Secret Societies Against the State
Whereas society is totalizing, the social war is fragmentary and counter-power movements themselves are made up from multiple societies. Within these societies, that when in movement are struggling against the state, are hidden secret societies that excel in unstable conditions. Under the rule of social peace, these same anti-social forces are in permanent conspiracy, they exist outside the state as an antagonistic force of insurrectionary negation.
Of course many secret societies are not located outside the state let alone directed against it. Many operate as proto-states and organize as paramilitaries; others accumulate cultural capital and fossilize social norms. To distinguish between state-enabling societies that reproduces the means of domination, and secret societies against the state, we will start with a generic definition of secret societies and then seek out the antagonism:
1) Secret societies are voluntary associations;
2) Secret societies possess a body of knowledge not accessible outside (these are a protective shield against the outside society and a way of differentiating morally and politically the secret societies from outside society);
3) Secret societies are distinguished from other groups with secrets in that it is organized on the basis of its secrecy (outer wall of protection);
4) A secret society is a group of people who live or act together;
5) Secret societies are as dependent for their existence upon non-members as upon members; they cannot exist in a void.
Contrary to inheriting any agency by adopting the above criteria, a secret society against the state must construct a blockade, creating a threshold from which it can attack the state and resonate with other insurrectionary methods; so in extension to the above 5 points:
1. Firstly, the secret societies against the state are voluntary in that they are non- hierarchical. No authority exists to determine the actions taken by autonomous individuals. Self-organization within an informal group is the driving force that keeps the society in motion.
2. Secondly, secret societies against the state retain rituals that remain outside the state and as such have there own time. In evoking such rituals threw generalized direct action- past moments of insurrection return in vengeance.
3. Thirdly, the secrecy of a society against the state is its rupture from representability. Its unexchangeable singularity explodes our relationships to hegemonic reproduction. As a negative force, it seeks to abolish the state; as an insurrectionary force, its secrecy evades the apparatuses of capture.
4. Fourthly, in living and acting together we experiment in new forms of shared struggle. Our relationships with each other in the secret society is based on mutuality; cooperation is as much a commonality as mutual struggle. For secret societies, “the weapons are nothing less than the essence of the antagonists themselves.”
5. Fifthly, secret societies against the state remain open and closed. When closed for non-secrecy purposes, state-forming structures emerge through concentrations of decision-making and specialties. To be open is to be fluid spatially and temporal. Secret societies against the state are nomadic war machines swarming along lines of flight.
Societies against the state have been around since the first combinations of peoples (we choose the referent “state”, whereas we could have used society, empire or totality – not that they are interchangeable, but so as to signify the continuity of constituted order). Recognizing the threat of state formations, a multiplicity of methods were deployed to prevent the centralizing of authority. Such primitive, anti-state methods have asymmetrically attacked the rise of civilization as a counter-force, consistently conspiring to destroy its work while providing evasive space to live free. If, by the state, our crime is freedom, then our secrecy is the protagonism against it. It’s like the Jose Borges short story where the conspiracy has been passed down so many ages that it has become instinctive.
Starting our search for this consistency at the threshold of pre-industrial unions, we will locate a very few from very many instances of autonomous organizing and think about them with the above outline of secret societies against the state.
The secret societies that poured out of the taverns and halls of revolutionary Europe were foreshadowed by the combinations and secret assemblages of earlier European revolts. The multitude of peasant rebellions against the enclosures of common lands and the uprisings of the new proletarian gave form to the space of secret societies outside the state. These insurrections were deemed heretical by the church and as such all the powers of the states and kingdoms were unified to crush them. In the middle centuries social relations were torn asunder, so that our ancestors bodies might be ground zero for the on-going process of total subsumption — the making of our very existence into a reproducing means of production. Women who in the communities held knowledge and power were hunted throughout Europe and its colonies, to be exterminated by the creation of a global femicide machine. In this “class war by other means,” the bodies of survivors were made into assembly lines to churn out new workers.
According to Silvia Federici, “In witch hunting the figure of the heretic increasingly became that of a woman.” And we are told by butch lee in her Military Strategy of Women & Children, “The self-autonomy of heretical sects truly was the greatest threat posed by European women to European power.” This as she says: “is a fragment of what we don’t know that we lost.”
In Lady Stardust’s zine Burning Women, she shares that the foundations of the state were constructed atop the ruined communities and that resistance to this state-building came from acts and rituals now made to function in secret, in the shadows, and in the night…
Women, of course, were part of groups and networks, sharing herbs, knowledge, skills, comradeship, and friendship. One of the main accusations was that of being part of an organized rebellion; and to be sure, these women were. The infamous Sabbats (nocturnal meetings, dances or feasts) were the meetings and festivals of these rebellious communities. Facing poverty and oppression, these networks also became politicized and organized.
“We cannot,” she adds later, “fail to see a connection between the fear of uprisings and the prosecutors insistence on the witches sabbat.”
Knowledge and resistance was kept alive and smuggled out from the wreckage of the country and into the slums of the cities. Societies were created to preserve that knowledge and to spread resistance. The Great French Revolution of 1793 was the acceleration of such societies taking to the streets and violently insisting the end of monarchy (just as at the same moment the secret societies of the intensely more revolutionary “Black Jacobins” rose up in a conspiratorial insurrection against french colonialism in Haiti). The following massive rupture in France was the revolution of 1848, which was an insurrection against the bourgeoisie capture of the revolution; similarly this was instigated by secret societies and the insurrection itself was a result of a peoples banquet that spiraled out beyond the control of governmentality. Such banquets and popular festivities were often orchestrated by the secret societies, which gave them chance to organize in public as well as transmit traditions and knowledge from their former lands.
This technique used by the secret underworld synthesizes the supposed contrast argued by fellow republican tactician Machiavelli, who stated that, “the ability to wage open war against a prince is within the reach of a very few, while the possibility of conspiring against him is open to everyone”. In some cases a “very few” of an influential minority were able to turn riot into insurrection, by inciting open conspiracy into generalized rebellion. When les misérables revolted, les sectionnaires of the secret societies would be prepared: “In order to engage the people to participate in the insurrection, the members of the societies should disperse themselves widely, and begin to form barricades; from the moment they see the workers come join them, and when the number of those workers helping them surpasses their own, they should abandon the barricade to begin another one a little further on, and in this manner seize all the streets and fire on the troops without ever showing themselves in great number.”
Often revolt occurred on days of holiday and festivity when crowds and ritual celebration were enacted. The rites of carnival often involved the mocking of authority. Carnival was the time the world was wretched upside down. Riots became more consistent, and many that were instigated and lead by women were dismissed as bread riots, as if providing food for the family was the extent of their rebellion.
