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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation, Organise! #79 - Neither insurrectionism nor Reformism but Anarchism!

Date Sun, 02 Dec 2012 12:31:28 +0200

In this presentation at Saint-Imier we suggested that both of these political currents – reformism and insurrectionism - come from the same source: frustration with the slow and difficult process of building a mass revolutionary movement. ---- Our main point is to argue that there are, unfortunately, no short cuts to creating a new society. The only way we will overthrow capitalism and the state is through a revolutionary process that is carried out by the large majority of the working class. We are not against ‘insurrection’. Insurrection is essential as an element of Revolution. It is insurrectionism as an ideology, not insurrection as a facet of the revolutionary process that we take issue with. In other words, we critique insurrection as a short-cut to revolution.

Nor are we against ‘reforms’. Re-
forms make our lives a little better
as working class people and build
our confidence in our power.
What we are against is when
these processes are the only
or major tactic that anarchists
engage in and as such become a
strategy in themselves that is to
say, an actual strategy that frus-
trated revolutionaries resort to.
They replace the strategy of the
actual transformation of social re-
lations and become the basis for
ideologies that undermine social-
revolutionary ideology.


What do we mean by insurrec-
tionism as an ideology or politi-
cal current? On its own terms it,
according to the insurrectionist
Joe Black:
‘Revolution is a concrete event, it
must be built daily through more
modest attempts which do not
have all the liberating character-
istics of social revolution in the
true sense. These more modest
attempts are insurrections. In
them the uprisings of the most
exploited and excluded of society
and the most politically sensi-
tized minority opens the way to
the possible involvement of an
increasingly wider strata of the
exploited on a flux of rebellion
which could lead to revolution’.

These ‘modest attempts’ sound
as though they occur spontane-
ously as an expression of this
alliance between the most politi-
cised and the most marginalised.
There are some examples, but
this is romanticism. In reality,
most insurrectionary activity is
too clandestine on the part of
the ‘politicised’ for marginalised
people to participate in. Activity is
undertaken by affinity groups or
‘cells’ and are largely independent
of the rest of the movement, let
alone equating to an underclass.

This is because the kinds of activi-
ties that they are engaged in are
necessarily illegal, and therefore
must be kept secret from others.
So insurrectionism is essentially a
political current that uses vio-
lence, whether against people or
property, to attack specific targets
associated with capitalism or the
state. The effect is to shock rather
than mobilise exploited people.

The actions could take the form
of smashing an ATM or a window
of MacDonald’s, or kneecapping
a politician or capitalist. It is not
the actions themselves that make
the current insurrectionists but
that fact that these actions are
elevated to being more than a
tactic. Communiques are issued
using very vivid and passionate
language that expresses struggle
as something personally liberat-
ing, but there is little thought as
to how the action fits in with an
overall collective strategy, be-
cause there is no other strategy.

Why are some anarchists attract-
ed to insurrectionism?

It offers not just action against
the state and capital but retribu-
tion. In the book Black Flame the
authors cite Galleani as one of the
first to articulate these ideas in
c.1920. Galleani opposed ‘partial
victories’ by the class or ‘immedi-
ate and partial improvements,
that consent to the existing eco-
nomic system’. We consider that
this misunderstands the value of
‘partial improvements/victory’ in
class struggle.

Insurrectionists will accuse
other anarchists of being dull
and bureaucratic. The Informal
Anarchist Federation of Italy’s
Giuseppe Dondoglio Antolini
says that the informal cells do
not ‘seek to establish (nor much
less strengthen) any centralised
and bureaucratic ‘federation’.
‘They will also accuse us of being
cowardly- of not being willing to
engage in direct violent confron-
tation with the state and capital-
ism now. They say you need to be
willing to sacrifice yourself. The
informals’ Olga Cell say in their
communiqué on the shooting of
Adolfini, ‘If we were realists we
would not take on such risks’, and
on organised anarchists, ‘the only
compass guiding your action is
the penal code. (You are ) willing
to risk only up to a point... This
is the only way we can get any-
where now - not having to wait
for the slow build up of a mass
movement - not wasting time in
what are seen as reformist strug-
gles or seeking ‘social consensus’
(Olga cell comminqué).

