The Importance of a Liberatory Process: a critique of fetishized militancy

From Theory & Practice

Militancy is revered on the left. Whether insurrectionary violence or mass militancy of social movements, the form and level of militancy serves as a marker of the relative power and progressive nature of a movement. Insurrectionists fetishize either mere acts alone (independently of who does them, groups or individuals) or fetishize violent acts as signs of collective will. Some social movement organizers take militancy to indicate a progressive or revolutionary nature of a movement. Looking at militancy and militant acts alone however is bound to be distorting and lead us down garden paths. A militant event occurs in a social context and through a social process, and these facts bare on the meaning of militancy as a historical phenomenon.

Militancy is generally targeted for a few reasons. One is the outcome. A militant event can have a number of effects. Some analyze these events based on these effects. Spreading radicalism, disrupting power, beating back reactionary forces, etc., these can be taken to indicate the importance or problem with various actions. This is one axis for understanding militancy. Another is the act itself. Work stoppages, illegal strikes, organized violence against capital or the state, anti-police measures, etc., can be viewed as having inherent political content that is thought to either illuminates or stimulates some underlying radical consciousness. Additionally who participates, organizes, and is involved in the act is also seen as important. These factors are those most emphasized, but in fact the crucial element that helps us make sense of militancy, its relevance, and direction, is another thing all together.

Beyond the outcome, the participants, and the act is the process by which the event occurs and how it unfolds. This process is the difference between militancy for no reason, militancy for reactionary reasons, and potentially revolutionary militancy. The problem is that without looking at the process we either rely on believing in the automatic revolutionary nature of acts (ritualistic protest), of certain people (worship of the working class as inherently revolutionary, rather than potentially revolutionary), or of the outcome (populism about the revolutionary nature of “victories”).

A social revolution is not one of conquest; we cannot conquer the space to implement collective democracy and liberatory social relationships. It is a process, and one that requires the transformation of thought and action. From everything we’ve seen there is a potential for these transformations through struggle, where ruptures with the dominant ideology and social norms open space for new ways of relating and conceptualizing social living. To anyone who’s participated in strikes this should be evident. Even the most backward strikes demonstrate such transformations. But anyone who’s participated in a strike should know that there are also no guarantees that those transformations will take hold or worse won’t spur on reactionary backswings.

A strike may have a positive outcome or a victory; say workers take militant action in a strike like a workplace occupation, an illegal strike, or taking over a factory. Those workers could win increases in wages and economic conditions on account of the strike. The outcome alone tells us nothing about the political content of that strike or movement; an increase in the power of the union or economic situation of a section of the class is not inherently revolutionary or progressive. This is because of the process. If the workers see through their militancy a victory, and a new union grouping that becomes institutionalizing through the upsurge, a number of things could happen. Between contract periods the same conditions of tiring work and disrespect may persist, and usually do. Militant struggles are generally pitched points between normalcy. As the new union leadership becomes integrated into the capitalist work process, an institutional pressure to prevent conflict develops. In such a scenario, the workers may come out of such a strike less organized, with less resolve to fight, and disillusioned from left organizing in their workplace. This is just to say that outcomes in themselves are misleading without seeing the political struggle that drives these conflicts, and drawing out the class lessons in militant events.

The Weather Underground in the United States developed the concept of the armed propaganda, perhaps paralleling the old insurrectionist anarchist concept of propaganda of the deed. The violent act then is understood to have propagandistic value based on its outcome; demonstrating the weakness of the target, solidarity and exposure to a cause, or whatever[1]. Unlike organized anarchism, which essentially abandoned propaganda of the deed after it nearly destroyed completely the movement in the 1870s, this legacy has been transmitted to present radicals via protest movements (much like the Weather Underground). Acts themselves do not do anything, it is the content, process, and relationships that drive them. Belief in the inherent radical nature of acts themselves is a form of faith.

The same may be said of the participants. Militant actions of workers, production workers, workers of color or women workers, extremely exploited lumpen-proletarians in the inner city, etc., in themselves are not inherently revolutionary. Workers can strike to protect their relative privilege against other sections of the class. Oppressed minorities can push for reactionary forms of nationalism or capitalism. Any group can use militancy to try and become a ruling class or potentially a ruling class. Militancy by different sectors doesn’t have any inherent guarantee of liberatory politics. Reaction and repression can emerge from anywhere, both from hierarchy and from non-hierarchy.

