidency of the United States. The vanguards who have always been there, now turned alarmist to seize upon the fears of the class, sounding the alarm to abandon ship and follow them into the sea before the boat could even leave the harbor.
There are a number of such groups ( Red Guard, John Brown Gun Club/Redneck Revolt, New Black Panthers, Brown Berets, Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement…etc. etc.) that have seen significant growth or at least have succeeded in projecting the illusion of such. While they seem to arise from different political tendencies, their function, their practice and their impact on struggle are identical.Escalation is when a fear barrier is broken and a new combative tactic generalizes that allows us to take new space — vanguardism is when a group adopts a new violent tactic that allows it to distinguish itself.
While some would likely reject to being identified as a vanguard, Alfredo M. Bonanno proposed and answered the question in his pivotal text, Why a Vanguard. Stating :
“And the question does not change if we call the “thing” a vanguard or an active minority. What is this thing then? What is a revolutionary vanguard?
The answer looks simple: it is an organic whole composed of the individuals that make it up. This organisation tends to cut itself off from and impose itself upon the revolutionary movement that produced it.”
It is important to understand the historical context in which Bonanno wrote. in the 60’s and 70’s, Italy underwent what is arguably one the most significant anti-authoritarian and revolutionary strugglessince the Spanish Civil War. A time when school and workplace occupations proliferated and clashes in the streets with police (often with armed participants) became common. As with now, some militants within the movement were overcome by a sense of revolutionary urgency. Yet if we assess this tendency critically , we can see it for what it is: an urgency to be at the helm of the revolutionary movement. These elements in the movement manifested themselves with a militaristic fervor and the imposition of specialization (i.e. armed vanguard) over the class. They tried to position their struggle as the only true struggle.. As such, the movement succumbed and dwindled due to this authoritarian representation on the one hand and overwhelming state repression on the other. Seeing this, Bonanno wrote Why Vanguard as well as his most infamous (as well as misunderstood) and enduring text, Armed Joy. This latter argued against the militarization and specialization of resistance. Instead he argued for the horizontal generalization of armed struggle against the state. Writing as enthusiastically about it as he did, it resulted in the text being banned, burned and Bonanno being imprisoned for 18 months.
Most notable of the vanguards to emerge in Italy were the Red Brigades. First starting of with acts of sabotage, they then escalated towards kidnappings and assassination. They differ significantly from some of the organizations mentioned in this text, in that they were clearly an offensive organization. Yet the relation to the movement was the same, in that they were above it, and sought to administer conflict on their terms. Where as some take upon themselves to interject themselves as defenders of the class, they took it upon themselves to deliver proletariat justice on behalf of the class5. In either case, the substance of conflict (the defense, the attack and the procurement of justice), is decided by a few on behalf of the whole. Like the re-emergence of armed formations in America post Ferguson and Baltimore, The Red Brigades presented itself to the movement in 1970, following a tumultuous 2 years of social unrest, which saw the spontaneous yet common place application of proletariat violence.
In His pivotal text State of Emergency: Culture of Revolt from Italy 1968 -1978, Robert Lumley touches on the orientation of the Red Brigades, of which I quote at some length. Stating:
“The idea of political violence which attracted the protagonists of the social movements was more likely to be explosive, elemental and passionate – in brief, romantic. The use of violence was, however, considered secondary. For the Red Brigades, by contrast, violence had a quite different status; it was the primary and determining form of struggle.... What remained contradictory and complex in the social movements was drastically transformed and simplified by the Red Brigades.”
And finally that:
“…the Red Brigades tried to capitalize and monopolize the use of violence, to take it away from it’s sponaneity towards a systemic and organizationalist logic. It’s millitirization and specialization, meant it’s detachment from the developments of consciousness and struggle as now, that world and the terrain of struggle must be shaped and formed to coalesce with the identity they have assumed. “
It is true that time has passed since the writing of Armed Joy and from that very specific revolutionary moment in Italy, but nonetheless, the context of struggle is always fluctuating and now we see the context of our contemporary struggle beginning to share similarities with that of movements passed. But these perceived similarities are purely a matter of projection, of wishful thinking, a desire to see the rising conflict as just another round in a fight between two opponents, capital and the class, whose composition has remained static . Yet neither one is the same as it was 50 years ago, nor will it ever be.
Capitalism in crisis may have once again taken center stage, but the actors in the conflict are not of the same stock or composition as they were in the past, but some nonetheless repeat hollow motions as if they were. As if they were performing a ritual of the damned, they set about resurrecting through these gestures the ghost of past struggle, so that they too can some day be studied in the academic halls of a once again victorious state. With our present so precarious and our future unknown, it is only our past that is concrete, but it can only be so if its resonance can be found in the evolution of our collective struggle for emancipation. The armed vanguards have and always will fail because of their detachment from those whose struggle they usurp as their own. They are a regression in regards to the progression of struggle, where as the generalization of conflict (armed or otherwise) is its fulfillment.
The Law is Our Enemy
It must be said that their is a unique difference between the armed vanguards of Europe and the U.S., with each being uniquely shaped by their own historical context. The armed vanguard of the U.S. looks different due to the varying layers of colonial oppression and imperialist expansion on the continent. All of which have led to various nationalist struggles occurring throughout its relatively brief history. As well, the context is different due to gun ownership being legal. To be frank, the reason why the armed vanguard in the U.S. can parade and photo-op with assault rifles, unlike most of their international counterparts, is simply due to the fact that they legally can. That is (as history demonstrates), likely only for a limited period of time.
