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(en) Ireland, Red & Black Revolution #11 - Anarchism, insurrections and insurrectionalism by Joe Black - WSM

Date Wed, 19 Jul 2006 18:56:19 +0300

An anarchist communist examination of the history of insurrections
in anarchism and of the modern ideas of insurrectionalism
Insurrections - the armed rising of the people - has always been
close to the heart of anarchism. The first programmatic documents
of the anarchist movement were created by Bakunin and a group of
European left-republican insurrectionists as they made the transition
to anarchism in Italy in the 1860's. This was not a break with
insurrectionism but with left-republicanism, shortly afterwards
Bakunin was to take part in an insurrection in Lyon in 1870.
European radical politics of the previous hundred years had been
dominated by insurrections ever since the successful insurrection in
France of 1789 had sparked off the process leading to the overthrow
of the feudal order across the globe. The storming of the Bastille on
14 July 1789 showed the power of the people in arms, this
insurrectionary moment which changed the history of Europe
probably involved only around one thousand people.
Insurrection and class politics

1789 also set a pattern where although the working people made up
the mass of the insurrectionists it was the bourgeoisie who reaped
the rewards - and suppressed the masses in the process of
introducing their class rule. This lesson was not lost on those who
saw freedom as something that had to involve the economic and
social liberation of everyone, not the right of a new class to carry on
'democratic' exploitation of the masses.

In the republican insurrections that broke out in Europe in the
century that followed, and in particular in 1848, the conflict between
the republican capitalist and small capitalist classes and the
republican masses became more and more pronounced. By the
1860's this conflict had led to the emergence of a specifically
socialist movement that increasingly saw freedom for all as
something that the republican bourgeoisie would fight against not for
- alongside the old order if necessary. For Bakunin, it was the
experience of the 1863 Polish insurrection where it became clear
that the bourgeois republicans feared a peasant insurrection more
than the Czar that conclusively proved this point. So now the fight
for freedom would need to take place under a new flag - one that
sought to organise the working masses in their interests alone.

The early anarchists embraced the new forms of workers’
organisation that were emerging, and in particular the International
Workers Association or First International. But although they saw
the power of the working class organised in unions, unlike the
majority of the marxists they did not see this as meaning that
capitalism could be reformed away. The anarchists insisted that
insurrections would still be needed to bring down the old ruling
Early anarchist insurrections

Anarchist attempts at insurrection spread with the growing
movement. In fact, even before the Lyon attempt the anarchist
Chávez López was involved in an indigenous insurrectionary
movement in Mexico which in April 1869 issued a manifesto calling
for "the revered principle of autonomous village governments to
replace the sovereignty of a national government viewed to be the
corrupt collaborator of the hacendados".(1) In Spain in the 1870's,
where workers’ attempts to form unions were met with
repression, the anarchists were involved in many insurrections, and
in the case of some small industrial towns were locally successful
during the 1873 uprisings. In Alcoy for instance after paper workers
who had struck for an eight-hour day were repressed "The workers
seized and burned the factories, killed the mayor and marched down
the street with the heads of the policemen whom they had put to
death." (2) Spain was to see many, many anarchist led insurrections
before the most successful - that which greeted and almost defeated
the fascist coup of July 1936.

In Italy in 1877 Malatesta, Costa and Cafiero led an armed band into
two villages in Campania. There they burned the tax registers and
declared an end to Victor Emmanuel's reign - however their hope of
sparking an insurrection failed and troops soon arrived. Bakunin had
already been involved in an attempt to spark an insurrection in
Bologna in 1874.
The limits of insurrections

Many of these early attempts at insurrection led to severe state
repression. In Spain the movement was forced underground by the
mid 1870's. This led into the 'Propaganda by Deed' period when
some anarchists reacted to this repression by assassinating members
of the ruling class, including a number of kings and presidents. The
state in turn escalated the repression, after a bombing in Barcelona
in 1892 some 400 people were taken to the dungeon at Montjuich
where they were tortured. Fingernails were ripped out, men were
hung from ceilings and had their genitals twisted and burned.
Several died from torture before they were even brought to trial and
five were later executed.