We identify two currents amongst
modern insurrectionists, in Brit-
ain at least. Some feel they are
inspiring people- taking action
against capitalism and the state
that may galvanise others to take
action. This was most prevalent
in the 1970s and 80s amongst
‘illegalists’, with inspirations from
Bonanno etc. Such insurrection-
ism may be the result of failures
of working class movements to
succeed. They are an attempt to
‘kick-start’ a more generalised

Other insurrectionists seem more
concerned about the effect of the
action on themselves - the fact
that it makes them feel empow-
ered. This feeling of empower-
ment seems self-indulgent to
us, as more important than the
actual outcome. This part of
the current is not so interested
in inspiring a mass movement.
They are ‘anti-mass’ or even
‘anti-civ(ilisation)’ (an American
Individualist concept) in fact they
have no faith in the willingness/
ability of the working class to
ever organise effective action.

Insurrection as advocated by
‘Feral Faun’ and ‘Michele Fabiani’
is explicitly individualistic. It harks
back to the days when anarchists
had no choice but to expropri-
ate – to steal – from the middle
class and ruling class in order to
survive, like the Bonnot gang and
others. But in itself this will al-
most certainly not resonate with
working class people.

Other reasons why we aren’t

There are some other key prob-
lems with insurrectionism. Setting
aside the question of violence
against people, even attacks
on objects or property are only
worth doing if they are mean-
ingful to the working class and
if we can show them to be ef-
fective. Action has to fit into a
wider, experience-based strategy
for social change. Working class
people need to feel involved in
that process of change and not
feel that they are the targets of it.
Empowerment of the individual is
important but we have to change
ourselves and our social relation-
ships as well. Our activity has to
prefigure a better world – we
have to express the values and
practice of that anarchist society
through our action now.
In more detail then...

• About effective targets. Many
of the targets are meaningless
to ordinary workers. Why attack
a railway network or an ATM,
in some examples from Britain?
Even with a communiqué this
does not resonate with what is
wrong in people’s lives. Certainly
there is no consensus in the Eu-
ropean working class at least (we
can’t speak outside of the socie-
ties we know) for violence against
people (unless perhaps this is
against fascists, cops or scabs).
There is certainly no consensus
for violence against bosses or
politicians at present. This may
not worry insurrectionists but it
worries us, even though it is the
case that the working class takes
on moral values about violence
against people from the state and
the church. This does not mean
that we shouldn’t have ethics our-
selves about violence. We want
to use as little of it as possible.
But targeting key public figures
for violence is to find a symbolic
target. The balance of forces does
not change if a cop or industrial-
ist is killed. In the 1990 preface
to the Australian text ‘You Can’t
Blow up a Social Relationship’ (of
1979), Chaz Bufe says ‘The total
collapse of this society would
give no guarantees about what
replaced it’. Even if it did not lead
to repression, we cannot achieve
a social revolution by frightening
people and endangering workers
like firemen and cleaners who
might get hurt if some symbolic
target is firebombed. This risk
makes it unacceptable to us in the
current political climate.

• About learning lessons. Many
insurrectionists don’t understand
the complex nature of the events
leading up to a revolutionary mo-
ment. History is not linear. There
are all sorts of events/actions/
ideas, some apparently mundane,
that lead up to the more visible
events and help things come to a
head, even where they are about
reformist issues.

• About strategy - Insurrectionists
have no overall strategy that can
adapt through consideration of
the current political climate. It is
not one embedded in the wider
working class movement. There
is no strategy for creating a new
society which must be built from
the base up and involve a mass
movement. This points to weak
ideology. Insurrectionism places
the activist and affinity group
above the class. As such it is sub-

• About communicating with the
working class. Many insurrection-
ists are dismissive of ordinary
people and call them ‘sheeple’.
‘Joe Black’ goes on to say that
insurrectionists are part of this
group of most exploited and
marginalised. To us this is a joke.
Useful ideas that might emerge
out of these moments are not
spread because there is usually
no link to the wider class and no
real link with the most marginal-
ised, just an ideological identifica-
tion with them. Insurrectionists
are reliant on the bourgeois mass
media. Without the media they
would be nothing because no one
would know about them. Actions
that are based on real struggles
of the working class have mean-
ing and significance to those who
are involved, and do not need the
bourgeois media to spread them.