The fetishization of the right to bare arms and the uncritical acceptance of recent legislation that enables armed demonstrations, such as open carry, fail to grasp the logic of a state rooted in white supremacy and why it would enact such laws. It is not so you can exercise your legal “right”, but rather, when coupled with nefarious laws such as stand your ground, they serve to re-assert a social hierarchy of race and gender among and within the class through violence. These permissive gunlaws do not apply to the black proletariat or to victims of domestic violence, but have provided the legal framework for the racist murder of young, unarmed black youth, such as Trayvon Martin. They enable the para-militarization of the most reactionary elements of the class, so as to empower them to police and repress those elements of the class that have found themselves in conflict with capital and the state, whether it be on account of their participation in collective struggle, or due to their experiencing racial violence. These laws are the legislative re-incarnation of the white vigilante, itching to lynch, and of the Pinkertons and anti-union mobs of the early labor movement. The function they play can clearly be seen during theFerguson uprising in numerous cities all across the U.S. and along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Given this, it is dangerously naive to not only believe that the state would empower its enemies at the expense of its own hegemony or that of its reactionary allies, but also to believe that the law of the state is in any way an objective matter. Especially given that laws aimed at restricting access to firearms in the U.S. have always been implemented with a racial bias.
From my own experience, I can say that the armed counter-demonstrating of fascists in paramilitary formation has an unnerving and, at times, pacifying effect on demonstrations equal to or smaller in size than that of the armed nationalist. Nonetheless the state is armed, violent and the goons they employ are just as murderous, and yet we fight. The presence of armed reactionaries does not quell conflict but rather adds just one more violent dimension that must be navigated. Small parading armed formations on the left do not bring an element of security to these conflicts, but rather stifle them by intensifying the armed dimension.
As will be discussed below, the participation of armed individuals in riots and demonstration has been a constant throughout the history of struggle in the U.S. and that it is not them but rather the armed formations that impede and stifle those moments of intense class antagonism. When demonstrators face off against the paramilitary right and the police, it is a collective expression of our class antagonism. It is clearly us versus our oppressors and the loyal dogs that protect them. But when in these moments the armed vanguard presents itself, if they are permitted to seize the reigns of our activity, then the conflict becomes one of them versus our oppressors. At best your agency is lost. You are no longer a combatant in the street, but a victim in need of protection. The fluidity in the trajectory and spontaneity of the struggle is then usurped by a few who have committed everyone to a rigidly defined and stagist approach (the conceptualizing of struggle in stages as defined by some historical precedent) to escalation. You are then not only forced to overcome your fear of state and paramilitary violence, but are now rendered dependent upon the sound judgment of your self appointed protectorate. You must defer leadership to them as they have set the tone for what our escalation will look like, and it is they who possess the specialized skills and tools to carry it out. In the context of a frontal confrontation between the state, armed paramilitaries and a small contingent of armed leftist, does anyone really have illusions as to the outcome? Or are we collectively suffering from such a martyr complex that we refuse to see it? The state itself has an inherent interest in seeing the militarization of social movements, as it is a terrain on which they can almost always win. Thus the push for militarization can be seen as a strategy of states. Either way, with our conflict stolen, we then simply become spectators and cannon fodder in the conflict of others. And nobody wants to take a bullet for someone else’s fight.
This context is lost on the armed vanguards of the U.S. or, more likely, simply ignored. However when coupled with a media centric strategy, a weaponized minority (lawfully through social media or otherwise through the use of communiques) can then project the fallacy of their reach and influence, their inevitable manifestation in conflict, and their professionalism on matters of the struggle. Struggling through a self imposed alienation from the class, vanguards depend on publicity for legitimacy and longevity. The legalization and public fetishization of armed posturing has allowed for the armed vanguard to remain a staple of American politics. Furthermore, they can accomplish this personification without having to be as action-oriented as their international counterparts. One merely needs access to a Wal-Mart and a credit card.
The Conquest of Legitimacy
It goes without saying that the modern vanguards of the United States derive their inspiration from the Black Panthers and their armed contemporaries. Yet in spite of all the rich diversity in strategy, goals and tactics employed by the Black Panthers (who saw themselves as a Marxist-Leninist vanguard organization), all that is remembered is the tactic that proved to be the most disastrous for the Panthers, and arguably for the black liberation movement on a whole: that of the unaccountable armed formation. This tactic was also the easiest and most violently exploited tactic by the state through the implementation of COINTELPRO. J Edgar Hoover (who was one of the most effective antagonists of the anti-capitalist struggle) was notoriously less concerned with the armed elements of the Panthers, but more troubled by their survival and outreach programs. Having once stated in an internal FBI memo:
“….Consequently, the BCP [Breakfast for Children Program] represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP [Black Panther Party] and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities … to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.”
Yet for the vanguardist, it is the aesthetics of the “pure” and “true” armed revolutionary that persist. All notions of dignity and true liberation achieved through collective struggle have been rendered into deflective sound bites. However, it must be noted that not all the fault lies at the feet of the revolutionary in cosplay, but fault is in fact shared with many who take up the conflict of the class. Throughout history, the anti-authoritarian struggle has always been waged against, the state, capital, reactionaries and against the authoritarian vanguards of the left. Ceding ground to the latter (in the name of unity and necessity) has always been the first dagger to fatally strike revolutionary moments in history. The forebears of our struggle have written extensively about any and all formations predicated on specialization. We have the benefit of hindsight and know of the danger and detriment that such formations have on the generalization of class struggle. Yet many of us still find ourselves easily romanced by the representation of struggle, especially when presented in a spectacular and easily digestible form. It is after all, re-affirming to that sense of urgency.