Arguably the fatal theoretical flaw of this period was the belief that
the working people were everywhere willing to rise and that all the
anarchist group had to do was light the touchpaper with an
insurrection. This weakness was not limited to anarchism - as we
have seen it was also the approach of radical republicanism, which
meant sometimes, as in Spain or Cuba the anarchists and the
republicans found themselves fighting together against state forces.
Elsewhere the left sometimes slotted into this role - the Easter
Rebellion of 1916 in Ireland saw a military alliance between
revolutionary syndicalists and nationalists.

However the original organisational approach of the anarchists
around Bakunin was not limited to making attempts at insurrection,
but also included the involvement of anarchists in the mass struggles
of the working people. While some anarchists responded to
circumstances by constructing an ideology of 'illegalism' the
majority started to turn to these mass struggles and, in particular,
entering or constructing mass unions on a revolutionary syndicalist
base. In the opening years of the 20th century anarchists were
involved in or simply built most of the revolutionary syndicalist
unions that were to dominate radical politics up to the Russian
revolution. Very often these unions were themselves then involved in
insurrections, as in 1919 in both Argentina and Chile which included
in Chile workers who "took possession of the Patagonian town of
Puerto Natales, under the red flag and anarcho-syndicalist
principles."(3) Earlier, in 1911, the Mexican anarchists of the PLM,
with the help of many IWW members from the USA, "organised
battalions …in Baja California and took over the town of Mexicali
and the surrounding areas".
Insurrections and anarchist communists

The anarchist communist organisational tradition within anarchism
can be traced back to Bakunin and the first programmatic
documents produced by the emerging anarchist movement in the
1860's. But these organisational ideas were not developed in any
collective way again until the 1920's. Still there were individuals and
groups that advocated the key features of organised anarchist
communism; involvement in the mass struggle of the working
people and the need for specific anarchist organisation and

Anarchist communism was clarified in 1926 by a group of
revolutionary exiles analysing why their efforts to date had failed.
This resulted in the publication of the document known in English
as the 'Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists'
which we have analysed at length elsewhere.

Here the relevance is to note that, like their predecessors of the
1860's, this grouping of anarchist communists were trying to learn
from the anarchist involvement in insurrections and revolution of the
1917-21 period. They include Nestor Makhno who had been the key
figure of a massive anarchist led insurrection in the Western
Ukraine. The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine fought
the Austro Hungarians, anti-semitic pogromists, various white
armies and the Bolshevik controlled Red army over those years.

These platformists as they have come to be known wrote "The
principle of enslavement and exploitation of the masses by violence
constitutes the basis of modern society. All the manifestations of its
existence: the economy, politics, social relations, rest on class
violence, of which the servicing organs are: authority, the police, the
army, the judiciary... The progress of modern society: the technical
evolution of capital and the perfection of its political system, fortifies
the power of the ruling classes, and makes the struggle against them
more difficult… Analysis of modern society leads us to the
conclusion that the only way to transform capitalist society into a
society of free workers is the way of violent social revolution." (4)
The Spanish experience

The next development of anarchist communism once more involved
those at the centre of an insurrection - this time the Friends of
Durruti group who were active during the Barcelona insurrection of
May 1937. The FoD "members and supporters were prominent
comrades from the Gelsa battle-front" (5)

The FoD was composed of members of the CNT but was highly
critical of the role the CNT had played in 1936 "The CNT did not
know how to live up to its role. It did not want to push ahead with
the revolution with all its consequences. They were frightened by the
foreign fleets... Has any revolution ever been made without having to
overcome countless difficulties? Is there any revolution in the world,
of the advanced type, that has been able to avert foreign
intervention? … Using fear as a springboard and letting oneself be
swayed by timidity, one never succeeds. Only the bold, the resolute,
men of courage may attain great victories. The timid have no right to
lead the masses...The CNT ought to have leapt into the driver's seat
in the country, delivering a severe coup de grace to all that is
outmoded and archaic. In this way we would have won the war and
saved the revolution... But it did the opposite… It breathed a
lungful of oxygen into an anaemic, terror-stricken bourgeoisie." (6)