• About the individual. Having
the subjective feeling of being
empowered is not the same as
actually being empowered. Even
if there are moments of actual
empowerment, they are mean-
ingless if they are not part of an
overall strategy that links up with
others. It is more important that
the working class feels empow-
ered. As individuals we have to
change in order for an anarchist
society to be possible. We can
only build slowly the idea that a
self-managed society is the most
beneficial society for us as indi-
viduals as well as a class.

• About the future society. We
are prefiguring the future society
- this takes time e.g. connecting
directly and openly with people
in all sorts of contexts, not secre-
tively. Chaz Bufe also notes that
‘Means determine ends. The use
of horrifying means guarantees
horrifying ends’. As he says:

‘The job for revolutionaries is not
to take up the gun but to engage
in the long, hard work of publicis-
ing an understanding of this soci-
ety. We must build a movement
which links the many problems
and issues people face with the
need for revolutionary change,
which attacks all pseudo-solutions
– both individual and social –
offered within this society which
seeks to demystify those solutions
offered by the authoritarian left
and instead to place the total em-
phasis on the need for self-activity
and self-organisation on the part
of those people willing to take up

When and why do we support
insurrection as a tactic?

Direct action is an important tactic for
social anarchists. This has been
the case since the formation of
our movement. Kropotkin said
that ‘It is the risen people who
are the real agent and not the
working class organised in (Capi-
talist production) and seeking to
assert itself as labour power, as a
more rational industrial body or
social brain than the employers).
Malatesta said, ‘The insurrection-
al fact, destined to affirm socialist
principles by deed, is the most
efficacious means of propaganda’.
But both were advocating insur-
rectionary uprisings as opposed
to reformism. They were not
thinking of a small highly politi-
cised minority as either starting
or central to this process. Their
view was that anarchists should
be involved when insurrections
do take place and supportive of
these, not least in terms of soli-
darity if repression follows. But
they should do this as part of the
working class. It will be the major-
ity that rises up in an ultimately
effective insurrection.

These actions must, however, be
thoroughly thought through and
not carried out just to make the
individuals carrying them out to
feel better. The action must be
part of an overall strategy and
linked to a wider working class
movement. The consequences
of carrying out the actions must
also be considered as it is not just
about a few individuals willing to
sacrifice themselves - there may
be wider consequences. Timing is
vital. The working class will need
to defend itself against the vio-
lence of the state both when and
before the revolutionary event
happens, and anarchist propa-
ganda cannot shy away from this.
Anarchists have to win this argu-
ment in their propaganda and
involvement in the class struggle
– the hard way, in other words.
Social anarchists believe that a
new society will be created by the
mass of the working class. The
struggles in which we are en-
gaged now are part of the process
of preparing us both for the mo-
ment of revolution and, equally
importantly, the difficult task of
constructing an anarchist com-
munist society. Within this overall
strategy there will be moments of
insurrection, but these are part
of an altogether more complex
process of social transformation.


Not the opposite of insurrection-
ism but another manifestation of
the impatience and frustration of
wanting change now!


• What do we mean by reform-

There are a number of elements
to the ideology of reformism.
Full-blown reformism is a feature
of organisations like trade unions
and political parties. However, el-
ements of reformism exist within
currents that see themselves as
revolutionary anarchists.

Engaging in the struggle for re-
form and believing that this is the
end in itself.
A belief that we can achieve a
new society through the gradual
winning of reforms.
Taking positions in political, eco-
nomic and social structures and
believing that you are creating
a space for revolutionary activ-
ity. Substituting yourself for the

• How is reformism manifested
in the anarchist movement itself?

This could include organisational
structure, role in trade unions,
single issue campaigns, support
for national liberation etc.