Whereas many secret societies upheld the gender segregation now firmly established through the campaign of extermination and confinement, others “allowed” women to sit in on the meetings and “even join the discussion” according to one woman in 1842. Many women were probably suspect of these all-men clubs, “our husbands were nearly all in secret societies… neglecting their work, spending all their money, always uneasy and upset, often arrested and prosecuted.” But women’s involvement in the societies, both of men’s and their own, was as intense as their fighting at the accompanying barricades.
Theroigne de Mericourt, the “Amazon of the French Revolution” conspired with fellow sex workers out of their burlesque club, before storming the Bastille and leading their own all female division into battle. Clubs and societies specifically for women were active in France during the insurrections of 1832 and 42. Finally exploding the gender ghettos, if only temporarily, was the Paris commune of 1872 where women mobilized in brigades each decorated in their societies own hats, fabrics, ribbons and different colored sashes to hold their swords and guns. They would collectively occupy churches and turn them into their societies headquarters. “Les pétroleuses were the sex workers, witches, and lady-proles of the paris commune whose “love of riot” burnt paris to the ground.” These are not exceptions but rather the rule; not gendered spheres, but the totality of struggle in the moments of insurrection.
Revolutionary agent, Augustine Blanqui who favored much prestige from decades of conspiratorial uprisings and barricade fighting, headed one such society that was formed as an insurrectionary vanguard and refused gendered roles: the Society of the Seasons. Formed in basic units of “weeks,” in which there are six insurgents and a leader named “Sunday,” — four weeks being combined into a “month”, led by “July”, three “months” a “season”, led by “spring” and four “seasons” a year, led by the “Revolutionary Agent.”
Peter Kropotkin saw the “direct line of descent” between the secret societies of the successive French revolutions: “a direct filiation from the enrages of 1789 and the Babeuf conspiracy of 1795 which was the origin of the communistes materialistes secret societies through which Blanqui conspired under the bourgeois monarchy.” There was also the “direct descent of ideas”; “as to ‘socialism’ we know this term came into vogue to avoided the term ‘communism’, which at one time was dangerous because the secret communist societies became societies for action.”
In this revolutionary epoch, which would lead to the Paris Commune of 1871, secret societies, sects, clubs, associations, unions of journeymen, women’s parlors, became the organized constitutive force of insurrection. As such the secret-insurgent became a new revolutionary subjectivity and thus open for appropriation. It would be the rise of the state-communist party which would first fight for the control of this historical subject, whom Marx denounced in their primitive stage as,
“those who embrace inventions that are supposed to perform revolutionary miracles: fire bombs, destructive machines with magical effects, riots that are to be more miraculous and surprising the less rational their foundation. Occupying themselves with such projects, they have no other aim but the immediate one of overthrowing the existing government, and they profoundly despise the more theoretical enlightenment of the workers regarding their class interests…it is they who erect the first barricades and command them.”
The state-communists party, that hierarchical entity whose future-worship is directed at the seizing of state power, originated in the take over of the most notorious and violent secret society fighting the class war – the Outlaws. Seeing the revolutionary potential in the massive gang that had aligned itself to the insurrectionary uprisings, political cadres swarmed to their taverns and secret meetings. Under the influence of political intervention the Outlaws became the League of the Just. A few short years later, as Walter Benjamin reminds us, “the publication of the communist manifesto, kills professional conspiracy,” and the League of the Just is finally thoroughly appropriated by the state-communist and becomes their first party — the League of Communists.
Blanqui watched this transformation take place from his prison cell, from which the conspirator who once led thousands with the call of “Bread or Iron!” now wrote mystically of the cosmic conspiracy that he called the eternal return; from whence our every action would be replicated across the eternity of the stars, forever to return in simulacrum. In his imprisoned madness can we not see here the vision of a universally diffuse struggle that’s centre is everywhere, but whose place is nowhere?
Outside of France the secret societies flourished in the gum ships, slave ships, pirate ships, barges, work ships, whalers, prisoner galleys, navy vessels and all other transporters of commerce and workers, which created a vast tri-continental conspiracy. This “many-headed hydra of the dangerous class” fought violently against their oppressors, whilst relieving their collective oppression with mutual aid. Mutual aid societies formed in most points of labor. As a result of colonization’s genocidal expansion, amongst the invading shock troops — slave labor, indentured labor, and unskilled laborers were shipped to the colonies, many to return to old Europe, and some to take the trip several times.
The diaspora and armed exodus of the Irish created such a trajectory of exporting secret societies against the state. While making up a significant number of the propertyless class in England, as well as taking the lion’s share of hangings; the Irish, though forced from their land and clan, brought their traditions to bare on their bourgeoisie overloads. Of the secret society the Irish White Boys:
The movement was clocked in anonymity and mystery. It was conducted under the sanction of being fairies. It was led by mythological figures such as Captain Right, Slasher, Thumper, Cropper, Madcap Set Fire, and Queen Sive. The frequent employment of secret oaths distinguished them from previous episodes of mass unrest, and contributed to endowing “hidden Ireland” with insurrectionary potential.
The ongoing legacy of Irish-insurgents still adorns our struggles today. The rebellious struggles in 1768 of coal heavers was organized around and through the riverside taverns. The “collective power of the tavern with its societies and its secrets was the continuation for Irish proletarians of their earlier Irish kinships (derbfine) and mutualism (meitheall) from which they had been displaced.” In organizing riots from the taverns, they brought river traffic to a standstill and stopped the imperialists entirely. Their tactic of “striking the sails” of ships in port –destroying the sails — generalized in deed to the point that the very term strike originates here; as does the red flag they would unfurl to declare combat. They organized in the tavern where everyone drank together regardless of gender or trade; they signed their secret societies proclamations with simply “seamen” as their title.
This continued throughout the on-going Irish displacement. Over 400 riots in British North America between 1800-50, not counting strikes, slowdowns and gathering, cumulated into the insurrection of labor in the 1850s. It was riots more than strikes that provided the Irish canallers with a special form of collective bargaining. “A state of virtual civil war existed along the Walland and canal in ’42, which canallers who referred to their secret societies and nocturnal meetings as midnight legislators gathered in bodies of 500, under the cover of darkness, marching bravely through towns and streets demanding work or bread.”
The participation of women and girls in these riots and paganistic rituals, we can assume to be commonplace. Not all women came to the colonies in toe with their family and many more came to escape such patriarchal domination. Life lived in such poverty and rupture would necessitate mass intervention in community mobilizations, and if shut out of the trade organizing of manual labor, certainly networks existed between domestic servitude and the gendered precarious labors. Socially, we know women were persecuted and killed still for, real and imagined, sabbat-like gatherings held outside the domain of man and law. Such an accounting of the times is hard to find, except in those few wild-singular exemptions which historians use to prove the social-norms. In B. Palmers book on Working Class Experience, he conceded, “women were active crowd participants in myriad British North America riots in the years around mid-century. They received wounds and were sometimes apprehended, yet they appear as shadowy images in the histories of collective confrontations.”