Across much of the world anarchism had been crushed in the period
up to, during and after World War Two. Anarchists were involved in
partisan movements across Europe during the war but in the
aftermath were repressed by eastern 'communism' or western
'democracy'. In Uruguay, one of the few places where a sizeable
anarchist communist movement survived, the FAU waged an
underground armed struggle against the military dictatorship from
the 1950's. Cuban anarcho-syndicalists, in particular tobacco
workers, played a significant role in the Cuban revolution only to be
repressed in its aftermath by the new regime.
The ideology of insurrectionalism

There is a long tradition within anarchism of constructing ideologies
out of a tactic. The long and deep involvement of anarchists in
insurrections has, not surprisingly, given rise to an anarchist
ideology of insurrectionalism.

An early self-definition of insurrectionalism in English is found in
this 1993 translation: "We consider the form of struggle best suited
to the present state of class conflict in practically all situations is the
insurrectional one, and this is particularly so in the Mediterranean
area. By insurrectional practice we mean the revolutionary activity
that intends to take the initiative in the struggle and does not limit
itself to waiting or to simple defensive responses to attacks by the
structures of power. Insurrectionalists do not subscribe to the
quantitative practices typical of waiting, for example organisational
projects whose first aim is to grow in numbers before intervening in
struggles, and who during this waiting period limit themselves to
proselytism and propaganda, or to the sterile as it is innocuous

As an ideology insurrectionalism originates in the peculiar
conditions of post war Italy and Greece. Towards the end of World
War Two there was a real possibility of revolution in both countries.
In many areas the fascists were driven out by left partisans before the
allied armies arrived. But because of the Yalta agreement Stalin
instructed the official revolutionary left of the Communist Party to
hold back the struggle. As a result, Greece was to suffer decades of
military dictatorship while in Italy the Communist Party continued to
hold back struggles. Insurrectionalism was one of a number of new
socialist ideologies which arose to address these particular
circumstances. However the development of insurrectionalism in
these countries is beyond the scope of this article. Here we want to
look at the development of an insurrectionalist ideology in the Anglo
Insurrectionalism in the anglo world

One insurrectionalist has described how the ideas spread from Italy
"Insurrectionary anarchism has been developing in the English
language anarchist movement since the 1980s, thanks to
translations and writings by Jean Weir in her "Elephant Editions"
and her magazine "Insurrection". .. In Vancouver, Canada, local
comrades involved in the Anarchist Black Cross, the local anarchist
social center, and the magazines "No Picnic" and "Endless Struggle"
were influenced by Jean's projects, and this carried over into the
always developing practice of insurrectionary anarchists in this
region today ... The anarchist magazine "Demolition Derby" in
Montreal also covered some insurrectionary anarchist news back in
the day" (8)

That insurrectionalism should emerge as a more distinct trend in
English language anarchism at this point in time should be no
surprise. The massive boost anarchism received from the summit
protest movement was in part due to the high visibility of black bloc
style tactics. After the Prague summit protest of 2000, the state
learned how to greatly reduce the effectiveness of such tactics. Soon
after the disastrous experience of Genoa and a number of controlled
blocs in the USA, arguments arose that emphasised greater
militancy and more clandestine organisation on the one hand and a
move away from the spectacle of summit protesting on the other.

Alongside this, many young people who were entering anarchist
politics for the first time often made the incorrect assumption that
the militant image that had first attracted their attention on the TV
news was a product of insurrectionalism in particular. In fact, most
varieties of class struggle anarchists, including anarchist
communists and members of the syndicalist unions, had participated
in black bloc style protests at the summits. As these all see actual
insurrections as playing a significant role in achieving an anarchist
society, there should be nothing surprising in them being involved in
a little street fighting on the occasions when that tactic appears to
make sense. By the time of Genoa, when the state had obviously
greatly upped the level of repression it could deploy, anarchist
communists were debating whether such tactics had a future in the
columns of this magazine and other publications.
The ideas of insurrectionalism

It is probably useful to dispel a couple of myths about
insurrectionalism at the start. Insurrectionalism is not limited to
armed struggle, although it might include armed struggle, and most
insurrectionalists are quite critical of the elitism of armed struggle
vanguards. Nor does it mean continuously trying to start actual
insurrections, most insurrectionalists are smart enough to realise
that this maximum program is not always possible, even if they are
also keen to condemn other anarchists for waiting.

