Towards An Insurgent Social Movement in Vancouver
March 7, 2003
“It is not us that they must remember, but their struggle, because the struggle is theirs. We are simply an opportunity in that struggle. We are something extra.”
– Alfredo Bonanno
The constant question that stares all revolutionaries in the face is the question of organization, the question of strategy and the forms that struggle must take in order to contribute to the development of a social movement against the capitalist State.
For anarchists this question has been given considerable debate and practical experimentation, and a variety of tendencies have evolved often in opposition to each other.
In the context of Vancouver, and the current social clash in the city, it would seem to me that there are some insurrectionary anarchist ideas that could be of use to revolutionaries and the exploited mass in general. Not in terms of the importance of anarchist ideas in themselves or any desire for a prominent place for anarchists at the head of the movement, but simply because the practical application of these insurrectionary ideas could lead to the widening of the social clash in general, or a rupture in the capitalist economy that might open the door to greater struggles in the future.
In Vancouver, at the present time, there could be said to be two currents broad enough to be called social movements. The first would be the loose and sporadically active movement against the Liberal government’s capitalist restructuring, the cuts to social programs and the public sector. The second would be the recent movement against the impending U.S.-led war on Iraq. Both of these involve masses of people and an array of diverse social sectors mobilizing in the streets together against common enemies. And in my estimation both of these movements have reached a crucial juncture, a dire need for a progressive push forward towards greater conflict, the achievement of concrete gains, and the spreading use of insurgent direct action tactics throughout the mass.
There is an undeniable point of tension that is being reached. There is a point where the symbolic marches and rallies begin to make those involved feel more powerless and ineffectual. There is a need to move beyond spectator politics, towards popular resistance and the active involvement of those taking part in these mobilizations. Will the movement surge in the direction of violent and open class conflict or simply degenerate and disappear? And what will the revolutionaries do at the crucial moment? Will they find useful ways to intervene in the battle, or will they be left to the side by the enraged, exploited masses? Will the strategy of waiting that some hold to be the only “realistic” one actually contribute to the decline of any potential social movement? Vancouver revolutionaries are going to have to ask themselves what the next step is and how to break away from all the dead traditions of the past.
I think these are important questions. Questions that many are not willing to face up to.
There is often a certain amount of ego involved, and defensiveness, and the danger is always present that the perceived needs of an individual or an organization will come to take precedence over the movement as a whole. There is a stubborn commitment to tired and outdated methods of political organizing that have long outlived their relevance to the reality of the social struggles currently taking place. There is a point where the desire to belong to an organization outweighs the passion for resistance, for freedom. There is a dangerous trap here.
And there are a couple of illusions that I reject. One is the illusion of determinism. I do not think it is possible to predict the outcome of our struggles in advance. Certainly we should try to learn from history and attempt to avoid past mistakes, but the methods of struggle that might lead to revolution are always changing in relation to the changing structures of global capitalism, and our methods must be developed and altered through the course of our active engagement in struggle and not just abstract theoretical reflection. Our actions might lead to revolution, or they might lead to something else entirely. We have to understand the possibility of failing and accept that possibility while proceeding with the determination to overcome all the obstacles in our path. Only then can we potentially contribute to popular revolt.
We should develop strategies, but not strategies alone, and not in isolation from the real struggles taking place outside the door of our meeting places. We must also act in order to uncover the modes of action that might be useful at this precise moment, as well as those that might not be useful at all.
The other illusion I reject is the idea of the immaturity of the exploited class. This is the authoritarian idea, the concept held up as truth by the political parties, or by the professional activists. It is an idea that is very important to these types of people because it is the idea that justifies their existence and their self-designated role as social managers, but it is not an idea that exists in reality. It is the idea that the exploited are not ready for revolution. It is an idea proclaimed by people who have no real knowledge on the subject or any real way of knowing in the first place. It is a sad and desperate idea maintained by sad and desperate people who fight to maintain the decrepit institutions to which they belong. But it is not a fact.