Anarchist organisations are often
subjected to the pull of reform-
ism. This is because of the difficul-
ty of being part of wider working
class struggles and also because
of the difficulties inherent in an-
archist methods of organising and
decision-making. Quite rightly, so-
cial anarchists do not want to be
isolated from the wider working
class movement and this neces-
sitates being involved in reformist
organisations and campaigns such
as trade unions and support for
the struggles against oppression
around the world. However, once
involved, the new role often takes
over and instead of the individual
being kept from ‘corruption’ by
being part of a solidly revolution-
ary anarchist movement, the
individuals begin to change their
views on what anarchism is and
affect the politics of the organi-
sation that they are in or else
become dissatisfied and want to
create a new organisation that
can accommodate their new

The end result is an anarchist
political organisation in which the
members are heavily implicated
in union structures and/or sup-
port for national liberation strug-

The other aspect of reformism
comes with views on the or-
ganisational structures. Trying to
create revolutionary anarchist
structures is both time-consuming
and painful. As we are trying to
prefigure the new society we
want to maximise participation
and not have a system where
decision-making responsibility is
handed over to a small group of
people in the name of being more
effective. This can be seen in sup-
port for simple majority voting.
Though we in the AF do not reject
the principle of voting, the aim of
decision-making should be con-
sensus, in which the group or or-
ganisation. This can be very time-
consuming as it involves a lot of
discussion. Understandably, some
anarchists become frustrated and
want to be more efficient. Simple
majority voting with limited dis-
cussion, committees of ‘leaders’
who make decisions about poli-
cies and actions, are all aspects
of this frustration. Unfortunately
such structures lead to a reformist
outlook- a belief in representative
democracy and the abandonment
of any attempt to actually revolu-
tionise common decision-making

• How is reformism a pull for
individuals? What causes people
to leave the anarchist movement
and move towards reformist op-

Over the years countless numbers
of revolutionary anarchists have
left the movement and expressly
adopted reformism. Part of the
reason for this might be the re-
formist nature of some anarchist
politics as well as other factors.
One of the main reasons for this
(like with the insurrectionists)
is losing patience with the slow
progress made towards building
a mass working class movement.
In addition, people have been in-
volved in the struggle for reforms
as anarchist, and in the process
become overly focused on win-
ning the reforms and losing sight
of the actual end of these strug-
gles. Living under capitalism, it is
understandable that people want
to win some concessions and
make life better in the here and
now. They get involved in single
issue campaigns or trade unions
as anarchists and increasingly get
entangled by these campaigns/or-
ganisations and lose contact with
the anarchist movement. This is
understandable considering the
lack of seriousness amongst many
anarchists- posing about (like the
insurrectionists) and not involved
in serious struggle. Those attract-
ed to reformism often mention
the fact that they are at long last
engaging with ‘real’ working class

• Why we reject reformism?

We reject both kinds of reform-
ism for a number of reasons:

• It’s not about building a culture
of resistance, not about empow-
ering people but only of being ef-
ficient or winning some demand.

• The process of what takes
place- the empowering of work-
ing class people, the building up
of skills and confidence- is as im-
portant as winning some reform.
This is especially true as capital-
ism and the state are very capa-
ble of incorporating any reform
or taking back any concessions
made. Therefore, it is vital that
the power of the working class
has developed so it can continue
to fight. If you give up your power
to representatives or leaders of
any kind, then the movement as a
whole is weakened.

• The non-anarchist reformists
have no perception that the win-
ning of the reform is only one
small step and not the end in
itself. The focus is on fixing a few
things- of getting £9.00 an hour
rather than £6.00- rather than
seeing this as the end in itself.

• There are no short-cuts. We
are about building a culture of
resistance and preparing for a
complete transformation of so-
ciety. The ends do not justify the

• Why do we support campaigns for reforms as a tactic?

The struggle for individual re-
forms- higher wages, against cuts
etc- is an important part of build-
ing a mass revolutionary move-
ment. In addition, it is important
in itself to improve people’s
conditions in the here and now.
However, this can only be done
within a context of a long-term
revolutionary vision of a new
society. Otherwise, individuals get
tangled up in the actual reformist
struggle- never to escape. Or, in-
dividuals think that by them tak-
ing positions or by having more
‘efficient’ organisational struc-
tures they will be better placed
to win reforms, forgetting that
they are losing the basic anarchist
principles in the process.
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