So what is insurrectionalism? Do or Die 10 published a useful(9)
introduction with the title "Insurrectionary Anarchy : Organising for
Attack!"(10). I use substantive quotes from this article in the
discussion that follows.

The concept of 'attack' is at the heart of the insurrectionist ideology,
this was explained as follows

"Attack is the refusal of mediation, pacification, sacrifice,
accommodation, and compromise in struggle. It is through acting
and learning to act, not propaganda, that we will open the path to
insurrection, although analysis and discussion have a role in
clarifying how to act. Waiting only teaches waiting; in acting one
learns to act."

This essay drew from a number of previously published
insurrectionalist works, one of these 'At Daggers Drawn' explained

"The force of an insurrection is social, not military. Generalised
rebellion is not measured by the armed clash but by the extent to
which the economy is paralysed, the places of production and
distribution taken over, the free giving that burns all calculation ...
No guerrilla group, no matter how effective, can take the place of
this grandiose movement of destruction and transformation." (11)

The insurrectionalist notion of attack is not one based on a vanguard
achieving liberation for the working class. Instead they are clear that
"what the system is afraid of is not these acts of sabotage in
themselves, so much as their spreading socially." (12). In other
words the direct actions of a small group can only be successful if
they are taken up across the working class. This is a much more
useful way to discuss direct action that the more conventional left
debate that polarises extremes of 'Direct Action crews' who see their
actions in themselves as achieving the objective versus revolutionary
organizations that refuse to move beyond propagandising for mass
action - and all too often actually argue against 'elitist' small group
Riots and class struggle

Insurrectionalists often recognize class struggle where the reformist
left refuse to, so writing of Britain in the early 1980's Jean Weir
observed that "The struggles taking place in the inner city ghettos
are often misunderstood as mindless violence. The young struggling
against exclusion and boredom are advanced elements of the class
clash. The ghetto walls must be broken down, not enclosed."(13)

The idea that such actions need to be taken up across the working
class is also seen by insurrectionalists as an important answer to the
argument that the state can simply repress small groups. It is pointed
out that "It is materially impossible for the state and capital to police
the whole social terrain"(14).

As might be imagined, individual desires are central to
insurrectionalism but not as with the rugged individualism of the
'libertarian right'. Rather "The desire for individual
self-determination and self-realization leads to the necessity of a
class analysis and class struggle"(15).

Much of the insurrectionalist theory we have looked at so far
presents no real problems in principle for anarchist communists. On
the theoretical level, the problems arise with the organisational
ideology that insurrectionists have constructed alongside this. Much
of this has been constructed as an ideological critique of the rest of
the anarchist movement.
The organiser

The insurrectionist criticism of 'the organiser', while a useful
warning of the dangers that come with such a role, has expanded
into an ideological position that presents such dangers as inevitable.
We are told "It is the job of the organiser to transform the multitude
into a controllable mass and to represent that mass to the media or
state institutions" and "For the organiser... real action always takes a
back seat to the maintenance of the media image"

Probably most of us are familiar with left campaigns run by a
particular party where exactly this has happened. But our experience
is that this is not inevitable. It is quite possible for individuals to help
organise a struggle without this happening. A comrade has more
time than anyone else so they take on a number of tasks that need to
be done - are they not therefore an organiser?

The problem with the apparent blanket ban on 'organisers' is that it
prevents analysis of why these problems arise and thus how they can
be prevented.

In the case of media work there is no mystery. Anyone doing media
work for a controversial struggle will be bombarded with questions
about the likelihood of violence - in media terms this is a 'sexy'
story. If they are getting this day after day, week after week then they
will start to try to shape the struggle to follow this media agenda.