Urgency, that need to feel that we are moving forward. At times, that need so overwhelms the objectives that even moving forward on that tried and doomed trajectory is more desirable than fighting to win. In part this is because our class seems to suffer from collective amnesia, but also because fighting and losing seems to be all that is possible at times. The class in struggle has always suffered from a crisis of faith in regards to our own collective potential. The vanguard, on the other hand, has always promised us deliverance and delayed freedom, but only ever in exchange for the subordination of the class. But still, they have yet to deliver. Legitimacy for the vanguard does not arise from struggle, but is given to them out of fear that struggle would be lost or never occur otherwise. Thus the struggle of the vanguard is and always has been, a struggle for legitimacy. While vanguards come in many different forms it is for the armed vanguard that this need for legitimacy is most pressing.
The armed vanguard’s struggle for legitimacy lies in the stifling, counter-revolutionary function they play in liberatory movements and in their shallow representation of the class as a whole or of a marginalized demographic within it. In essence, their existence both polices and imposes itself on the autonomous action of the class.
The ways they impose themselves to the autonomous struggles of the class is evident in how they up the ante up in a game to which they were not invited. Their formations, being either explicitly or implicitly authoritarian, are in stark opposition to the generalized antagonism of the class. Foremost by their reproduction of the aesthetic fallacy as being the pinnacle of revolutionary fulfillment. All other autonomous activity is then by default subordinate to those with guns.
The function is policing in that others in pursuit of self-realization through conflict mustn’t then put them at risk, for they are our guardians. They have already taken upon themselves so much risk, with only our interests at heart, thus we are beholden to them and must defer our autonomy to them, for the safety of the whole. Or so they say.
Furthermore, many vanguards fetishize militaristic discipline (marching in formation, uniforms, liaisons…etc.) and put this aesthetic forward as the be-all authority on the movement‘s trajectory. All of which is entirely contrived, as it is purely a masturbatory exercise in radical supremacy. This projection of military discipline can readily be seen in the Phoenix John Brown Gun Club‘s (a branch of Redneck Revolt’s national organization) report back on their armed counter parading at the Arizona state capitol.
With their power and meaning resting solely on the barrel of a gun, their alienation from the class is now complete. Their illegitimacy is masked by the symbolic representation of the class and the lefts celebratory reproduction of that lie. To put it bluntly, they neither derived their power from, nor originated from, nor answer to any conceivable sort of popular assembly, be that a neighborhood assembly or workplace committee. Yet they claim patronage over large segments of the class. They instead claim to both represent and protect some monolithic community in the abstract, without the formation of any material or social relationship, rather the “community” is meant to find its unity through the organization. Given that this is so, then on what authority do they fabricate and then stand upon the martyr’s mantel of protectorate6? What justification do they have for usurping the conflict of class, given that they have elevated themselves above and beyond it?
It is the theft of conflict, conflict being the last commons of the oppressed. To deny us our conflict is to deny us of our chance of self-realization through struggle. As Tony Negri romantically put it, “I immediately feel the warmth of the workers and proletarian community again every time I don the ski mask.”
Restless Fingers Caressing Triggers*
In Ferguson and in many other heightened moments of conflict, we’ve seen the supposed vanguard of the black liberation movement (armed or otherwise) attempt to seize the moment, the organic rage and revolutionary fervor of the black working-class. Their attempts to co-opt it are almost always done under the guise of “policing ourselves”. And yet not only have they been rejected, but what has their photo-op militancy and their message of self-subjugation been in comparison to the fighting spirit of a collective whole? To what do these armed formations present a greater threat, the irreconcilable antagonisms of a subjugated black working-class or the state, which found in them willing collaborators? Camps opposed often merge as one when opportunity arises in moments of rupture. One seeking de-escalation, the other consolidation, but both are seeking to exert power and influence over the class in conflict.
To quote Bonanno once last time:
“The problem of the great defence organisations of the exploited is not the fact that they exist — something that is natural and ineliminable — but precisely the defensive dimension that they have adopted. That is why they “copy” the organisations of the adversary and use the same logic.”
As Bonano clarified, it is not the existence of armed struggle that should raise alarm, but rather the “dimension” or form that it takes. Yet within the context of the U.S., what is lost in all the fetishization and hype around the need to arm ourselves is that as a population, the inhabitants of the U.S. nation state are the largest armed body to exist in the history of the world. This has not only meant that struggles in the U.S. have been quick to seize the gun, but also that the class has never actually escaped armed conflict. Armed conflict is not always an expression of a revolutionary class consciousness: it is often conflict waged among and within our class or in isolated acts against our oppressors. Yet it is a form of conflict that persists nonetheless, one that manifest itself as a brewing tension. The gun in this land has been as much a constant in the American identity as god, racism and cherry pie.
Thus low intensity armed struggle is and has always been a staple of North America’s war against colonization and the class system that confines us. Those that are committed to the anti-authoritarian struggle must reconcile themselves with this constant, without reproducing its recuperative formations. The Battle of Blair Mountain did not occur on account of a left vanguard preaching the gospel of armed struggle, rather the miners lived it by using whatever tools they had at their disposal, as the class has always done whenever and wherever. Likewise, an armed component has been present during every major urban rebellion waged by the black proletariat, from before Detroit of 1967, to Ferguson of 2014 and since.