Violent and militant acts are meaningless in and of themselves. Unfortunately, in North America the alienation of the left from mass struggle and the absence of social forces capable of challenging (openly) ruling class assaults on a sustained basis creates a pressure or incentive towards ritualized forms of militancy.

On a theoretical level, A bombing, strike, or riot alone can be extremely reactionary. The outcome, participants, and process determine its political significance and reverberations. Without those factors we step into the realm of acting-in-the-name-of, trying to propagandize to people, and believing in the ability to topple social relationships through ritualistic and symbolic activity. This strategy has yielded only failure and harm in all its forms; whether bourgeois nationalist, liberal, communist, anarchist, or fascist.

With this understanding, we can see how non-militant acts may even have more revolutionary content at times than seemingly radical mass violence. The major forces in society, class relations and state-relations, are primarily social relationships rather than mere accumulations of income or weaponry. Radical transformation likewise occurs than disruption and replacement of these social relations in ruptures with liberatory ones created en mass. Both attempting to catalyze this and decipher it within social movements and struggles is the task of revolutionaries. Militancy may or may not reflect an increase in the transformative potential in struggle. Through trying to understand the political process, outcome, actors, and acts, a revolutionary can strategize where to concentrate forces, where to intervene, and when to retreat. There is no formula to this, and ultimately it requires a great deal of practice as even the theory is dependent on context and history. Shattering the fetishism of militancy gives us some of this space to deepen that practice.

Exploring militancy then gives us tools to understand our role as revolutionaries. It is precisely the political process inherent in activity that gives actions their revolutionary, reformist, reactionary, or stagnant natures. Rather than focusing on an abstract militancy, revolutionaries should seek to deepen and expand the political content within the context of immersion in struggle. The militancy of the struggles may wax and wane with the trajectories of the struggles. This requires the capability to assess the potential for a political process in struggles, and knowing when to push and when to retreat. Understanding that militancy is not inherently revolutionary, this means refocusing not on the level of confrontation and violence against power, but on the protagonists and their potential. Another way of framing this is that the long-term confrontation and militancy of the working class against capital and the state does not in every instance line up with short-term militancy. In our time this will frequently be at odds with hyper-militant acts of small groups of revolutionaries, and fetishized violence in the name of the working class. While we must be committed to escalating confrontations with power in the long-term, our strategizing requires being able to know when immediate militancy will advance us or drive us backwards. The essence of this process is looking to potentials for revolutionary consciousness developed in activity through a political process of struggle.

[1] See Dan Berger’s Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity by AK Press.

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Comments

i blame stimulator

That's indeed where my apprehension lies with Stimulator.

"Hey look... they're burning those tires in Madrid! Revolution is its way back in Spain! Woohoo!"

Like the very few isolated acts of a handful of vanguardists testifies for a wider revolt of tens of millions of braindead wage slaves who still, no matter what, worship stupid religious idols and the traditions of murdering animals for the repressive thrill.

That's a wretchedly cynical view. I'm a friend of "the stim" and he shamelessly fetishizes militancy, partly because he's a film-maker and peaceful demos, meetings and workshops is like filming paint drying.

He's got a dark sense of humour about the whole thing and it's not mindless grandstanding. It's more about how the participants in the various struggles of today (mostly in north america) lack a lot of conviction. We're trying to push past the repetitive symbolic actions of TOTAL futility and get people to look seriously at a little militancy only so they're not completely wasting their time.

In our more privileged parts of the work, the insurrectionary tendency is about a critique and rejection of reformism more than a road to some antiquated goal of RAF-style armed struggle.

As in, consuming riot-porn montages is like a vaccine against the trappings of pacifist reformism for the kids who would otherwise never be exposed to that kind of struggle. It proliferates some of the essential stuff we tend to take for granted after awhile, like how the cops are the fucking enemy for example.

^ world, not work. Gross, marxian slip.

Well, that's a statement. Coz Stimulator's cynicism is not that obvious from the outside. Maybe you could tip herhim or them on being more clear on that aspect, since as it is now it doesn't do that much to contribute to the spreading of insurrectionist tactics in our coldly pacified North America.

Does riot porn helps into breaking us away from the enslavement of the State within our own social milieus? I dunno. That's a good question. As with any other porn, it's about what other people do in terms of "illicit" or nasty behavior, which is alienating... but there's also the flip side of it, that we always get to see how to make it happen in our own social environment, no matter how unlikely it is to happen.

It's very hegelian, but it seems that you need some level of alienation in order to trigger a process of liberation from a wider enslavement...

