A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 30 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ All_other_languages
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) ONWARD vol. 3 iss. 1 - Fighting to Win: Thoughts on Reform and Revolution By wispy cockles

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.onwardnewspaper.org/)
Date Wed, 9 Oct 2002 02:38:40 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

The most crucial questions facing the North
American anarchist movement concern its
relevance to people who do not identify as
anarchists. Will our movement become even
more insular and self-absorbed or will it become
more diverse and broadly based in contemporary
society? Will anarchism be a dynamic political
philosophy able to adapt to different people's
conditions, needs and desires, or will it build
more ivory towers occupied by fewer and
increasingly detached ideologues? Answers to
these questions with actions and words will
determine whether anarchists will be a
revolutionary force for social change or just a
marginal collection of individuals that don't
threaten to make the system obsolete.
Unfortunately, most people in this society don't
have the time or the inspired spirit to struggle for
some abstract utopian ideal. Their time is
mainly spent trading their labor to survive and to
aquire a few of the material luxuries that mark
success in North American society. I believe
most people will be willing to fight for tangible
changes in the present. Moreover, most citizens
will be inspired by their ability to win struggles
against capital and the state collectively. Small
victories can help revolutionary struggle to go
the distance.

As a movement, anarchists are almost
exclusively associated with actions that, while
daring and brave, are mainly intended for
propaganda purposes. We are skilled at making
bold statements against the system. We're quite
adept at making a scene and manipulating it to
be a soapbox for our opinions, but we're not so
good at initiating, organizing and partaking in
struggles that win tangible concessions for our

Black bloc tactics at mass demos are an
example of our tendency to make statements
rather than victories. Corporate property is
destroyed, press statements are issued and the
capitalists suffer relatively minor damage. I am
supportive of black bloc-style militancy, but for
most working people, students and other
citizens who might have a problem with the
current system, nothing changes when these
tactics are used at mass demos. Many people
might be sympathetic, but they likely remain
uninspired to join in the struggle for a classless,
directly democratic society if they don't see how
it's going to benefit them.

As an anarchist movement, we need to get our
act together and apply our current dedication
and militancy toward changing people's lives in
the present. Black bloc tactics can be used to
stop people from being evicted or deported.
Mass mobilizations could be crucial to beat back
anti-poor and racist policies in the cities in
which they take place. Anarchism can become
synonymous with an organizing culture that
wins victories against state and capital rather
than, as is often the case, being seen as a
self-indulgent and self-absorbed counterculture.

Anarchism as a political philosophy is based on
a rigorous set of principles and ethics. While
many politicos of different stripes may claim that
the 'ends justify the means' and pursue their
goals in the most opportune of ways, anarchists,
by and large, strive to practice 'a prefigurative
politic' where means and ends are seen as
simultaneous. In other words, 'You reap what
you sow.' While this principle is beautiful in its
commonsense appeal, it provides a distinct set
of challenges for anarchists who wish to create
substantive social change in the present rather
than just propagandizing for the revolution or
the utopia. What is a small collective of
anarchists to do when they want to get homeless
shelter policies changed so people don't freeze to
death in the winter cold? How are the anarchists
concerned with the AIDS crisis in South Africa
to go about making essential medications
accessible without compromising their
anti-reformist principles? We must figure out
how to effect change in the present toward a
revolutionary ends.


Many radical groups fight for reforms the
system can't provide without collapsing. The
revolutionary potential of this tendency needs to
be encouraged and explored. When we or other
movements call for food to be supplied to
everyone at no cost or an end to poverty or
housing for everyone, we are calling for
unreformable reforms. This strategy has a
potential to not only provide people with some of
the better things in life, but also to illustrate the
problems, limits and inadequacies of capitalism
and the state in their totality. An unreformable
reform such as calling for universal housing is
both something the system can't provide and
something people think they should have.

When others join in the fight against specific
injustices of capitalism, these struggles can act
as a sort of analytical flashlight. When people
are, for instance, actively fighting to end
poverty, they might begin to see for themselves
the limits in capitalism's ability to deal with that
problem specifically, and then draw lessons
from that experience about capitlaism's inability
to provide for people's needs and desires in
general. While being explicitly anti-capitalist
and anti-authoritarian, we must engage in
struggles that concretely illustrate the
inadequacies, limits and horrors of the capitalist
market place and make life more bearable for
people under the current system. That's what
solidarity is all about.

We should maintain our explicit anti-capitalist
and anti-authoritarian positions while attacking
specific aspects of capitalism in a sustained and
dedicated manner. We should take an area of
focus that affects people's lives on a massive
scale. Say we start a campaign or an
organization that says everyone should have a
home, like DC's Homes Not Jails. This idea
runs so contrary to the logic of the real estate
market that capitalism cannot accommodate
such a reform. To do so would annihilate
landlords, real estate brokers and many other
major players in the system. But to many people
it makes sense: 'yeah, everybody should have a
home. Nobody should be sleeping on the
streets.' In the process of struggling for universal
housing, a movement could simultaneously
illustrate the limitations of capitalism to provide
for people's needs and as well stop people from
being evicted, get cheap or no cost housing for
many folks.

