Anarchists, Base Organizations and Intermediate Struggles
Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Coast Salish Territories
November 3, 2003
“So, we need new instruments. These instruments must be capable of affecting the reality of struggles without the mediation of trade union or party leadership. They must propose clear, even though limited, objectives, ones that are specific, not universal, so in themselves are not revolutionary. We must point to specific objectives because people need to feed their children. We cannot expect everyone to sacrifice themselves in the name of universal anarchism. Limited objectives then, where our presence as anarchists has the precise task of urging people to struggle directly in their own interests, because it is only through direct, autonomous struggle that these objectives can be reached. And once the aim has been reached the nucleus withers and disappears. The comrades then start again, under different conditions.
– Alfredo Bonanno, Anarchists in the Face of the New Capitalist Order, 1993
What are the possibilities for anarchist intervention in the intermediate struggles and spontaneous rebellions of the excluded class in Vancouver at the present time? Along with the individual and affinity group actions, which are quite necessary, it seems to me that there is an open space for the creation of base structures – mass organizations with informal characteristics.
Base structures are often initiated by insurrectionary anarchist affinity groups, but are not made up of anarchists alone. This type of organization has the unique purpose of attacking a specific institution of the capitalist State, based on simple principles that can be used by any person of the excluded class – direct action, self-organization, and permanent struggle.
Direct action should be clarified as the self-determined activity of autonomous individuals and groups in conflict with the objectives and organizations of the class enemy. The base structure follows this principle by functioning informally, without bureaucratic processes of membership, delegation and self-maintenance. The structure exists for the sole purpose of taking action, lasts only as long as is necessary and then disbands so that the struggle can continue in other forms. It should exist only as a space for the free experimentation of individuals, acting together on the basis of solidarity and a common objective. It should not try to synthesize different struggles or pretend to represent the entire excluded class, but should act with precision to achieve immediate results. In this way it aims to develop a particular struggle, not to develop itself. Direct action is the negation of patience and passivity. It is the realization that the will to act must come first from the individual. It is the immediate destructive attack on the forces of domination and the appropriation of free life and social space.
Self-organization is independence from any trade union or political force, the refusal of ideological attempts at management or control, and the free association of autonomous individuals and groups.
Permanent struggle is uninterrupted assault on the class enemy and their institutions – the rejection of negotiation, representation or compromise. The base structure should not fight for a “seat at the table” but should instead have an antagonistic orientation towards the exploiters.
The field of action for the base structure should not be limited to the workplace and must also take into account the class struggle in the streets, neighborhoods, schools, and on the land. It should form links of solidarity across social sectors and territories without trying to artificially jam together substantially different problems, which would cause the base structure to take on the mentality of a political party. Nonetheless, the possibility of creating a base structure exists wherever there is a point of class conflict, whether these clashes involve hunger, poverty, homelessness, exploitive and miserable working or living conditions, industrial expansion, the displacement of indigenous peoples from their territory, or any other problem.
For insurrectionary anarchists the base structure is merely one tool among many, and is meant to be surpassed as a specific organization, through the insurrectionary process of permanent struggle. Even in the event of a social revolution the struggle of insurrectionary anarchists would not end, since they would continue to act against even the smallest expressions of oppressive or controlling behavior. Destroying all illusionary ideas that it is possible to predict the outcome of a particular struggle in advance, anarchists willfully move forward into the unknown with a revolutionary project.
The Woodwards Squat
“…by not engaging in mass organizing and delivering war to the oppressors we become anarchists in name only.”
– Kuwasi Balagoon, Anarchy Can’t Fight Alone
To clarify, I will refer to a particular intermediate struggle.
The Woodwards Squat, which existed as a one-week occupation of a department building and a subsequent tent city, started off as a managed and manipulated direct action and grew into a mass conflict which no one could have predicted beforehand.
An activist city employee opened the building, in September of last year, as a one-week symbolic, non-violent, and centrally controlled media spectacle, intended to highlight the lack of social housing in Vancouver.
But this illegal action opened not just a vacant building, but also a struggle which the “King of the Squat” could not control. More and more homeless people of the Downtown Eastside flooded into the building, and with a very different attitude than their “leader”. While the city employee, a handful of activists and politicians dominated squatter meetings and drafted demands for State-managed housing, many squatters already considered the Woodwards Squat to be their home and had no intention of delegating their struggle to someone else or leaving the building willingly after one week. In the context of an illegal direct action which seized a building there were non-squatter politicians and activists pleading for the government to build social housing – government subsidized human warehouses for the poor, where the atmosphere resembles a hospital, visitors are not allowed, and residents are under constant electronic surveillance. The formerly homeless squatters, on the other hand, already had a self-managed living space to call their own. So what was the point of making demands of those in power? This was the tension that always exists between the excluded class and those who try to represent them.
Meanwhile, a small group of anarchist squatters made their own plans. Immediately disillusioned with the authoritarian structure of the politician-dominated squatter meetings, and noting that most people had not made plans for the possibility of a police eviction, the anarchists got ready. In this situation there was great potential for the building of an autonomous base organization of squatters, since the mass of formerly homeless squatters and anarchists had common objectives and enemies. It was lack of experience in these kinds of situations which prevented the anarchists from forming greater links with their comrades of the excluded class. After the eviction, during the existence of the tent city on the outside of the building and afterwards, the bonds between the two groups developed and strengthened.
Given the context of close to a hundred squatters occupying the building and the many mass demonstrations in support of the squat there was also great potential for the struggle to expand socially, and again, a base structure could have been an appropriate weapon for the task. Actions of attack could have been easily coordinated against the squatter’s enemies – politicians, property-developers, business-owners, and the police – and the manipulations of the political activists should have been countered. Non-violent ideology should have been thoroughly demolished by the anarchists. The momentum of the conflict should have been acted upon.
These are all lessons for the future. Lessons which can only have been gained through direct experience in struggle.
The Struggle Today
“Disorder is certainly growing.”
– Vancouver Police Inspector Dave Jones – Vancouver Sun, November 1, 2003
Currently, the corporate media, city government, middle class, and police are mobilizing to attack the two tent cities in Vancouver. Police repression will be the last resort, as the soft cop social workers will expend all possibilities of sweeping the squatters under the rug “peacefully”. Massive welfare cutoffs are approaching in a few months. Police violence is rampant. Outside of this city corporate industrial expansion is dispossessing many indigenous peoples of their land, means of survival, and spiritual way of life
Base structures organized to participate in intermediate struggles for housing and sustenance, and against police-State repression are sorely needed. An insurgent attitude could easily spread amongst the excluded of this city. The recent ambush assaults on Vancouver Police on Granville Street and at the recent fireworks festival, and the direct action blockades of the indigenous Pilalt people of Cheam demonstrate some of the most advanced elements of the class struggle. There are likely to be more spontaneous and bloody riots in the near future. There is a need to organize attacks on all the structures and people responsible for the present conditions of misery and genocide, and we must constantly develop new, more creative and more flexible forms of organization to carry out this task.
Anarchists should dive headfirst into unpredictable and uncontrollable waters to realize their project of social self-liberation. The destructive concept of true freedom demands it.
Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Coast Salish Territories