(OP here) I can't disagree, except with your third sentence. I think the Stim does contribute to the spread of insurrectionary ideas/tactics, only because I've personally met a few dozen people over the years who explicitly stated they were influenced by the show. But this speaks to our tiny little alienated milieu's marginalization ... as in, once kids have already become involved with some kind of "radical" activity where they interact with other active folks AND they start to look at the tired old diversity of tactics debate or the failings of reformism, THEN the stim's content appeals to them and IMHO does a good job. But first they have to get to that point by themselves and the "demographic" is tiny.

So I like submedia and salute the efforts of everyone involved but it's the same old problem of watering the shit down for "mass appeal" or saying what you actually mean to the few thousand other insurrection-minded people on the continent (and beyond, where the numbers get less depressing). I don't think there's an easy answer to this stuff but I know the stimulator likes to shoot from the hip.

I blame Insurrectionary types.

If insurrectionists fetishize militancy, it's only from having a shallow understanding of insurrectionism.

Or from not really giving a shit.

we much guard against the night when all cows are black, indeed

Hatred, Fear and Demonization of the "left" is a pervert fetish
and it is almost all this wretched site is about anymore.

Yes, we must destroy all perverts.
FOR THE LEFT!

Sure, there are plenty of egoist bozos, Blackistas and Zerzanites on @news. But that's beside the point. This article isn't demonizing the left, it's critiquing what the author perceives as the left's fetishization of certain expressions of militancy.

"egoist bozos, Blackistas, and Zerzanites".....Are these non-existent labels another way of saying "well-read, long-term Anarchists" ?

Also, what in the Black Flame are you talking about ? Why do we want a Platform of Federated Federations for a Federate Federation ?

Big Bill Haywood's rotting Leninist-Marxist corpse proles his way into a room and you spit shine his shit covered shoes.

Fuck you and your moralizing about perversions.

-- Bob Black (pig fffucker and dispenser of hand sanitizing lotion)

I wonder sometimes if the person posting as Bob Black is actually Jon Bekken of the Anarcho-Cynicalist Review or Wayne Priceless of the anarcho-MARXIST alliance for a Marxist Future.

Whenever I've heard Anarchists that can't stand Bob Black, they have usually been Platformist, Syndicalist, or some vague Anarchism that advocates voting on the local level for the Green Party.

Then there's every anarchist under 35, don't know who he is or care.

More like 25. I'm 32 and I do.

What I don't understand is why my elders continue/d to keep him around after what appears to me to be a fairly clear-cut incidence of snitching. It was before my time, and I've never gotten an explanation that makes any sense to me other than "people were crazy back then."

I've seen it, and the baby with the bathwater book, and Hogshire's response, and the court paperwork, and the story of someone raiding somebody else's infoshop with razor blades and slicing up their zines or whatever, and still people being crazy back then is the only explanation that makes sense to me. Dude clearly snitched, he admitted to it, there's paperwork to that effect. And people were okay with this? Maybe people had more elastic opinions of what constituted acceptable behavior back then? Maybe they were all distracted by the boy love? I don't get it.

There's snitching and there's calling the police for your own reasons, Black follows under the latter. If snitching means anything it should mean betrayal of sorts, I tend to be fairly empathetic to those who are not on the Darby scale and simply crack under pressure simply due to being a human being as opposed to James Bond in a torture chair. Sure we get Jeff Leurs every now and then but he tends to be the exception.

Needless to say I'm on the side of those who see the term snitch as being overused. In the case of Black from the moment he saw Jimmy H as a mortal spiritual enemy all bets are off, he called the police in the same way another anarchist might call the police just due to the simple fact that modern law enforcement base structures are still the only game in town primarily for conflict resolution. I mean there's no affinity between them whatsoever the moment JH pulls the gun out because his feelings were hurt.

Couple this with common sense moral nihilism and there is no issue for me whatsoever with what Black did. And as the article above shows, Hoggshitter is quicker to the cops then Black is anyway.

Case closed.

"being a human being"

At last someone understands me. I got feelings too!

-- Bob Black (pig ffffucker and toilet seat)

everyhting "bob black" does is perfect and justified.

sincerely,
one of your personal dick suckers

case is NOT closed.

Unless you're a leftist moralist retard then
it is very much closed

fuck you.

who is "sir einzige" i'd really like to know. fucking sniveling cowards.

It's Bob Black pretending like he isn't Bob Black, but only in this comment. He admits it in other ones.

guess what i don't care anymore. apparently there is no way to stop propaganda and sexual harassment once it starts.

Mea culpa.