Speaking as a member of the Twin Cities IWW’s General Defense Committee (GDC), Stephanie B. spoke of this dynamic occurring during the occupation of the 4th police precinct in Minneapolis’s north-side.This wasa multi-faceted struggle that arose after the police murdered another black man by the name of Jamar Clark. Heightened moments in the struggle saw white-supremacist opening fire on demonstrators, wounding several, and a solid response of community self-defense. Responding through armed defense was not a matter of debate for those growing up in racially segregated and oppressed neighborhoods; it was rather the organic response in defense of their family, their friends and their neighborhood. They did not beckon to be saved by either the state nor a vanguard, but took up arms discretely7. As Stephanie B. put it,
“…everyone knew who brought guns to the corner, to you know, protect and just stand there…everyone in the hood knows who’s armed.”
The class is in no need of a savior, it already knows how to protect itself.
Finally, one cannot speak of armed struggle in the Americas without speaking of the struggles of indigenous people, whose struggle pre-dates the birth of nation states on this continent. From Chiapas to the Oka crisis, the struggle of indigenous people has always been one of measured violence and or the promise thereof. The unique context of their struggle and the armed formations they produce provide a valuable example of what a constant armed presence in class struggle could look like. While not perfect, these armed formation are unlike the vanguards in that usually they have either resulted from or at least run parallel to an array of active councils, assemblies and or other decision making bodies. Coupled with what is often close familial bonds unique to their struggle, a social fabric is woven in which the legitimacy of these formations is linked more to their accountability to the whole than the force they exert. At times they are directly beholden to some form of decision making body and at other times their emergence is divisive. Yet it is not the consensus of the whole that gives such formations their legitimacy, but rather it is how they emerge and the dimensions they take. To quote a friend, the difference is that:
“The use of arms is de-emphasized rather than spetaculaized; it occurs in the context of escalation, rather than being used to precipitate a more escalated form of conflict.”
Conclusion: Rejecting the Vanguard and Not the Gun
The persisting lie and justification for the armed vanguard is that their formation is inevitable. This grandiose and linear narrative sees struggle in fixed stages, with the creation of armed groups being the final climactic stage to the revolution. Thus the means to an end are entirely rejected for the end in and of itself. But class struggle and revolution are anything but a linear process. Rather it is a complex process of emotional, intellectual and material transformation in regards to how life is organized and in how we relate to one another. In rejecting the linear narrative of struggle, we can then begin to understand that how we endure it — from the daily grind to the crushing defeat of the class in arms — is as much a part of the struggle as the material conditions of exploitation in which we fight against. Yet neither the prisons, nor the massacres have inflicted such trauma on the psyche of the class as the process of being re-disenfranchised and re-subjugated after battles we fought and won.. Fighting and losing is a terrifying prospect, but it is the historical accounts of fighting, “winning”, and yet still finding that we had lost that crushes the spirit.
The vanguard can only promise more of the same, lies of security and deliverance and the theft of conflict. Yet if armed conflict is our desired revolutionary end, then it, like the struggle that makes it possible, must be one of generalized conflict. Not a form of conflict that is entirely contingent upon spontaneity, but rather one spurred by a consciously developed class exerting its collective power. A consciousness that can only be raised through the class engaging in diverse fields of struggle. The gun may always remain a constant in the struggles of the U.S. working-class, but its photo-op prominence is a product of fetishization and the pursuit of individual power.
It is important to note that there is nothing inherently authoritarian or vanguardist about armed martial training and revolutionary preparedness, but it is in my perspective that this should be an informal and decenteralized process of skill sharing and of collective development that takes place in a much more complex and diverse arena of struggle. That such activity does not take the form of a teacher and pupil relationship and that such activity does not become the medium in which struggle is communicated. This approach has and continues to be utilized by decentralized and locally situated A.R.A (Anti-Racist Action) and Anti-fascist groups throughout the 90’s to the present. While this is but one example of armed self defense being put into practice in the anti-authoritarian movement, this approach differs widely from formations that seek to build a national, and thus an inherently centralized organization that through the allure of potential violence, seek a means of distinguishing themselves. like a Vice journalist adeptly put it in regards to Redneck Revolt, to be an “armed group [who] is trying to be the new face of left wing activism”.
The difference in between the approaches is not merely present in the divide between a centralized and de-centralized mode of organizing, but in the centrality that violence is given towards the construction of their organizational identity and subsequently, that of the individuals who constitute its membership. To be a member of the most “militant” organization made up of the most “militant” individuals (i.e. to be the vanguard). Militancy when defined by a will to violence, can only ever be a means of distinguishing and asserting ones identity over another as that of the militant. At its essence, it is the conquest of the ego and it is that conquest that take the sphere of violence as a social relationship , which is as deep and complex as the ocean (be it gendered, racial or of the class), and simplifies it into a narrative that sees that social relationship (i.e. violence) as the means of resolution in a dueling set of ethics.
Finally, if the defensive formations of the class are to take a more organizational form, they should be fluid in their utility and in their membership, arise directly from or parallel to the neighborhoods and workers assemblies they purport to defend (abandoning socially constructed concepts such as “the community” for a more geographically defined and territorial approach), and be accountable to other horizontally structured assemblies of the class. For the autonomous anti-authoritarian struggle to see its realization, the armed formations that arise must not be autonomous from the class’s diverse popular participation. It is the contradiction of our struggle that we must reconcile, to do otherwise is to surrender our ideas and to abandon all hopes for our own emancipation.