Not just riots and rising strike actions but more traditional means of vengeance were conducted from the darkness by these “shadowy images.” A study from Newfound Land on collective action in the 1830′s reports, “gibbeted corpses, ominous letters left stealthily, disguised vigilantes on lonely roads and boisterous parades of aggravated fishermen were common.” As well as, food riots, a United Irishmen uprising (a failed attempt to capture the island and trade it to England in exchange for a free Ireland), mummerings (in which the community would purge frustrations with neighbors, or target their enemies, by dressing in costume, burgle into homes, drink all their alcohol and yell or attack the residents), and riots to stop the displaying of the corpses of executed criminals whose bodies had been dissected under order of the court and left in public.
Such a legacy compliments the argument made by Peter Linebaugh in his books on the dangerous classes of the 17th century. He believes that the tradition of militant heterodoxy defines this era more so than Foucault’s history of confinement and punishment. Peter, with umpteen antidotes, called this evasion of governmentality and destruction of state institutions — the period of “excarceration.”
This excarceration was more than a counter-theatre of protest, the accumulation of turbulent parades, rallies, marches, military style drills and local secret societies led to insurrection in Upper Canada in 1837 followed by another insurrection in Lower Canada the year after. In sentencing to death one of the insurgents from the Upper Rebellion the judge proclaimed:
not having the fear of god in his heart nor weighing the duty of his allegiance but being moved and seduced by the devil, he did devise and intended to disturb the peace and public tranquility of the province with 500 people armed and arranged in war like manner, that is to say with colors flying and with guns, rifles, swords, pistols, pikes, clubs and other weapons as well offensive and defensive being then and their unlawfully, maliciously and traitorously assembled and gathered together against our present sovereign lady the queen.
In Lower Canada, the insurrectionary movement was more protracted, encompassing two distinct rebellions that gathered not hundreds in armed confrontation against the state, as in the upper rebellion, but as many as 10,000 settlers. The Fils de la Librte, a secret society of youth, women, journeymen, unskilled and unemployed, denounced by Tory politicians as “social levelers, runaway negros and people who have neither habitation nor property,” ran wild in the streets singing, “come with us; we’re all armed, we have fun; its like a wedding; we drink; eat, play fiddle, dance, we’re free, we do what we want, its our right, we poke fun at the king, the queen, and the clergy.”
Following their defeat, insurgents regrouped in the shadows and formed the Frères Chasseurs. They were an expansive and elaborate secret society with rituals and codes similar to their comrades in France. Organized in “Hunters Lodges” into groups named Beaver Tails and Snow Shows, their plan was to march on Montréal, seize all the banks, utilities and transportation lines, confiscate property and declare a revolutionary provisional government. Their failed conspiratorial uprising was answered by Crown loyalists and Orangemen death squads with mass hangings and rapes; the terror and plundering of settlements was the scorched earth policy meted out by the state after a decade of insurrectionary fervor. One hundred years after the revolts, the thousand militants from Canada fighting in the Spanish Civil War named themselves the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, after two rebels from the Upper and Lower Rebellions.
In Settlers: The Making of the White Proletarian, J. Sakai states, “the industrial age developed in a crucial contradiction; the new white masses could not be both savagely exploited proletarians and also loyal privileged settlers. In the pressure of industrial capitalism which started to mold this new proletarians there is then a threshold.” The threshold we return to seek is the suppression and dissolvent of proletarian secret societies –the removing of the mask of conspiracy.
The pacific west coast has been the ancient home to secret societies. Amongst indigenous nations secret societies mark the seasons and rites of passage, as well as perform ritualized dispersions of wealth and power. Prior to Invasion almost everyone living on what is now known as Vancouver Island belonged to the Tloo-qwah-nah Society (potlatch). In the 19th century, Vancouver Island was the edge of empire. With an influx of refugees from various upheavals in numerous lands around the world, settling the land of indigenous peoples who resisted colonization made for a threshold, which illuminates this on-going holocaust. From Germany, Flanders, and the English commonwealth courtiers, folks made it to the coast after working or failing to find work back east and in the States. Bringing with them informal organizations they fought the bosses in the mines and in the forests.
One cry from a wilderness outpost by a colonial agent to his superiors gives voice to the tension of this dynamic setting; “…it is more over highly desirable that there should be a resident magistrate at Fort Rupert as the miners and laborers there have shown a marked disposition to riot, which if not checked will lead to serious consequences; the Indian population being numerous, savage and treacherous; and the distance from Victoria and the total want of means of communication.”
The first coalmine on Vancouver Island was opened by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1848, near Kwagiulth villages. “between 1850 and 1914 more than a dozen noteworthy strikes and lockouts occurred from Extenson north to Cumberland. Responding to dangerous conditions, as well as wage fluctuations and challenges to their limited control over the workplace, the miners established friendly or benevolent societies, trade unions and political parties.”
Following this above trajectory noted in a banal history of “BC”, we can see the institutionalization of labor conflict through the capture of societies outside the state. Trying to bridge autonomous associations was the Miner’s Mutual Protective Society in 1877. Followed by the Knights of Labor in ’83 who injected their style of white supremacy that had been forged in keeping out women and “non-white” workers throughout the States and eastern Canada. Closing the century and closing the pre-union combinations of workers was the Miners Laborer Protective Association, who actively sought the embougoisiment of a skilled elite over transient/unskilled labor.
The miners would continue to violently resist and organize covertly, such as during the massive strikes in Cumberland and Nanaimo and with the establishment of the Miners Liberation League. But any and all material gains made were at the service of colonial expansion and genocide. J. Sakai critiques the IWW who still hold a special place in the hearts of many of us for their actions, songs and the underground organizing of their “unknown committee”. He correctly insists that, “IWW slogans of One Big Union never countered colonialism and as such their syndicalism only extended the limited privileges of early unionism to the un-organized mass which was then assimilated.”
In this violent assimilation process which helped solidify the early biopolitical apparatus –racial identities were stripped and imposed on bodies, those who were not considered white, were welcomed now as such, and a new class of Others were excluded. To fulfill the wish sequence of the newly settled petty bourgeois, trade unions were established with the aid of bosses to secure social peace and racist exploitation. With indigenous populations for the most part exterminated –their survivors forced into reserves and residential schools, white labor turned its violence to the Chinese and Japanese diasporas who had made their way east to the west coast.
But just as the earlier invasion shock troops found the indigenous resistance fierce, the new white working class would not make easy prey out of whom they would soon come to decry collectively as the Yellow Peril.