-- Bob Black (pig ffffucker and receptionist at the front desk)

That's a lie. Just another one.

Even when I don't tell the truth, I don't lie. For example, I do not fuck pigs.

-- Bob Black (pig ffffucker and cutter of the cheese)

Foiled again!

--- Bob Black (pig ffffucker and Avon Lady)

Someone who doesn't post anonomously.

"anonomously"?! Get the fuck out.

oh rly? does that mean i can look himher up in the phone book? will there be a pic of professor rat there? i don't recall who exactly this character is and anyway i no longer care..

lulz you think i'm p-rat

Oh and spelling can wait until after teh revolution or at least until I'm off my smart phone and not in a rush. Think of it as me making 8-ball feel at home.

No one thinks you are P-Rat. Dude said he thinks you are Bob Black. Of course, that's wrong too, because I'm Bob Black. And I fuck pigs.

-- Bob Black (pig ffffucker and congenital liar)

OK Jon

But I might also be Baboon Dooley. Or even Jim Hogshire!

But I'm not. I'm . . . .

. . . . Bob Black (pig ffffucker and anal wart remover)

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a girl.

Thanks, Bob!

Yeah people were crazy back in the day when an anarchist shot Malatesta. People were crazy back in the day when Marxists pretended to be allies with anarchists. People were crazy when accusations of sexual assault spread like herpes.

People are crazy all the time.

Sometimes one of your friends does something really stupid inside her/his own scene, without thinking of the consequences for her/himself and the scene. Sometimes one of your friends does something really stupid outside her/his scene and the result is a house raid and people who have nothing to do with the stupidity get wrapped up in some form of repression.

What the fuck is your point? That doing one or two stupid things means that person should forever be kicked out of your insipid little clique? I'm so crazy I think moral judgments have no place in anarchist discourse, but that people's actions should be examined from different angles.

Thanks, Larry. I owe you one. What's your pleasure a blowjob?

"I wonder sometimes if the person posting as Bob Black is actually Jon Bekken of the Anarcho-Cynicalist Review or Wayne Priceless of the anarcho-MARXIST alliance for a Marxist Future.

"Whenever I've heard Anarchists that can't stand Bob Black, they have usually been Platformist, Syndicalist, or some vague Anarchism that advocates voting on the local level for the Green Party."

How do you know I'm not Baboon Dooley or Ward Churchill? Maybe I'm Jim Hogshire?

No, I'm the real Bob Black, and I don't fuck salmon.

-- Bob Black (pig ffffucker and livery cab driver #11)

"Whenever I've heard Anarchists that can't stand Bob Black, they have usually been Platformist, Syndicalist, or some vague Anarchism that advocates voting on the local level for the Green Party."
Really? God, he just seems like the most wretched, awful person.

If I could suck my own dick, I'd never leave the house.

-- Bob Black (pig ffffucker and the most wretched, awful person)

whatever! newspaper boxes into the street!

I set fires to feel joy.

Wow insurrectionary anarchists invented the use of violence and terror in the 1870s? That's interesting I sure would have thought murder, bombings and assassinations would have made their appearance in human history before then but I guess not.

And the Weather Underground was influenced by anarchism and never would have hit on the idea of bombings without it? Fascinating. Here everyone else says they were Leninists inspired by Third World and black power struggles . . .

"We wanted to be communist cadre."--Mark Rudd

Mao was an infuence. Stalin an influence on at least Gilbert.

I don't understand the point of a piece like this. The very last thing you can say about struggles in the US is that they're too militant.

pseudo-intellectual wank that doesn't even read poetically. zzzzzzz

Its not militant mentality that's the issue its the lack of ethical approach in the individual. Read what Kerry Cunneen has to say about it. Id take her opinion over this any day of the week.

When were stsrving in the street at gunpoint were all going to get a little militant...here's to the future Mr. Gettys

they might throw a brick at whatever made them angry. In more thoughtful moods, they won't take wild, uncalculated risks with other people's lives. When situations get out of hand, there is no option but self-defense. It is not better, nor safer, while our number is depleted by state repression, to passively resist. There is an expectation of internal policing that takes for granted the notion that a few brick-throwers among a crowd could somehow implicate innocent bystanders. Whether one likes planned extra-legal tactics or abhors the risk, there should be no way to prevent it. It is empowering to get away with setting fire to a cop car, sure, so maybe that's wish fulfillment rather than fetishistic. I like watching other people's empowerment, especially if they are people unfamiliar to me. We share struggles with people all over the world.

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