Class as in working-class is viewed in this text as not merely one’s relationship to the means of production (everyone from janitor to lawyer), but also in regards to one’s relationship to commodities and towards institutions of power. Subjectively, it speaks of a divergent body of people who have varying levels of shared relationships, predicated on the material relationships mentioned above.
The Leftin this line of thought is conceptualized as being a social construct that finds its recuperative role and material dominance over struggles in the class via its institutional realization, which uphold capital, the state, and a monopoly over narrative through hierarchical means of communication. Collective and individual participation in the institutions of the left has given rise to a recuperative social fabric and created a community in the abstract. Community being meant in its most literal formation, that of a body of people with shared norms and where one’s inclusion or exclusion is predicated on those norms. There are those who belong and those who don’t, it is the auto-reproduction of the ‘other’.
Additionally, the Left, having found its unity in separation, is the incinerated remains of a historic struggles whose past when contextualized, is no longer applicable. It exists to perpetuate itself, as it’s existence is defined by its rival other (post-leftist fall into the left for this reason as well, in addition to their presence in the social fabric of the left). Its existence is thus recuperative and hostile to the autonomous struggles of the class.
Anti-authoritarian movement isreferring to the movement for full emancipation, but whose adherents are, more often than not (at least in North America), trapped in the social fabric of the left. As such, we often inadvertently serve the recuperative aims of the left in stifling autonomous and organic activity. Yet what distinguishes the anti-authoritarian movement is its persistence in trying to achieve it realization, in spite of us participating in our own passive recuperation. If in reading this text there appears to be some level of ambiguity between my referencing of the anti-authoritarian movement and the militant left, this is why. This line of thought will be further elaborated on in part 2 of this series.
Theft of Conflict to the best of my knowledge, The term the theft of conflict was first used in the text Conflicts as Property. Written in 1977 by the criminologist and advocate for restorative justice Nils Christie, the text argues that
“….the conflict between two parties, the victim and defendant has been stolen” And that it is“a theft which in particular is carried out by professionals…”
Christies criticisms were targeted towards the punitive and dehumanizing nature of the criminal justice system. Yet is my belief that the theft of conflict is the crux of recuperation, but that one does not need to consciously serve the interests of the capitalist class to to be guilty of such an intimate incursion. As such, in this series I seek to apply this criticisms not only to the left, but as well apply it to the orientation and organizing efforts of the anti-authoritarian movement as we now know it.
In their text, Now is the Time to Stand Against the Alt-right, The Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement makes some vague claims to the notion of revolutionary justice. How and by whom this justice is defined and administered, doesn’t even appear to be an after thought.
Redneck Revolt seems to be particularly infatuated with the idea of martyrdom. Having really incorporated it into their analysis of taking it upon themselves. I quote:
“… those among us who stand to lose less must step forward to act as buffers. This is because real, material anti-racist work requires not only acknowledging the blatancy of privilege in our analysis, but putting our own bodies on the line.”
While they tend to throw in empty platitudes of being “directly accountable…to the oppressed people in our communities”, they fail to describe how and what that actually looks like or even demonstrate that they are in fact open to such a process.
I think it is worth noting that in the original edit of this text, I had initially proscribed intentions and my own analytical and bias rational to the motivations of people taking up arms (and still kind of do). It was something along the lines of….”in defense of their own class interests, to continue their fight and to do so without imposing themselves upon it”and while this could be the case (conscious our otherwise), the problem lies in the fact that I do not know because I was not there, but still see in it only what I want to see. That of which re-affirms my political identity. Of those that took up arms, their motivations could have simply be said and yet complexly expressed as a matter of “fuck with us again and find out”.
Of course neither one is of lesser value but may appear so when rationalized in its representative form. One speaks loudest when spoken for and situated in a particular context where the content is based on a moral duality of black and white (albeit, one that is proscribed to through a leftist lens).The other speaks loudest through the nuances that are left unsaid, it is the difference in narrative and expressive conflict. One being tied to a historical precedent, the other unquantifiable and thus the latter causes great unease. More often than not, the later cannot be allowed to be left unadulterated but must be either rationalized or dismissed. We need to know if they are “with us” (sic) or are they irrelevant.
That said, both accounts of the events that I cited are kept real with sober minds and I fully trust their first hand account and greatly appreciate their willingness to share their experience. The criticism leveled in this note, speaks towards my own professionalist tendencies on matters of struggle. Tendencies that take there hierarchical interpretations from how I interpret the spectacle of struggle as it relates to me.
“There are whole worlds between talk and action.” Interview with Marco from the Giambellino-Lorenteggio Housing Committee (Milan) by the malaboca collective for Lower Class Magazine 27 April 2017 (original post in German)
Note from Lower Class Magazine: The neighborhood of Giambellino, on the western periphery of Milan, is a classic workers’ quarter from the fascist era. But anyone who visits the neglected neighborhood will notice something other than just the somewhat run-down buildings: many of the apartments are squatted, and there are many other squatted spaces harboring self-organized infrastructure. More than a few of the neighborhood’s residents are organized within the local initiative Comitato Abitanti Giambellino Lorenteggio; they squat, build out, and manage these spaces.
A large proportion of the people living in Giambellino and organized in the local committee migrated to Italy in hopes of a better life and a steady income. Still, the outlook in Italy is pretty grim. The welfare state has been hollowed out, and high unemployment, exorbitant rents, and racism often determine much of a migrant’s everyday life. Along with Milanese comrades who have turned the corner on classically insular autonomous political traditions in order to organize with their neighbors, these residents manage their lives together in solidarity.
