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Toward Insurrection: Anarchist Strategy in an Era of Popular Revolt

Philadelphia. Pennsylvania. New text of analysis and strategy from so-called Philadelphia that touches on the broader realities of US society in the developing post-pandemic and post-rebellion world while looking at what might lead to continued liberatory eruptions.

Originally published by Philly Anti-Capitalist.

Full essay in PDF format: Toward Insurrection: Anarchist Strategy in an Era of Popular Revolt [Read] [Print]

What role can anarchists in the United States play in popular uprisings like the ones of 2020? While many of us made solid contributions to the riots, the events of last year also highlighted some of our significant deficiencies. Anarchists’ attempts to show up to riots in the ways in which we’re accustomed, at least here in Philly, often felt ineffective and at best out of touch with those around us. I still believe that anarchists have the potential to contribute in crucial ways to destroying this system and making another end of the world possible. At this point, though, a willingness to reflect on and question our views is needed in order to really move in that direction.

This question of anarchist participation is fundamentally intertwined with issues around race and whiteness, and the past year’s discourse on the topic has felt typically inadequate in addressing these questions. Leaving the bad-faith nature of many of the critiques aside, many white anarchists have found it easier to dismiss criticisms by automatically conflating them with liberalism or political opportunism. While this is often accurate, it shouldn’t allow us to not take questions about our relationship to whiteness seriously. Whiteness isn’t just a skin color that non-white people happen to be skeptical of. It’s also a particular kind of colonized (and colonizing) mentality that restricts our imagination and can affect everything from how we interact in the streets to what we as individuals personally envision as our insurrectionary future (or lack thereof).

Aside from the anarchists who were radicalized over this past year, most anarchists today came into radical politics through resistance to Trump’s presidency (which centered on an “antifa”that was majority white in the public imaginary, and often in reality), an Occupy movement dominated by white progressives, or what are now called the anti-globalization struggles of the early 2000’s. Throughout these movements, anarchists of color have also appeared alongside white anarchists in the streets, though not necessarily identifying with them, and have tried to carve out space for the primacy of anti-racist struggles. But this past year has been a visceral and unavoidable reminder that Black (as well as Indigenous) radical struggles against the state have always been and continue to be far more powerful than most anarchists’ occasional vandalisms, or even our more targeted (but isolated) acts of property destruction.

This article tries to take seriously the claim that white people, including white anarchists, will not be the protagonists of liberatory struggle in the United States —not in order to marginalize anarchists’ uncompromised visions of freedom from the state, capital, and white supremacy, but instead to reveal some under explored strategies for how we might actually get there. Today we face an unprecedented crisis of capital and the state, and despite our best efforts none of us can predict how any of it will shake out. Despite the Biden administration’s best efforts to restore order and recuperate rebellion, it feels like the chaos that boiled over last year is fated to return, especially as ecological and economic collapse creep closer and the everyday executions of Black people continue with no particular changes that we can observe. In this context, we look around and take our inspiration from the resistance we see actually happening, even if it counteracts some of our inherited assumptions and desires. Right now, all possibilities are on the table.

This essay begins with some brief reflections on anarchist activity in the context of uprisings in several cities in the U.S. over this past year. In cities like Portland and Seattle, anarchist activity has shown both the potential and the limits of some tried-and-true tactics of the insurrectionary anarchist approach that’s been established in the U.S. over the past couple decades. The rest of the essay explores other traditions that might expand our sense of how insurrections occur and how we might personally participate in moving things in that direction. We also include [not in the online version]a Philly-specific map that we hope will provide a useful resource for readers in Philly. Maybe it’ll also inspire others elsewhere in how they approach future moments of potential insurrection and State collapse.


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