There is an old Chinese saying: the officials draw their power from the law; the people, from the secret societies. In 1863 the first Chinese Freemasons society was established in “BC.” 200 years earlier the same secret society, which had now changed its name from Hang-an, overthrew their Mang Chu occupiers. Looking back at their history one current member of the Chinese Masons said, “it wasn’t up to us to be secretive or not, life is precious right? So at that time we always used alternative identities to hide our rebellious intentions and other secret missions.”
In her book, Primitive Revolutionaries of China, Fei-Ling Davis writes:
The associations of mutual aid (craft and trade guilds, heterodox religious sects and secret societies) gave a degree of security to their members, which the orthodox legal institutions were unable or unwilling to provide. As unofficial organizations, they were periodically subjected to government persecution. It was custom therefore, for heterodox and popular organizations to keep themselves more or less within the limits of official tolerance, and by confining their activities to economic, religious and criminal spheres, to avoid any wider political contest with their rulers. In periods of crisis, however, it was no longer in their interest to continue pursuing this policy. When the centripetal forces were out of government control, the centrifugal forces naturally came into their own. It was at such moments that the underprivileged, sensing their freedom, surged through the breeches in the political structure, and forcibly seized power.
Those who paid 34 dollars to make the 60-day journey to “BC” where mostly from the southeast province of Guangdong. Most fled the poverty intensified by the opium wars and many were escaping punishment for the Taiping rebellion which took place there in 1851. Mutual Aid Societies were founded immediately upon their arrival. The attitude of such societies was “if there was a problem we would help Chinese people. That is all.” Knowledgeable of the Boxer Rebellion in which secret societies that trained in martial arts rose up against colonial settlers, and the recent republican revolution made by the uniting of secret societies such as the Elder Brothers with Triad gangs in China, the Chinese and Japanese folks were able to defend themselves from the racist invasion of their Vancouver community in 1907 by a white mob mobilized by the Vancouver District Labor Council. For days they defended their streets with arms fired from secret passageways, and projectiles thrown above from adjoined buildings, while people moved freely in tunnels underground.
Resisting the status quo of xenophobic exclusion and defying capital’s segregation of workers, class solidarity existed in the fragmented settler societies and at times there was even solidarity with indigenous resistance. Along the Fraser River and Salish Sea, those who fished it had long fought a war in the fisheries against the few who wanted to control it.
Many are familiar with the image of early 20th-century west coast natives because of the photographic works of Edward Curtis, who made his expedition in 1912 to the Kwakiutl to stage their “traditional ways of life”. As it turns out the Kwakiutl fishermen had just gone on strike against a new cannery — it was these strikers who now had the time and desire to dress-up and play. These strikers who posed and reenacted past battles, remind us of Pierre Clastres when he wrote that, “Those without a history, have a history of war against the state; those with a history, it is one of violent class war.”
One native elder looking back at the years of early organizing stated, “we were always able to take care of our ourselves; Indians didn’t join unions.” For the most part true it was not always the case on the west coast. In 1900 indigenous fishers established a local of the “BC” Fishermen’s Union. And in Vancouver native dockworkers joined the IWW with there own chapter called, the Bow and Arrows Club. There are accounts of the bosses decrying the “devilish strikes” stressing the “alliances between races” and strikes led by “Indian fishermen unaffiliated with any union.” The first major strike of salmon fishermen and women canners on the Fraser went down in 1893, under the banner of the Fraser River Fishers Benevolent Protective Association. Bringing indigenous, white and Japanese proletarians together, it finally lost because it could not maintain solidarity amongst shifting and manipulated ethnic allegiances. The unions and bosses would exploit this throughout the rise and crash of the fisheries industry.
Throughout the numerous strikes, indigenous fishermen would for the most part be outsiders from the white-led unions. Remaining as informal groups acting “under their own tribal leadership” they would start and support strikes. Accounted in the book Indians at Work, one form of indigenous solidarity during a strike was to remove their labor in a “general exodus back to their homes north.” When the militia was brought in to crush a strike in Stevenson, “Indians, whites, and Japanese joined in song, surrounded the military barracks and sang in mock parody ‘Soldiers of the Queen’.”
Indigenous survival both physically, spiritually and culturally was dependent upon their continuance of secret societies. With the enforcement of the Indian Act, west coast natives went underground with many of their traditions. Like the ghost dances of the southern nations, Potlatches were organized across vast stretches of land by secret communications in total defiance of the white man’s law. Underground railroads were established by children fleeing residential schools. And war parties met in secret so as to attack from the shadows.
The last multiple tribe organization for some time, was mobilized during the Red River Uprising in 1884. The insurrection was a series of uprisings conducted by allegiances made between hunting societies of the Plains Indians and the various Métis societies who all conspired in secret prior to the rebellion. The Canadian military was brought in to suppress the insurrection and subsequently much effort was made by the state to undermine and sever those relationships made during the insurrectionary period.
Few formal organizations came into existence at the turn of the twentieth century, most remaining “extra kin” groupings, such as the Allied Tribes. It was during the depression crisis of the hungry thirties, “when things got really bad and during our informal talks at the council meetings the question of helping fellow Indians came up; and then that was the birth of Indian Brotherhood.” Operating on the peripheral of the law, this organization attracted many folks, including the Pacific Coast Native Fishing Association.
But just as the law of the state intervened in early labor by imposing a legal structure upon the societies and framing them by laws such as the Conspiracy Act and Combination Act; the Indian Act also cleaved indigenous communities and constructed legal institutions of native representation. Only the band council as approved by the state could exist and all other societies would be outside the law, and as such, would be lawless.
In the 1940′s the Society Act incorporated the Indian Brotherhood, so as to “offer salvation in assimilation.” Now pressed into the light and surveiled, many political activities of the Brotherhood would go underground. George Manual, who would author the manifesto for the Fourth World, in which he articulates how indigenous societies are outside the spatial and hierarchical world nation-states, was an organizer with the Brotherhood and would organize secret meetings networked across Turtle Island under the guise of a sanctioned and state funded lacrosse league. During the decades leading up to the seventies such underground work inflamed the spirit of Red Power, and make militant the call for national liberation and self-determination. In the occupied Coast Salish territory of Vancouver, the Native Alliance for Red Power mobilized urban rebels and organized a cop-watch in the downtown eastside called the Beothuck patrol, named after the exterminated nation from the east coast.
But this uprising was captured by the state and co-opted by money. While in the United States the American Indian Movement was being decimated by paramilitary violence and counterintelligence operations (cointell-pro), the pacification campaign in Canada inverted the US military’s theory (as claimed in their manual during the Iraq occupation), that “counter-insurgency is social work with a gun”, by ensuring that social work is counter-insurgency without a gun.