Over the past year, the malaboca collective conducted interviews with people from the committee and asked them about their concept of revolutionary local politics and what self-organization has meant for the neighborhood. For the occasion of the conference “Do it Yourself: Grassroots Organizing, Counterpower, and Autonomy,” (April 28 to 30, 2017 in Berlin), we present here an interview with Marco from the Giambellino-Lorenteggio Housing Committee. Marco has been with the committee from the beginning. He was one of the comrades who had been living in the Pizzeria squat, only a stone’s throw from Giambellino. When they were evicted, they began squatting buildings in Giambellino and resumed their organizing there. Marco has had an important role within the committee, because his South American background gives him a certain caché with the large South American community in the neighborhood.
malaboca: When we attended the assembly of the neighborhood committee a couple days ago, it was important to you that we also participate and not just observe. Why?
Marco: On the one hand, I wanted you to stick around and meet people. On the other—and this was the more important thing—I wanted you to see the difference between this assembly and the assemblies that we know from our earlier political experiences. The classic mode of political praxis has always had a certain view of things; there are already pre-formed ideas, positions, or ideologies. It’s different here. Here, we do politics around concrete needs. I wanted you to see how diverse the modes of political praxis could be among people who are not used to organizing themselves or going to meetings. Because that’s the difference: it’s slow, but it works. And I believe it’s the only way that people will become directly active themselves.
We all have certain experiences and certain skills, for example because we have studied or because we have engaged in struggles, and now those are things that we can place at the disposal of other people. On the other hand we get to learn of the treasures—like culture and that sort of thing—that other people have learned in the course of their lives. This is how a reciprocal learning process emerges. It’s not just us teaching someone something, or them teaching us, but rather we learn together. This is something new. It’s something new for us, and it’s something new here in Italy. We are hoping to change conditions this way. Because we are in a phase right now where we are paying for our lack of strategy over recent years. This has caused a political catastrophe in Italy, which we are all experiencing now.
malaboca: What role does the neighborhood committee play in the area where you work?
Marco: Most of the people who made up the committee in the beginning needed a place to live. They couldn’t pay the rent—or didn’t want to, because then they wouldn’t have any more money to buy themselves a bottle of water or to send to their families. There are many migrants living here—I am one myself—and most of them came to Italy so they could send money to their families.
Many of the people in the committee came to Italy in order to make a better life for themselves—but this is often only a dream which is quickly shattered. If you can find work, you get humiliated and poorly paid. But in most cases you can’t find a job at all, and you quickly find yourself in a hopeless situation. Migrants in proletarian neighborhoods are the lowest, the last, the most marginalized in this system. But at the same time it is these people who are the most ready to do a lot, because they have nothing to lose.
In Ecuador, where I come from, it was different: there you have your family, your friends; your life is there. There, perhaps, you have a place, a foothold, a basis from which you can look for work or from which you can strike out on other paths. Here, if you don’t know anybody, it’s completely different. It’s different in a Western country where interpersonal relationships barely exist.
Of course there are different communities here, for example not just a South American community but also a large Ethiopian community. The connections within these communities are good; someone calls up another, and word gets around really fast that there’s a committee you can go to if you need help. That’s how these communities have grown within the committee. The first people were from Ecuador; because of them, mostly people from Ecuador came, then the first from Peru and so on. That’s new in the neighborhood.
Our work also has an effect on people outside of the committee. Even if they don’t organize with us directly every day, they often join us, for example, when the police comes to evict an apartment. They can identify with what we do and think it’s right. The committee is not the neighborhood, and the neighborhood is not the committee. The neighborhood consists of so many different things. We are an important part of it, but still just a part.
malaboca: And what has changed, exactly, through your praxis?
Marco: I think above all we’ve changed ourselves. One example: in the Peruvian community there is the practice of Polladai—it’s like a potluck fundraiser. The concept is to create a solidary dynamic, to sell home-cooked food and use the money to support a collective project or someone who is having difficulties.
In the beginning we argued a lot about if it is okay to sell meat and so on. What we didn’t understand was the materiality of the whole thing. It’s not a primary concern whether people eat meat or not, but that there is a process of organization beyond our basic conceptions that we needed to learn. This is something that is already baked into the practices of communities that came to Italy through migration.
One day when we needed to raise money for our activities and we were considering throwing a party, inviting this or that band and selling drinks, the people said: “No—Pollada!” And then they organized this event, and we made way more money than we ever did with parties that took more than a month to organize and just stressed every one out, even if they can also be fun. This way it was much more organic, something that already existed. When we arrived in Giambellino, there were already these forms of collective life beyond our ideas that we had to learn about.
You could say we are interested in a politics of life. This would mean that people can identify with that which they create together, and will, if necessary, also defend it. This is the point of departure for all further transformation.
Another thing that has changed is that self-organization now stands at the center of our work. When we started to work on the issue of housing, it was clear that we could not make the same mistakes as other political structures that have already been doing this work for years, nor did we want to repeat the things in their work that we never cared for in the first place. In Rome, for example, the housing justice movement is quite large—several thousand people are involved and it’s been around for over twenty years. But there it seems like a lot gets driven and decided by the most experienced comrades, and we didn’t want this dynamic. It’s important that you bring yourself in based on your own capacities, but there also has to be a balance, such that everybody has something to do in order for things to function. When I put it that way, it sounds like a pretty easy task, but it isn’t. This is something that has to be constantly talked about and improved over time—especially when things aren’t going well. Over time, many tasks have come up: for example, that we need a treasurer who manages the money of the committee and decides how we invest it. At the same time we need an electrician, a carpenter, and someone who can make breakfast on days when we need to be ready for the police because they’ve threatened eviction.
