I started writing this in possibly Spring 2012. It was intended to compare and contrast insurrectionary anarchism and platformism. The motivation behind such a thing was annoyance at platformists that scoffed at IA, and IA’s that had a caricature of platformists. I didn’t get much further than an introduction, which is sort of long-winded way of saying why I was annoyed lol
Since my experience in Madison last year, some of the previous opinions I had in regards to anarchism have changed or been altered. Not really any big shock. Mass movements have a way of exposing faults in ideology and putting to the test tactics that you might advocate for fanatically in a vacuum. Events like the the Wisconsin protests and the Occupy movement really do force one to look seriously at what they advocate in a way that is way more useful than polemical arguments or bringing up 1930s-era Spain.
Two of the topics I’ve somewhat reassessed are anarchist political organization and insurrectionary anarchism. Both I had pretty strong, and seemingly final, opinions on, but have since been changed in a way that is nearly unrecognizable. So in this piece, I’m going to go over some of these opinions, the critiques exchanged between the two tendencies, which ones of them are correct/incorrect, some of the developments recently and some sort of conclusion.
When first encountering insurrectionary anarchism (IA) around 2007-2008, I was extremely turned off by it. At the time, the flowery, dramatic language used was hard to understand or pin down what was really meant. The imagery seemed to glorify violence in a way, that to me, had more in common with 1980s action movies than any sort of libertory, revolutionary perspective. Hate is a strong word, but it could be said I hated anything coming out of the broad IA scene and ignored or disregarded much of it as garbage.
Some of this was tied to the culture of the people who seemed to identify with it and how their interpretation manifested. In an age where self-identified insurrectionary anarchists are involved in everything from student movements in response to tuition hikes, solidarity networks, anti-austerity movements and even revolutionary unions, its hard to think that they were once thought of as lacking any sort of class politics. While, now I understand there was some truth to that (there was nuance, too)
To a certain point though, my opinion corresponded to a battle within anarchism in the United States. If one accepts that American anarchism has periods in which certain general trends can be identified to distinguish these periods, the first 7-8 years of the new century could be partially defined as a rhetorical and polemical fight between adherents of formal anarchist political organization and various strands of insurrectionary anarchism.
My impression is that the formation of NEFAC kicked this fight off, which created several types of exaggerated generalizations (Platformists=Leninists, insurrectionaries = misanthropic primmies) in which there was little middle ground. My friend, Adam Weaver said that an additional reason might have been because these two tendencies were trying to draw from the same pools of people. That’s probably correct. If we remember back, NEFAC was heavily involved in the antiglobalization movement and that era’s black blocs. Being around the time of anarchism emerging as the first set of radical politics to arise after the fall of the USSR, there was probably going to inevitably be arguments and disagreements about what this meant and what it means to move forward. This just isn’t the case anymore. The lines were drawn, people did their own thing and now they have are in more different circles. Plus, now we see a new crop of folks coming up. These people do not care about the old arguments. They chant insurrectionary chants, mask up on May Day and picket a Jimmy Johns in support of fired IWW organizers. They join NEFAC and write about insurrectionary anarchism.
Today, there are probably more people in formal anarchist political organizations than at any point since the International Working People’s Association and insurrectionary anarchism has been incorporated in critiques and outlooks far beyond its own circles. Besides the occasional person who came up in the late 90s/early 2000s writing some diatribe, the fights between the two tendencies look like a silly thing from the past.
One of the biggest disagreements between the two tendencies is on the issue of formality vs. informality. The political organizations are in favor of the former, while the insurrectionaries, the latter. The way this disagreement happens, though, is fairly superficial.