As noted by Zig-Zag in his organizing manual STORM, “masks worn by native warriors are regalia and part of traditional indigenous cultures.” They not only create secret identities but they are portals to past histories and emergent potentialities. They can transfix the individual, removing them from the mass, or when the mask is worn collectively, individualities are negated, leaving a communal entity. The mask covers the face; the face is the threshold between inner life and the outer world. With the mask on, the outer world is confronted by animosity and now becomes a shared experience with those around you who also wear the mask. Without negating individualism the mask abolishes identities and suspends identification. This is the communization of the mask.
In an earlier comic, Zig-Zag depicts in several panels various masks worn in struggles throughout the global civil war; there is the carved mask, the keffiyeh, balaclava, bandana, and the ski mask. When one dons the mask you can at times feel yourself in a transversive portal. Anyone who has anonymously participated in a black block has discovered this feeling in their body. Our bodies adorned in the regalia of masks, banners, sticks and hammers become disorientated within the assemblages of barricades, broken glass, fire; we lose ourselves to the rhythm of chants, smashing, laughter. The riot becomes a carnival, which becomes a ceremonious intervention into past historical struggles, as if the whole world might come apart at any moment…
As noted just above the red power just like black and brown power, or any counter-power that attempts to challenge the state without the black mask of conspiratorial secrecy is doomed to represent violent repression and/or codifying integration. Only secret societies outside the state, which reject representation, have a chance to avoid capture and create the free space needed to organize informally; this judgment is best experienced by the Warrior Societies.
Perhaps in the spirit of the ghost dance –that messianic ritual which called forth the Redeemer in song and dance to do away with the white settlers and return balance back to the land; a singing society was formed by Mohawks in Kahnawake in 1968. Over the next few years traditional singers, already calling themselves warriors, would found the first Warrior Society. “Although the term warrior society had never been used before in Iroquois history, there was a long tradition of warriors in all Iroquois nations.” According to the book People of the Pines, “there was also a long history of Iroquois secret societies, including medicine societies and false face (mask) societies, which kept their cultural traditions alive in ceremonies and rituals. The warrior society combined these two traditions.”
Some wanted to name the society Rotiskenrahkehteh, which translates into “warriors” and means those “who carry the burden of peace” and transmits the original sense of warrior under the Great Law of Peace. But instead they went for the psychological edge, calling themselves Warrior Society, so as to “capitalize on their fear” explained Louis Karoniakajeh Hall, who incited in his warrior hand book: “Let us shatter the night by our own wild yells and war whoops.” When asked what can such a secret society do, Karoniakajeh who had designed the first warrior flag (and would redesign it again until it featured profiles of both a man and woman warrior representing all native nations with a golden sun behind them on a red background), he responded, “What can a warrior society do? They can dump bridges into rivers which are now sewers, and into the seaway, cancelling all traffic; knock out powerhouses and high-tension power lines; punch holes into reactors of nuclear plants.”
At the time of its sanctioning as an official society of the Longhouse, the Warrior Society had 30 members at Kahnawake. Most were young and from the Longhouse, which itself was enjoying a rapid growth in popularity. After decades as an underground organization, holding secret meetings to avoid police raids, the Longhouse was now openly supported by most of the community. In direct conflict with the band council and in total antagonism against the Indian Act, the Longhouse was a society outside and directed against the state.
In her perspective on resisting invasion, Donna Goodleaf writes in her book Entering the War Zone, that “the Longhouse continues to be the spiritual centre where traditional ceremonies, social and political gatherings take place. It symbolizes the heartbeat of the people.” She explains the social structure of the clan system, Bear, Wolf and Turtle, and outlines the various societies; “although each society has separate functions and responsibilities, final political decisions result from a consensus of the people working as a collective (…) Women have always shared in the responsibilities concerning the community, nation, and the Confederacy. They are sisters, mothers, aunties, grandmothers, and Clan mothers.” She stresses the heavy burden carried by women to “free their people from oppressive elements within the dominant society as well as in their own societies.”
In 1973 the warriors engaged in their first pitched battle, which would set the course towards multiple armed confrontations. The first conflict started as an eviction campaign and escalated into an armed counter-siege at the Longhouse. The warriors issued eviction notices to the white settlers living on the reserve territory: “If you do fail to comply with this request, physical action will be taken by the Warrior Society.” Accompanied by two members of AIM, who had just arrived from the siege at Wounded Knee, and hundreds of Mohawks from the community, the warriors took over a settler’s house and were in turn invaded by a massive police force. In the hard fought arrest, the house was torched and then when the police station got surrounded, a riot freed the prisoners. Back at the Longhouse, warriors dug foxholes and an armed standoff lasted a week.
In ensuing battles, AK-47′s became part of their expanding regalia and gun of choice. The next decade, smokes sold by the Longhouse, would see to better equipment and as a result, organizational capacity.
We cannot provide the space for a decent overview of the Oka insurrection, that in 1990 saw the Mohawk nations rise behind the vast crest of the Warrior Society to combat the Canadian military in a pure war that would come to symbolize the neo-colonial liberation movement of the 4th World. We will assume the reader knows enough and if has not viewed the film, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance directed by Alanis Obomsawin, will find it streaming online.
Along with the barricades that blossomed across Turtle Island during Oka, several new warrior driven societies came into bloom. In ’95 in “BC” at the standoff in Ts’peten, Gustafsen Lake –warriors responded to a call for help from elders and others holding a sun dance. The ensuing armed defense and assertion of indigenous sovereignty in the face of a massive state force, inspired “a new generation of indigenous resistance in ‘BC’.” Societies such as the Native Youth Movement and the West Coast Warrior Society would militate for an intensified struggle towards decolonization.
What we are drawing out here is not a historical continuum marking the progress of indigenous organizations since Invasion, but rather a consistence of resistance.
The existence of a heterogeneous time and the asymmetrical space of such resistance — from which societies against the state wage permanent attack, is theorized as a plane of consistency. This thinking is best described by the actions of the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en, two nations in northern “BC” who currently have constructed the first barricade (of many to come) against the imperial pipelines.
We quote at length an article by Skanu’u, from the book Colonialism on Trial:
“This chapter of our history tells how we took direct action to protect ourselves, our land and our resources from the time of the earliest European contact. These specific actions are by no means the only ones we took to protect our interests, but they do offer an insight into the consistency and commitment of our people in addressing the injustices of the colonial powers.
In the early 1800′s, when the first Europeans fur-traders arrived, they were unable to infiltrate our trading and economic systems in the Northwest because they had nothing we needed or wanted that we couldn’t get from our tribal neighbors. We resisted then.
When the government surveyors came to measure our reserves, we confiscated their equipment, pulled stakes from the ground and escorted them firmly out of the territory. We resisted the.