That is more constructive than when someone tells people, top-down, what they should do. Of course you can put pressure on them by saying, “If you don’t do this, you’re not part of the committee.” Then perhaps people come even more ready. But there is really no direct activation of a base—in other words, of people with whom you are struggling together—in this manner. The goal is to have an organization in which every person, every family, every member of the committee has a place. From the beginning we have tried to work towards this goal, but ultimately this happens now from the base of the committee outward, from the people who always show up and who you know you can count on one hundred percent.
malaboca: But what exactly motivates people in the neighborhood to join up and become part of the committee?
Marco: We try to motivate people towards active participation based upon their own concrete needs, and, by standing together in solidarity, to create opportunities to stand up to oppressive political discourses in an appropriate and just way. Because that’s what’s missing. The problem is that we believed, in recent years, that it’s enough to simply say something is just or unjust in order to unite people around a cause. We forgot that real material and social conditions prevent people from having the courage to decide to organize themselves and fight. People don’t organize themselves not because they’re cowards or they’re too bourgeois. They don’t organize themselves because they’re not used to it. Therefore the crux of our political work is the transition from unsatisfied needs to political action.
And it works to say: “We are helping ourselves together—today for you, tomorrow someone else, and we’ll do it together. You squat a house because otherwise you won’t have a roof over your head, and because there is no such thing as just politics.” It’s not that comrades will find a house for you—we’ll go and get them together. And we defend them together.
Little by little it is starting to work. People start to come to the assemblies, and then they start to go to demonstrations. People gradually start to notice what is happening. They get active in the first place, perhaps, because they are pursuing a personal goal, like getting an apartment. But our work does not stop there—otherwise we would be operating on the same level of charity work as a church or other aid organization. All that does is clear one’s conscience.
Starting from the territory on which we live, we want to interpret life in our neighborhood anew. Therefore our discourse is not just about living space, but about living, about the whole life here. There is already a social life here, to which we as activists never really had access before because we always arrived with these big questions and ideologies. But when you live in a neighborhood and try to get to know people in order to grow with them, you have to ask yourself whether you are part of a territory, or in a territory in which problems are born and solutions found.
To be part of a territory, to be an entity, is something that we have been missing in recent years. We always criticize the significance of identity among activists.ii But I think it is important to identify with the place where you live. There is a big difference between identifying with a political group and identifying with a neighborhood committee. When you are part of a neighborhood in which social relationships exist that are important to you and that you can’t find anywhere else in the city, then you will defend it. No one is ready to defend something with which they do not identify. There are few collective contexts that fulfill this function in a good way—a solidarity organization in your neighborhood is one of them. You could say we are interested in a politics of life. This would mean that people can identify with that which they create together, and will, if necessary, also defend it. This is the point of departure for all further transformation.
As different as struggles might seem, we have to try and connect them, in order to create a block that acts as one, politically. Because ultimately capitalism is our opponent. This includes those who are in power and those who hold the monopoly on violence. The more committees there are, the more collectives, the more workers’ organizations, the better.
malaboca: You’ve sketched out the conditions of your new praxis, but where do you want to go with it?
Marco: At the start, we hemmed and hawed a lot and didn’t really know what we should do in order to come in contact with the people we ultimately wanted to squat with. There is so much vacancy in Milan; within all this empty space we can create something new. Shortly after we squatted the first building here, the city initiated a huge media campaign threatening two hundred immediate evictions. That intimidated us. We thought, now that we have finally started and the whole thing is up and running, this happens and we’re not in a position to fight it. But it was the totally normal people themselves who took to the streets, attacked the police, and defended themselves against eviction. It was this resistance that led to the plan for these two hundred forced evictions to be stopped. Thus was born a kind of spontaneous coming-together in the neighborhood, among people who up to that point weren’t really organized.
After that we said the primary goal has to be that more committees in other neighborhoods get founded, and that a shared organization among the neighborhoods should be created that could one day lead to the collective organization of all the proletarian neighborhoods. Such an organization would be in a position to take joint political steps in the city in order to escape the status of isolated minority committees and become a federation that builds autonomy and the political means to improve life for everyone.
Parallel to that is the second goal: to connect the struggles of the committee to those that already exist, for example with the workers in the shipping and logistics sector. A large proportion of these workers are migrants and members of the union Si Cobas,iii which is much more confrontational than the traditional unions and also is organized in a much more grassroots democratic way. The workers who fight in this manner always put themselves at enormous economic risk. Perhaps they have to take care of their families, pay their rent and so on—many give up a strike at a certain point because the danger of being left with no money is just too great. If there were an organization that could say, “Hey, don’t worry, we’ll help with your rent problem,” that gives you strength and security. To build such a practical combination of forces, a practical unity—not a collection of different groups and organizations, but really a unity that is realized in everyday struggle—would be an incredibly great thing.
Another example would be student organizations. We don’t want to isolate ourselves in the periphery and say, “OK, the police doesn’t come into our neighborhood anymore; we’re staying here,” while in the rest of the city it looks very different. How should we come in contact with the young people out there?