The solution is simple. This problem arises because the left tends to
have their 'leader' who is doing the key organising of a protest also
as the media contact for that protest. Our experience is that if you
divorce the two roles so that the organisers of a specific event are not
the people who speak to the media about it then the problem is
greatly reduced if not eliminated. The actual organisers are isolated
from the media but feed information to whoever is nominated as a
media spokesperson. That media spokesperson however has no
particular say about the organisation of the protest.
The media and popular opinion

This leads onto the insurrectionalist description of the media. "An
opinion is not something first found among the public in general and
then, afterwards, replayed through the media, as a simple reporting
of the public opinion. An opinion exists in the media first. Secondly,
the media then reproduces the opinion a million times over linking
the opinion to a certain type of person (conservatives think x, liberals
think y). Public opinion is produced as a series of simple choices or
solutions ('I'm for globalization and free trade,' or 'I'm for more
national control and protectionism'). We are all supposed to choose -
as we choose our leaders or our burgers - instead of thinking for

This all sounds pretty good - and there is considerable truth in it. But
this blanket analysis again prevents a discussion about how these
problems can be overcome. Until the time we have our own
alternative media - and in that case some of the problems above
would still apply - we would be crazy not to use those sections of the
media through which we might be able to reach the millions of
people that lack of resources otherwise cut us off from.

And while the media likes to simplify the story by reducing it to
binary choices, this does not mean that everyone who gets
information from the media accepts this division. Many if not all
people have an understanding that the media is flawed and so tend
not to accept its binary divisions.

Waiting for the revolution?

We are told the left in general and the rest of the anarchist
movement in particular hold

"a critique of separation and representation that justifies waiting
and accepts the role of the critic. With the pretext of not separating
oneself from the 'social movement', one ends up denouncing any
practice of attack as a 'flight forward' or mere 'armed propaganda'.
Once again revolutionaries are called to 'unmask' the real conditions
of the exploited, this time by their very inaction. No revolt is
consequently possible other than in a visible social movement. So
anyone who acts must necessarily want to take the place of the
proletariat. The only patrimony to defend becomes 'radical critique',
'revolutionary lucidity'. Life is miserable, so one cannot do anything
but theorise misery." (16)

Here we see the chief weakness of insurrectionalism - its lack of
serious discussion of other anarchist tendencies. We are led to
believe that other revolutionaries, including all other anarchists,
favour waiting around and preaching about the evils of capitalism
rather than also taking action. There are some very few groups for
whom this is true, but the reality is that even amongst the
non-anarchist revolutionary movement most organisations also
engage in forms of direct action where they think this makes tactical
sense. In reality this is also the judgement that insurrectionalists
make - like everyone else they recognise the need to wait until they
think the time is right. They recognise that tomorrow is not the day
to storm the White House.
Critique of organisation

Another place to find fault with the ideology of insurrectionalism is
where it comes to the question of organisation. Insurrectionalism
declares itself against 'formal organisation' and for 'informal
organisation'. Often quite what that means is unclear as 'formal'
organization is simply used as a label for all the things that can go
wrong with an organisation.

Insurrectionalists attempt to define formal organisation as
"permanent organisations [which] synthesise all struggle within a
single organisation, and organisations that mediate struggles with
the institutions of domination. Permanent organisations tend to
develop into institutions that stand above the struggling multitude.
They tend to develop a formal or informal hierarchy and to
disempower the multitude ... The hierarchical constitution of
power-relations removes decision from the time such a decision is
necessary and places it within the organisation ... permanent
organisations tend to make decisions based not on the necessity of a
specific goal or action, but on the needs of that organisation,
especially its preservation. The organisation becomes an end in

While this is quite a good critique of Leninism or Social Democratic
forms of organisation, it doesn't really describe ongoing forms of
anarchist organisation - in particular anarchist communism
organisation. Anarchist communists don't, for instance, seek to
"synthesise all struggle within a single organisation". Rather we
think the specific anarchist organisation should involve itself in the
struggles of the working class, and that these struggle should be
self-managed by the class - not run by any organisation, anarchist or
Solutions to the problems of organisation

Far from developing hierarchy, our constitutions not only forbid
formal hierarchy but contain provisions designed to prevent the
development of informal hierarchy as well. For instance considerable
informal power can fall to someone who is the only one who can do
a particular task and who manages to hold onto this role for many
years. So the WSM constitution says no member can hold any
particular position for more than three years. After that time they
have to step down.