When miners negligently caused the burning of houses and poles in the village of Gitsegukla, the Chief’s and their House members protested their actions and the inactivity of the colonial government by blockading Skeena River. When the influx of miners grew and began to occupy parts of the territories without the consent of the Houses, our people protested.
The list grew longer as the world progressed into the 20th century. Our family’s hid the children from missionaries and Indian agents so they would not be shipped out to residential schools; our Feasts went underground with the passing of the anti-Potlatch laws; we held secret meetings to discus the “land question” when it became illegal for “Indians” to meet to discuss land issues; we hid family regalia to escape the burning barrels of the missionaries; Chief’s were arrested for halting road-building; women stoned federal Fishing Officers sent to blow up a rock in Hagwilget canyon; young children suffered daily strapping’s from missionaries of Indian day schools for continuing to speak their own language in school.
As the forces, restrictions and impositions grew and spread throughout the territories, the Chief’s and House members necessarily grew more creative and aggressive in their resistance. We rebuilt and re-occupied fish camps to resist the restrictions of the Department of Fisheries. In Gitwangax, at the Anki Iss fish camp, women and children pelted well-armed officers with marshmallows as they attempted to break through the human blockade to seize a net from the river.
On the territories, we blockaded logging roads and set up camps in an attempt to slow down the clear cutting of timber. We blockaded railroads to bring a halt to the hazardous spraying of chemicals. A well-coordinated blockade at the Babine River was successful in keeping logging companies and the Province from opening up the untouched northern territories of the Gitksan to logging.
As much as the governments and big businesses want the general public to believe that our vocal and active protests are a newly created activity, the reality is that, historically and to the present, we have been active in our resistance to be silenced and to be made invisible.
The reality is that our societies, our cultures and our systems are alive and well. They have sustained us through more than 150 of the darkest, most destructive years that our people have ever known and will continue to sustain us as we reassume our right to be self-sufficient, self-reliant and self-governing.
What must be, will be.”
The theory of secret societies against the state within a plane of consistency might be helped by Walter Benjamin’s notion of pure means –that is means without ends. In his essay Critique of Violence (the violence which upholds the state), he locates violent means in its relation to ends. For the ends to be just the means must be justified, and only law has the power to proclaim such justness. So, the means is always legal and end is always law. Violent means serve the law by either constituting it or sustaining it. That is –law-making, through forcing legal concession and law-preserving, by threats, punishment and states of emergency.
Exploding this circle of law is a means that has no ends. As it is pure it does not seek to be subsumed back into the state and as such exists outside of law –It is law-destroying.
The antagonism between the two is exemplified by the strike. The political strike is a violent means (of extortion) that demonstrates “how the state will lose none of its strength, how power is transferred from the privileged to the privileged, how the mass of producers will change their masters.” In contrast to the political strike is the proletarian general strike, Benjamin again quotes Sorel from his Reflections on Violence, “The proletarian general strike sets itself the sole task of destroying state power (…) it clearly announces indifference towards material gain through conquest by declaring its intention to abolish the state.”
The political strike is violent and it is legal. It is allowed so as to suppress a more hostile counter-violence, for, as Benjamin points out, was there not a time not too long ago when “workers resorted at once to sabotage and set fire to the factories?” The legal strike reconciles and because it allows the state to continue its violent plundering, while reproducing the conditions of mere life (bare-life, the existent) –it is itself violent.
The general strike as pure means seeks as it’s only end that of the violence of the state, and in the states abolition to find natural existence (forms-of-life, singularities, whatever). As such the general(ized) strike is non-violent and can not be held accountable to the moral accusations made by the state that its violence is unjust, for as Benjamin warns in his call for human strike, “the modern economy, seen as a whole, resembles less a machine that stands idle when abandoned by its stoker than a beast that goes berserk as soon as its master turns his back.”
So the violence of pure means is a revolutionary violence, which seeks to destroy the power of the state, which upholds its law from the violent preservation of its myths. This revolutionary violence is divine, as it outside the rule of myth and it pursues the destruction of myth with pure immediate violence, “for if mythical violence is law-making, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former set boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them, if mythical violence brings at once guilt and retribution, dive power only expiates; if the former threats, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood.”
This divine violence that stands outside the power of law attacks the state so as to bring about its downfall. To strive for this messianic intensity, that at any moment can rupture the order of the world, is the “happy task”, as described in his Theological-Political Fragment, “whose method must be called nihilism.” The method of nihilism as pure means has no ends, as it has no future; as a conscious negative force it demands nothing and occupies everything.
Benjamin concludes his critique of violence by adding that “if the rule of myth is broken occasionally in the present age, the coming age (he is speaking not of homogenous time but of the epoch of autonomous messianic time) is not so unimaginatively remote that an attack on law is altogether futile.” But, if, he stresses, “the existence of violence outside the law, as pure immediate violence, is assured, this furnishes the truth that revolutionary violence is possible.” Assuring this outside from which to attack is the plane of consistency; the assemblage of lines of flight out from the state, from which we wage permanent conspiracy and “direct constant anarchist insurrection”.
Methods of nihilism~
Before we speak to the above-mentioned method of nihilism, let us speak of some nihilists, then and now. Nihilism as a secret society against the state was first dynamiting the foundations of society in czarist Russia. During the first decade after the emancipation of the serfs, 1860-70, nihilism was a struggle for the liberation of the mind as much as for the liberation of the labor-class from the remnants of serfdom. According to Stepniak in his book of time spent in the Russian Underground, “the fundamental principle of nihilism was absolute individualism. It was negation, in the name of individual liberty, of all obligations imposed upon the individual by society, by family life and by religion.” Following this line, the forces of nihilism where atheism, reason, and gender emancipation –dangerous women, armed to the teeth, storming the gates of heaven.
As societies of nihilism spread, a social movement of negation gathered along the call for the destruction of positivist belief and reactionary institutions. But this brief period of outreach failed under the repression of the police and because, “we did not succeed because we were mere talkers, incapable of real work.” Recomposing themselves back to the shadows of secret societies, nihilism retreated as a popular demand and “’Let Us Act!’ became as general as that of “among the people” had been those few years.”
The years 76-78 where periods of demonstrations, reported back as: “more or less energetic.” Again funerals were warzones, as they had been in the French uprisings and as during Act Up! riots, when comrades carried the coffins of their lovers into battle and ashes of friends murdered by AIDS were thrown at the charging police. But the disproportion between the material forces of the state and those of the revolutionists’ were impossible to overcome in such street battles, then- as now.
For the pro-revolutionary nihilists “it became evident that by this path there could be no advance other than voluntary sacrifice.” Demonstrations of every kind were abandoned and from ’78 entirely disappeared. The method of nihilism shifted from that of revolution with its “tears of rage and grief” for imprisoned and killed comrades, to a terror “of blood, of hatred and of vengeance.”