As different as all these struggles might seem, we have to try and connect them, in order to create a block that acts as one, politically. Because ultimately capitalism is our opponent. This includes those who are in power and those who hold the monopoly on violence. We don’t have such a block because the only thing that’s going on here are the Centri Socialiiv where political groups sit around and have lost all contact with reality and the world around them. Therefore: the more committees there are, the more collectives there are, the more workers’ organizations there are, the better.
malaboca: What advice or message do you have for people who really want to do something, to help them along the way?
Marco: Don’t hold on too tight to your ideas. That’s something that we have learned here. Certainly everything I’ve told you about will continue to be modified over time, and better ideas will keep coming out of the neighborhood. Our work, as it stands now, is not the same as it was at the beginning, and we are trying not to set too firm goals for ourselves. We are trying rather to follow guidelines, with the readiness to leave them behind and strike out on new paths in order to arrive sometime, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. If we don’t have the ability to see transformations, to be patient, to listen, and to work together in the critical moments, then we are damned to lose.
The majority of people has accepted the feeling of defeat: “Why should we fight? Just to get smacked with another ticket? Why fight, if we won’t achieve anything anyway?” That’s precisely what we have to change. Above all else we must give the impression—no, not the impression, the certainty—that it is worth it to fight. Because when you fight, there will be success; when you fight, you can get lucky. It won’t just be fines and jail time, but a life you haven’t yet tasted. This feeling of certainty, this drive to defy the world—this is something that everyone should experience.
Translated by Antidote Featured image source: Squat!net. All other images: Comitato Abitanti Giambellino Lorenteggio (Facebook)
i Latin American-style grilled chicken, derived from the Spanish word pollo.
ii Above all subcultural, isolating identities in relation to a political “scene”
iii Italian labor union whose praxis and experience of workers’ councils and self-management in the metalworking sector goes back to the 1980s
iv The Centri Sociali (social centers) are the classic autonomous centers of Italy, which tend to act almost exclusively within their insular scenes
Matewan is an irregular online journal that seeks to build a contemporary analysis on movement and struggle. Namely to try and bridge the divide between politics informed by theory and politics that are informed by lived experience. To address the alienation and the dual realities that exists between the anti-authoritarian movement and the class, and to develop principles and ideas that firmly root the one into the other. To share what we have learned and to learn what we have yet to experience. To accept that the class is in turmoil and that in the movement’s alienation towards it, we are irrelevant to its development. That as a movement, we must abandon the imaginary regins of destiny that we hold over struggle, and painfully come to terms with the fact that most of our activities are in fact useless.
We came to this understanding not through the observation of struggle, but through critically reflecting upon our participation over the years. Seeking to understand why it is that in spite of so much time and energy , we are no closer to where we thought we would be. To try to understand why in the age of riots, there is still a clear divide between those who burn cities, and those who organize, protest and sing praise to the former that to them, still remain nameless. It seems that in consciously seeking out a movement for our own emancipation, we cut ourselves off from what made us the ungovernable to begin with. Instead we fell in line as either spectators or as performing artists in the struggle against our own dehumanization.
Yet here we are, living in at a time where most buy into a false sense of growth and escalation. Developments that have more to do with a reaction to the rise of a populist far-right, than it does with the degradation of life and the systemic violence of state and capitalism. A time when the directors of struggle stand in the ruins of an insurrection (one not of there making) screaming forward, a conscious and principled ant-authoritarian movement must immerse themselves by taking a step back, so that a coherent expression of class conflict can emerge. We must abandon the illusion of our own grandeur and clearly see what is so obvious. That the “growth” and the left-wing populist response to the right is nothing to celebrate, the popcorn commonalities we share now will dissipate in 4 years, as the left-populism is clearly driving the “movement” towards the battle box.
It is in this light that we actually see the movement as having been for the last 40 years stagnated at square one and continuing to do so. If we are to seriously take autonomy to be an indispensable principle of the anti-authoritarian movement, then we need to critically apply that to ourselves, towards our involvement in the conflict between the class and capital and most importantly to our organizing.
Matewan is not intended to be a long standing project. While most of the material published on this site will be original, we nonetheless would like to use this avenue to selectively share the experiences and organizing of others. Particularly those that reflect the dismantling of our alienation from one another and the autonomous organizing of the class. While we may at time cite articles from the capitalist media, we try not to unless it is unavoidable or in certain cases, relevant to drive the point home. However, regardless of how good the article may be or how “left” it is, we will not re-disseminate the narratives produced by they very same institutions that are so instrumental in capital’s domination over the class.
The material put forth by Matewan, whether penned collectively or individually, were formed through a collective process of discussion and shared experience. Thus the ideas put forward (like all ideas before it) belong to no one. Our hope is that this journal spurs more discussion and that the evolution of the ideas presented are always rooted in a material analysis that can be acted upon. We reject the hierarchical transfer of knowledge and thus firmly reject the totality that is projected in the radical “common senses” of the academic and institutional left. Yet we acknowledge that those “common senses” are the product of past struggles having been recuperated into a bourgeois logic. A matter of professionals speaking on the struggles of others and that the capitalist left’s exaltation of said professionals, only serves to demoralize and silence those that endured it . Something at times we are all in fact guilty of given our movements self imposed alienation from the class. Something we hope to remedy by accepting that we are the class, our movement needs to be of and for the class and is nothing without it.
As such, we need to find our own way. We need to continue to develop our own theory and practice. If are the combatants of the class that truly seek an anti-authoritarian end, then we must assert our autonomy in every manner (in our theory, our organizing, in our material and political relationships…ect) and with sober minds, honestly asses how it is now that we are not.
These ideas are not static and we sincerely hope that they never become as such.