These sorts of formal mechanisms to prevent the development of
informal hierarchy are common in anarchist communist
organizations. In fact, it is an example of where formal organisation
is a greater protection against hierarchy, our formal method of
organisation also allows us to agree rules to prevent informal
hierarchy developing. Insurrectionalism lacks any serious critique of
informal hierarchy but, as anyone active in the anarchist movement
in the anglo world knows, the lack of sizeable formal organisation
means that problems of hierarchy within the movement are most
often problems of informal hierarchy.

If you strip out the things that can go wrong with an organisation,
then the insurrectionalist concept of 'formal' organisation boils down
to an organisation that continues to exist between and across
struggles. Although even here the distinction is clouded because
insurrectionalists also see that sometimes informal organisation may
be involved in more than one struggle or may move from one
struggle to another.

From an anarchist communist perspective, the major point of an
organisation is to help create communication, common purpose and
unity across and between struggles. Not in the formal sense of all
struggles being forced into the one program and under the one set of
leaders. But in the informal sense of the anarchist communist
organisation acting as one channel of communication, movement
and debate between the struggles that allows for greater
communication and increases the chance of victory.
The insurrectionalist alternative - Informal organisation

The method of organisation favoured by insurrectionists is guided by
the principle that "The smallest amount of organisation necessary to
achieve one’s aims is always the best to maximize our efforts."
What this means is small groups of comrades who know each other
well and have a lot of time to spend with each other discussing out
issues and taking action - affinity groups.

We are told "to have an affinity with a comrade means to know
them, to have deepened one's knowledge of them. As that
knowledge grows, the affinity can increase to the point of making an
action together possible.."(17)

Of course insurrectionalists know that small groups are often too
small to achieve an objective on their own so in that case they say
that groups can federate together on a temporary basis for that
specific goal.

There have even been attempts to extend this to the international
"The Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionalist International is aimed at
being an informal organisation... [It]is therefore based on a
progressive deepening of reciprocal knowledge among all its
adherents... To this end all those who adhere to it should send the
documentation that they consider necessary to make their activity
known... to the promoting group." (18)
Autonomous Base Nucleus

It is obvious that a successful libertarian revolution requires the mass
of the people to be organised. Insurrectionalists recognise this and
have attempted to construct models of mass organisation that fit
within their ideological principles. Autonomous Base Nucleus, as
they are called, were originally based on the Autonomous Movement
of the Turin Railway Workers and the Self-managed leagues against
the cruise missile base in Comiso.

Alfredo Bonanno in The Anarchist Tension described the Comiso
"A theoretical model of this kind was used in an attempt to prevent
the construction of the American missile base in Comiso in the early
'80s. The anarchists who intervened for two years built
"self-managed leagues". (19)

He summarized them as follow "These groups should not be
composed of anarchists alone, Anyone who intends to struggle to
reach given objectives, even circumscribed ones, could participate so
long as they take a number of essential conditions into account. First
of all "permanent conflict” that is groups with the characteristic
of attacking the reality in which they find themselves without waiting
for orders from anywhere else. Then the characteristic of being
"autonomous", that is of not depending on or having any relations at
all with political parties or trade union organisations. Finally, the
characteristic of facing problems one by one and not proposing
platforms of generic claims that would inevitably transform
themselves into administration along the lines of a mini-party or a
small alternative trades union." (20)

For all that they have 'self-managed' in their title these leagues in
fact look pretty much like the front organizations used for linking
into and controlling social struggles by many Leninist organizations.
Why so? Well the above definition is one of an organisation that
while seeking to organise the masses does so along lines defined by
the informal groups of anarchists. If it was truly self-managed, surely
the League itself would define its method of operation and what
issues it might like to struggle around? And from the start the
leagues exclude not only all other competing organisations but even
relations with political parties or trade union organisations. Again,
any real self-managed struggle would make the decision of who to
have relations with for itself and not simply follow the dictat of an
organised ideological minority.