The first targets of terrorism where the immediate enemies — the spies and snitches. These first “sanguinary acts” triggered an escalation of attacks, for, as arguably the first ever terrorist communiqué pointed out — in their taking claim for assassinating the chief of police: “if time were consumed in killing a vile spy, why allow the gendarmerie to live on with impunity who sent him forth, or the procurator who from information from the spy obtained materials for ordering the arrest, or the head of police who directed everything?” with this “courage to be logical” the escalatory campaign took “in a single bound what might have otherwise required several years”.
On January 24 1878, the “memorable” shot was fired by the revolver of Vera Zasulich against general Trepoff, whom had ordered an imprisoned nihilist to be flogged. The general pleasure felt by the approving mob by this direct action encouraged a tsunami of terrorism that surged forward to decimate the autocracy.
This period is sketched by Stepniak as a duel between the emperor and the nihilists:
“Three times the adversaries met face-to-face. Three times the terrorists by the will of fate was overthrown, but after each defeat he arose more threateningly and powerful than before. To the attempt of Solovieff succeeded that of Hartman, which was followed by the frightful explosion at the winter palace, the infernal character of which seemed to surpass everything the imagination could conceive. But it was surpassed on March 13th; once more the adversary’s grappled each other, and this time the omnipotent emperor fell half dead on the ground. The terrorist had won.”
Of course there was no such victory, and the societies of nihilism continued on the dialectical dance of killing and being killed, descending into death cults like the cell aptly named Hell. Lenin’s older brother, a proclaimed nihilist was killed by the czarist hangman. Years later, with the collapse of czarist Russia the remaining nihilist were purged from the industrial soviets by the communist parties, and Lenin would never again spoke of his brother or his wild call for the abolition of the state.
But as a de-stitutive force, nihilism remains as a method of destruction, and history reawakens to usher new configurations of secret societies informally organized around the pure means of conscious nihilism. Exploding the false alternative between ends and means, insurrectionary queer negation theory seeks being-into-a-means. A living-wild that abolishes reality in a conspiratorial anti-political experience of thought and action of pure mediality without end.
From Baedan a journal of queer nihilism:
An insurrectionary, queer anti-politics functions to interrupt the closed circuitry of emptiness- politics- emptiness. Halting the ceaseless pursuit of a better world, or project centers itself on immediate fulfillment, joy, conflict, vengeance, conspiracy and pleasure. Rather than politics, we engage in social war. Without demands, we expropriate what we desire. Instead of representation, we rely on autonomous self-organization. We do not protest, we attack. As with our queerness, our anti-politics strives to escape political identification or ideological attachment to this or that political subjectivity.
Later the method of nihilism is addressed in the action of self-organization; “the intertwining of the desires of autonomous groups in the process of struggle is exactly what we understand to be an insurrectionary process—the multiplication and diffusion of anal groupings.”
Anal groupings are theorized by Guy Hocquenghem as “forms of sexual collectivity which destroy the Family and serve no purpose in the social orders future. In grouping anal desire, queer formations are able to sabotage all the psychic fantasies which lie at the heart of the civilized order.” Thus one biopolitical attack of queer nihilism is the generalization of ass-fucking, as — “to be fucked in the ass is to sabotage the bodily integrity through which the individual in his realm of the private is constructed.”
Deploying these and other means of attack from the infinite potentialities of queer nihilism was the secret society Bash Back! BB! was started in 2007 as a network of queer anarchists with a desire to attack the democratic and republican conventions. The network of glitter and baseball bats spread fast, becoming national and made up of local chapters whose requirement for membership was adopting the points of unity. The national character of BB! stressed the need for extremely informal networking between autonomous chapters; and action and attack over theory and talk.
According to Reflections on the Demise of BB!, following a BB! summit in 2009 the national character of the network began to dissolve, partly due to the lack of actions being carried out by multiple chapters, and more intensity directed within local spaces and clandestine activity. Prior to the unanimous declaration of BB!’s death, a final conference articulated the tensions of the national network; disputes of org vs. anti-org, affirming queer identities vs. negating identity, autonomy vs. revolt. Most seemed to have left the conference reassured “that the project had reached the end of its usefulness and letting go was no cause for concern. Now relationships existed that would not have existed had BB! not been formed.”
With BB! dead, some looked “to put the war back into social war.” Seeing one or two affinity groups as “cheap shit” some insurrectionary queers “looked to get consistent,” and the way to find one another was to form a crew. In the communiqué, I-Don’t-Bash-Back-I-Shoot-First, such a crew outlined their desire to fuck-shit-up and how they go about it. Besides the gang logic of violence and taking space, they speak to the way a crew attacks together; experimenting with what they call open ties, which includes: group strolls, picking fights, write up on walls, vandalize everything—making visible ones violence and generalizing it through excitement.
The second kind of experimentation is the closed form, more “obtuse and opaque, but no less fun.” This means secrecy, “simply quieter forms,” “talking your criminal shit only in private,” “learning to signal ever so subtly,” “having a lot more planned actions and goals.”
Towards the queerest insurrection, the element of secrecy is celebrated, “We’ve got one of the best tactics ever, the secret potential of the closets. Something we use. You could appear to all the world as just isolated, normative cis-hetero people, and they will never see it coming –looking like a queer later can throw off any description cops have when looking for you.” What this ultra violent queer crew stresses is that “mixing up open and closed formulations creates a powerful dynamic for conflict.”
During the Oakland commune there was and continues to be an insurrectionary experimentation with the conspiratorial formulations of a gang. Conscious of the gangs historical proclivity to being just another “illegitimate capitalist,” as denounced by the Bay Area’s Black Panther Party back in the 70′s, the lawless ones recently wrote in their war manual, that gangs in Oakland have a long history of consistent gang experimentation. From the exodus from the south, gangs flourished in the 50′s, pushing out whites and creating autonomous community networks. In the 60-70′s some gang members, many of whom regarded themselves as “orphans of the civil rights movement” joined up with the BPP, many gangs did not but a mutual respect for one another did flourish in the face of police violence.
40 years later in a spirit not seen in Oakland since the BPP, the Oakland commune exploded in criminal freedom. The commune was “home to the rebels, warriors, criminals and rejects of Oakland and beyond.” It was a “emotional and intellectual activity orientated toward the creation of new gang formations and cooperation among existing ones.” The occupiers were not the only ones to conceive of themselves as gang; the state responded to this self-organization as gang-activity. Implementing various counter-insurgency methods that had long been used on street gangs, such as gang injunctions, anti-loitering ordinances, youth curfew and stay away orders. This of course just inflamed the rebel culture and intensified their experiments in living together –”gangsters fighting along side anarchists, jiggalos harassing the media with norteneos, and feminists camping with drug dealers.”