The exploited are always resisting their exploitation. The forms this resistance takes are usually small and isolated, but there are acts of resistance nonetheless. Sabotage, theft, and absenteeism in the workplace are spreading. The workers not directly involved in these attacks on the bosses are growing more and more reluctant to turn their co-workers in, to rat them out to the bosses. They would prefer to just look the other way, and so they extend their solidarity to their co-workers by facilitating their subversive acts. You can read about these types of things in the business section of the Province newspaper. The economists consider this rise in worker discontent to be a great worrisome problem that must be solved. We should see it as only the logical outcome of growing class division, the continual exploitation, exclusion and degradation of people who are deprived of everything meaningful and necessary in life.
From the moment that the bourgeois overthrew the feudalist system and took hold of the State and the economy the potential for the liberation of the exploited class existed. Class division is the contradiction that must be solved. The exploited are not immature and always in search of leaders to save them, but are quite often in search of new ways with which to resist exploitation, to resist work, to subvert the economy. Our task, as anarchists is to demonstrate simple and easily reproducible actions and tactics. Our task is to attack easily identifiable class enemies; bosses, landlords, politicians, police. Our goal is to unify the diverse strands of struggle in a movement that will assault capitalism itself.
We are tired of waiting, and we believe most everyone else is as well.
The exploited might not believe that it is possible at the present time to destroy this hateful system, or might not clearly see the road from here to there, but they do not want to remain slaves. There will always be a few who have internalized their oppression, and that is something we must deal with and overcome, but these people are not the rule and this obstacle is not insurmountable. We must believe that we can win, and we must encourage this belief in others.
We fight intermediate struggles; struggles for housing, for shorter work hours, against prisons, against police repression. We believe in struggles that embolden people, that encourage a spirit of revolt and a sense of dignity. We believe in continual conflict and the need to always push our struggles a step further. This is why we talk about insurrection.
The reality that the revolution cannot be achieved tomorrow in one action is no reason or excuse to sit back and do nothing at all.
Anarchists should understand that revolutions are neither the action of a violent minority or the product of an inevitable historical evolution. Anarchists must conceive of revolution as a project already in course. A project that is not determined by us but which we can contribute to.
Anarchists can intervene in the social war in Vancouver in useful and immediately accessible ways. Direct action at the points of production, distribution and consumption. Counter-information and propaganda. The construction of specific organizations; affinity groups and base structures. A variety of tools are at our disposal.
Some forms of organization can be clarified.
The affinity group is a small informal organization of comrades who have discussed their ideas and perspectives regarding the social clash and have come to an understanding on how they can immediately work towards attacking elements of the capitalist State. The strength of this type of organization is in its ability to make decisions quickly and consensually, to modify itself according to the needs of a particular struggle, to dissolve itself when necessary.
Then there is the base structure, an informal mass organization that is built around simple principles and a singular objective. Autonomy from all political forces, trade unions and parties. The rejection of authoritarian decision-making processes. The rejection of negotiation or compromise with the class enemy. A precise objective of attacking and destroying a particular oppressive structure of the capitalist system.
The base structure can include anarchists but should not become an ideological vehicle or be made up of anarchists alone. It must form around a singular task so that it can maximize the involvement of all exploited people with similar objectives and a similar desire to resist oppression.
Through using these simple organizational methods and by attacking the infrastructure of the capitalist economy in simple and easily reproducible ways anarchists and revolutionaries in Vancouver can bring latent class conflict to the foreground and build the social context for an insurrectionary opening in the struggle.
Ultimately the exploited must rise up and overthrow their oppressors themselves, and we will be in the midst of this battle only because we are of the exploited class, and not because we represent a specific anarchist organization that has amassed a large membership, and subsequently political power.
The games of control and management of the struggling exploited are not for us. We want to destroy domination. We want to fight for freedom.
Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Coast Salish Territories