Another insurrectionalist, O.V., defined the leagues as "the element
linking the specific informal anarchist organisation to social
struggles" and said of them
"These attacks are organised by the nucleii in collaboration with
specific anarchist structures which provide practical and theoretical
support, developing the search for the means required for the action
pointing out the structures and individuals responsible for
repression, and offering a minimum of defence against attempts at
political or ideological recuperation by power or against repression
pure and simple."(21)

If anything this is worse - the specific anarchist structures are given
the role of making pretty much every significant decision for the
league. This makes a nonsense of any claim to self-management
and would turn such a league into a creature to be manipulated by a
self-selected cadre of true revolutionaries supposedly capable of
grappling with the issues that its other members cannot. This seems
to fly so much in the face of what insurrectionalists say elsewhere
that we should stop and pause to wonder why do they end up with
such a position.
The question of agreement

The reason lies in the fact that common action obviously requires a
certain level of common agreement. The insurrectionalist approach
to this is quite hard to get a grasp of and is the reason why such odd
contradictions open up in the self-managed leagues they advocate.
The problem is that reaching agreement requires decision making
and in the making of decisions you open the possibility of a decision
being made by the majority that the informal cadre think is a

The Do or Die article tries to define this obvious problem away as
follows "Autonomy allows decisions to be made when they are
necessary, instead of being pre-determined or delayed by the
decision of a committee or meeting. This does not mean to say
however that we shouldn't think strategically about the future and
make agreements or plans. On the contrary, plans and agreements
are useful and important. What is emphasised is a flexibility that
allows people to discard plans when they become useless. Plans
should be adaptable to events as they unfold."

This asks more questions then is answers - how can you plan
without pre-determining something? If a group of people "think
strategically about the future" is that group not a "committee or
meeting" even if it chooses not to use that name. And who argues
for plans that are not "adaptable to events as they unfold"?

From an anarchist communist perspective, the point of thinking
strategically about the future is to use that thinking to plan for the
future. Plans involve making decisions in advance - pre-determining
them to at least an extent. And plans should be made and agreed
formally, that certainly involves meetings and may well involve the
meeting of a committee. Why deny any of this?

Like the more ideological anarcho-syndicalists, insurrectionalists
take an ideological position against negotiations. "Compromise only
makes the state and capital stronger" we are told. But this is a slogan
that only works if you are a small group that has no influence on a
struggle. Short of the revolution, it will be unusual to win a struggle
outright so if our ideas are listened to we will again and again be
faced with either a limited and therefore negotiated victory or
snatching defeat from the jaws of victory because we advise fighting
for more than we know can be won. Surely our aim should be to win
everything that is possible, not to go down to glorious defeat?

Apparently not. One insurrectionalist favourably describes how "The
workers who, during a wildcat strike, carried a banner saying, 'We
are not asking for anything' understood that the defeat is in the claim
itself" (22) This obviously can only make sense when the workers
concerned are already revolutionaries. If this is a social struggle for
say a rent reduction or an increase in wages, such a banner is an
insult to the needs of those in the struggle.

Short of the revolution, the issue should not be whether or not to
negotiate but rather who negotiates, on what mandate and subject to
what procedures before an agreement can be made. The reality is
that if these questions are avoided, then that vacuum will be filled by
authoritarians happy to negotiate on their terms in a way that
minimises their accountability.
Repression and debate

Without going into the specifics of each controversy, a major
problem in countries where insurrectionalists put their words into
deeds is that this often means attacks that achieve little except on
the one hand providing an excuse for state repression and on the
other isolating all anarchists, not just those involved, from the
broader social movement.