Engaging in these specific struggles for
unreformable reform is consistent with our
anti-vangaurdist politics. Instead of
propagandizing against the system because we
have all the answers and the masses need to be
told what is wrong with the system, we create
situations of struggle that allow people in this
society to see for themselves what is wrong with
the system and draw their own lessons and
analysis from their experience.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty fights for
an unreformable reform and wins many gains in
the process. Poverty is a key aspect to
capitalism; it cannot be done away with while
the system is still in place, as it is capital's
lifeblood. OCAP is a broad-based, explicitly
anti-capitalist coalition of workers, students,
First Nations people, homeless folks and the
poor in general. On Oct. 16, 2001, OCAP
successfully organized an action the shut down
much of Toronto's financial district. This action
was the culmination of a campaign against the
conservative anti-poor policies of Ontario's
Premier Mike Harris. The day of this action,
Harris resigned due to "personal matters." Many
believe it was OCAP and an OCAP related
coalition called the Ontario Common Front that
drove him out of office.

Clamor writer Kari Lyderson said winning
tangible victories has been OCAP's goal since it
started in 1990. "For example: a typical
community organization will fight an eviction, a
case of discrimination or harassment on the job,
an illegal firing or pending deportation, by filing
paperwork, appealing to local politicians, letting
the media and the public know about the
situation, and possibly holding protests or
information pickets. OCAP also uses these
tactics, but if they are not successful, they are
prepared to take it to another level. This is where
'direct action casework' comes in, where OCAP
members physically prevent authorities from
evicting or deporting a person or turning off their
gas, or where they take concrete action that is
too creative, destructive, or persuasive to be

OCAP uses some militant tactics to fight against
the continued oppression of many people in
Canadian society. Over the years, they have
confronted officers who have beat up homeless
people, taken over empty hospitals to get more
homeless shelters, and opened squats in
buildings owned by slumlords. OCAP organizer
John Clarke has claimed that these actions have
a 98 to 99 percent success rate, because the
state and corporate bureaucracies just don't
know how to handle the militant response to
their anti-poor policies. OCAP's example of
successfully fusing community organizing with
militant direct action tactics is an example
anarchists should look toward. If we could build
a movement of explicitly anarchist or explicitly
anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist organizations
that stopped people from getting evicted, from
getting deported, that won people better wages
and shorter working hours, we would see a
general change in the public's attitude toward us
and toward political life in general. If people saw
in their everyday lives that it was possible to win
substantive change through organizing and
militant direct action, they might well throw
themselves into fighting the status quo and
making radical social change. Victories, no
matter how small, are the foundation of
revolutionary struggle. Defeat and martyrdom
keep us looking behind rather than moving
forward toward our goals.


While fighting for unreformable reforms could
be one, but not the only, framework to win
concessions and advance a revolutionary
movement, there's a second aspect to it I call
tactical reform. A tactical reform is simply using
reform as a tactic but not as a strategy of
reformism. As a tactic, we can use reform to
fight for concessions that directly provide for our
needs, such as food, housing, access to abortion
and the like. Reformist methods fight for things
that, in theory, will make peoples lives better
indirectly by 'fine tuning' the system.
Reformism is not simply a method of fighting to
make people's lives more bearable by prying
concessions from those in power. It creates an
investment in the system by attempting to alter
policies so the system will work better for the
people in the long run. One example of
reformism is the fight for campaign finance
reform, which in theory will cleanse the political
system of corporate interest. The theory behind
campaign finance reform puts its faith in the
idea that if corruption through campaign
contributions is eliminated that the benefits will
somehow trickle down to the people. It puts its
faith that, given the right amount of reform, the
system can work for the people. It is indirect.
Tactical reform, on the other hand, is direct and
should be employed alongside a stance that the
system cannot work, that people must take back
from the state and capital what is rightfully
theirs. We can keep our strategy non-reformist
by only fighting for reforms that provide directly
for people's needs. In a sense, tactical reform is
people taking power back for themselves in
pieces. When people win housing for
themselves or better wages or other necessities,
they are taking power away from the powerful
and claiming it as their own. When people win
the freedom to self-determine what goes on in
their neighborhood by direct democracy, or to
have an active and direct say in the policies of
their place of work, they are winning victories
that fulfill their social desire to self-mange
themselves. Such victories can provide the
sustenance and fuel that might one-day lead
people to take the whole pie, not just the
crumbs. People are genuinely inspired to fight
when they can win concessions that make their
lives better and more fulfilling in the present.
OCAP's motto says it all: 'Fight To Win.'

Revolutions are not entirely spontaneous, and as
much as we might like, we won't awaken one
day and find capitalist social, economic and
political relationships vanquished. We must
build strategic paths out of the woods we are
currently lost within. We begin doing so by
hacking away at the thickets and obstructions in
our path, In other words by dealing with
immediate and specific social problems and
winning collective victories. To tell the people
we struggle alongside that revolution is right
over the horizon and to not assist in forming a
practical strategy for getting there is completely
irresponsible. People won't walk toward a utopia
when they see no realistic way to get there. Why
should they believe it exists at all?

wispy cockles lives in Richmond, VA where he
organizes with the Better Days collective and
spins records with the 804noise crew
(www.harmstryker.org/804noise). He can be
contacted c/o Better Days at PO Box 5021/
Richmond, VA 23220 or

       ****** The A-Infos News Service ******
      News about and of interest to anarchists
  COMMANDS: lists@ainfos.ca
  REPLIES: a-infos-d@ainfos.ca
  HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
  WWW: http://www.ainfos.ca/
  INFO: http://www.ainfos.ca/org

-To receive a-infos in one language only mail lists@ainfos.ca the message:
                unsubscribe a-infos
                subscribe a-infos-X
 where X = en, ca, de, fr, etc. (i.e. the language code)

A-Infos Information Center