Insurrectionalists claim to be willing to debate tactics but the reality
of state repression means that in practise any critique of such actions
is presented as taking the side of the state. Nearly 30 years ago
Bonanno attempted to define all those who thought such actions
premature or counter productive as taking the side of the state when
he wrote in 'Armed Joy' that

"When we say the time is not ripe for an armed attack on the State
we are pushing open the doors of the mental asylum for the
comrades who are carrying out such attacks; when we say it is not
the time for revolution we are tightening the cords of the straight
jacket; when we say these actions are objectively a provocation we
don the white coats of the torturers."(23)

The reality is that many actions claimed by insurrectionalists are not
above critique - and if workers are not allowed to critique such
actions are they not simply reduced to passive spectators in a
struggle between the state and the revolutionary minority? If, as
Bonnano seems to imply, you can't even critique the most insane of
actions then you can have no real discussion of tactics at all.
Towards an anarchist communist theory

Anarchist communists have adopted a different test to that of sanity
when it comes to the question of militant action. That is if you are
claiming to act on behalf of a particular group, then you first need to
have demonstrated that the group agrees with the sort of tactics you
propose to use. This question is far more important to anarchist
practise than the question of what some group of anarchists might
decide is an appropriate tactic.

As we have seen, anarchist communists have no principled objection
to insurrections, our movement has been built out of the tradition of
insurrections within anarchism and we draw inspiration from many
of those involved in such insurrections. In the present, we continue
to defy the limitations the state seeks to put on protest where ever
doing so carries the struggle forward. Again that is not just a
judgement for us to make - in cases where we claim to be acting in
solidarity with a group (eg of striking workers) then it must be that
group that dictates the limits of the tactics that can be used in their

Insurrectionalism offers a useful critique of much that is standard
left practise. But it falsely tries to extend that critique to all forms of
anarchist organisation. And in some cases the solutions it advocates
to overcome real problems of organisation are worse than the
problems it set out to address. Anarchist communists can certainly
learn from insurrectionalist writings but solutions to the problems of
revolutionary organisation will not be found there.

Joe Black

1 John M Hart's "Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class"
2 James Joll, The Anarchists, 229
3 Thanks to Pepe for information on these events in Argentina and
4 Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, Dielo
Trouda (Workers' Cause), 1926 online at
5 Jaime Balius (secretary of the Friend of Durruti), Towards a Fresh
Revolution, online at http://struggle.ws/fod/towardsintro.html
6 Towards a Fresh Revolution
7 For an Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionist International-Proposal for
a Debate, Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionalist International,
(Promoting Group), Elephant Editions 1993 online at
8 Andy posting in respone to an early draft of this article on the
anti-politics forum, see
9 It does however contain at least one basic error, it weirdly describe
the synthesist Italian Anarchist Federation as a "platformist
organisation" which suggests the authors made little or no attempt to
understand what platformism is before moving to reject it.
10 Do or Die 10, 2003, online at
11 Anon., At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its
False Critics, Elephant Editions Online at
12 Do or Die 10 , "Insurrectionary Anarchism and the Organization
of Attack".
13 J.W., Insurrection, online at
14 Do or Die 10 , "Insurrectionary Anarchism and the Organization
of Attack".
15 Do or Die 10 , "Insurrectionary Anarchism and the Organization
of Attack".
16 Anon., At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its
False Critics, Elephant Editions Online at
17 O.V.,Insurrection, online at
18 For An Anti-authoritarian Insurrectionalist International,
Elephant Editions 1993 online at
19 Alfredo Bonanno, The Anarchist Tension, Original Title,La
Tensione anarchica
Translated by Jean Weir, 1996, online at
20 Alfredo Bonanno, The Anarchist Tension, Original Title,La
Tensione anarchica
Translated by Jean Weir, 1996, online at
21 O.V.,Insurrection, online at
22 Anon., At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its
False Critics, Elephant Editions Online at
23 Alfredo Bonanno , Armed Joy, Translated by Jean Weir, Original
title ,La gioia armata, 1977 Edizioni Anarchismo, Catania, 1998
Elephant Editions, London online at
This article is from Red & Black Revolution No 11, now at the
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