These forms-of-life meeting and becoming whatever together is the reawakening of the gang formation upon a plain of consistency, so that, “our crimes are ones that serve not only for survival but also towards the destruction of the apparatuses that hold our lives hostage.”
The Occupations and communes did not melt away the real material differences between oppressed peoples. Rather, at the best instances, the material foundations of separation were attacked, knowing that “Nothing unified and revolutionary will be formed until each section of the exploited will have made its own autonomous power felt.”
Upon this footing in the metropolis, we can join Tiqqun, when asking How is it to be Done?- they speak of a “new war of partisans.” We too feel like partisans with no front, in “a war whose foci concentrate themselves away from commercial flows, while still remaining plugged in to them.”
We echo the anger of the young Jewish anti-fascist partisanas, when she said:
My god! Create? Destroy, destroy and destroy again whatever the strength left in these young muscles would allow. For destruction is the only power we have left now. The only thing still worth a candle. Everything else will pass: only their destruction will endure. It is a paradox with few equals. The young and the able-bodied, with the potential to build new worlds, the ones who had for years, on a daily basis, been laying the foundations of belief in a well-rounded humanity, now must make bloodshed, harrying activity, sabotage, rubble, destruction, and annihilation life’s crowning achievement.
A contemporary of Walter Benjamin, not a comrade, but a thinker who shared some of his same thoughts, C. Schmitt wrote of the partisanas in an attempt to capture the legal essence of the combatant. Appreciating how he formulated his theories upon the ridge of enmity we will steal some of his insights from an otherwise useless booklet, On Partisans– in his words and ours:
The aspect of space: in partisanas battle a complexly structured new space of action emerges, because the partisanas does not fight on an open field of battle nor on the same plane of open frontal war. Rather, they focus their enemies into other space. To the space of regular traditional theatre of war they, thus, add another, darker dimension, a dimension of depth, in which the displayed uniform becomes deadly. In this they provide an unexpected (but no less effective for that) terrestrial analogy to the submarine, which likewise adds an unexpected dimension of depth to the surface of the sea, where old fashion naval warfare was once played out. From underground, they disturb the conventional and regular game on the open stage. On the basis of their irregularity, they alter dimensions not only of tactical, but strategical operations of the regular army. Exploiting the privileged relation to the ground, relatively small groups of partisanas can tie down large masses of regular troops.
Irregularity: the partisanas fights irregularly, the force and significance of their irregularity is determined by the force and significance of the regular that is challenged by them. The partisanas irregularity refers not only to a “political line” or formation as it did, when the partisanas was a lightly formed troop, nor to the proud uniform of the regular troop. The irregularity of class struggle calls not just the military line but- the whole edifice of political-social order into question. To be a partisanas is to avoid carrying weapons openly, the partisanas being the ones who fight from ambushes, who wears the enemy uniform and whatever insignia serves their turn. Secrecy and darkness are the strongest weapons; they cannot do without them without abandoning their space of irregularity, which means: without ceasing to be partisanas.
Increased mobility: agility, speed, and the sudden change of surprise attack and retreat- increased mobility in a word- are even today a hallmark of the partisanas, and this has only increased with mechanization, motorization and complex- technological diffusion.
Intensity of insurrectionary commitment: the intense insurrectionary charter of the partisanas is crucial since they have to be distinguished from the “illegitimate capitalist”, whose motives aim at private enrichment, or the political cadre who fight to establish state-power. The partisanas, by contrast, fight from outside the state on an asymmetrical anti-political front, and it is precisely the insurrectionary character of their action that brings to the fore again the original sense of the word partisan. The word is derived from Partie and refers to the relation to some kind of fighting, warring, or radically active party or secret societies.
Hearing the anti-fascist partisanas from above who calls out to us still, to destroy this world –we continue to share the shadows with the partisanas who’s deeds are remembered in song: “And no one can solve the secret/Who is this girl, what is her name? /She comes in the angry Ghetto-autumn/Spreading the scent of Revenge, consolation.”
These shadows are our plain of consistency and the new partisan war is fought from them.
The Informal Anarchist Federation (IAF) occupies that consistency held by the bomb throwing anarchists of the 19th century and the armed insurgents who rejected the Marxist-Leninist vanguardist cells of the 70-80′s. Operating as a global threat, the IAF has struck from over a dozen countries.
Their “Who We Are” statement reads like it was taken from any singular moment of the permanent conspiracy of the anarchists:
We have created the Informal Anarchist Federation, that is to say a federation formed either by groups of action or by single individuals, in order to go beyond the limits implied in single projects and to experiment the real potentialities of informal organization. We strongly believe that only a chaotic and horizontal organization, without bosses, authorities or central committees taking decision, can fulfill our need for freedom here and now. Our goal is to have an organization reflecting the view of the anarchist society, which we struggle for.
And like the anarchists of old, they believe first in secrecy and second in the power of the deed:
Through widespread actions it is possible to conciliate organization and theoretical/practical debate on the one hand, and the anonymity of groups/individuals on the other. Actions, in fact, besides bringing their specific message of destruction/construction, also propose other kinds of message, such as the ones implied in their methods and instruments.
But words are weapons too, so lets have them spell it out:
Informal: We consider the informal organization as the only kind of organization capable of preventing the creation of any authoritarian and bureaucratic mechanism. It allows us to keep our independence as individuals and/or groups and to resist power with continuity.
Anarchist: Because we want the destruction of capital and the State.
Federation: In the informal federation, communication must be based on a horizontal and anonymous debate, which will come out of the practice (claims of actions) and of the widespread of theories through the means of communication of the movement. In other words, the meeting will be substituted by an anonymous and horizontal debate between groups or individuals who communicate through practice. The federation is our strength, that is to say the strength of groups or individuals that help one another through a well-defined pact of mutual support.
One group out of the galaxy of other insurrectionary groups, has by their capture by the state, come to give a precise voice to the experiment of violent freedom and life lived wildly within a secret society. The Greek group the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire operate autonomously in the IAF and were arrested in 2009-10. Claiming responsibility for numerous attacks, they received global applause for one such action which reached back to 1892-1901, the Decade of Regicide, when anarchists killed more creeps of the powerful elite then any one time. Unfortunately in this case no Heads of State were severed, but CCF did send letter bombs to mostly all the European leaders.
As prisoners of war they continue to collectively communicate with the struggle that they have not been stripped from, but have taken with them behind the penitentiary walls. We can read their statement written after their arrest as part of the on-going discussion:
Gerasimos Tsakalos: We often distance ourselves from the concept of organization because we equate it with hierarchy, roles, specialization, and “you must” obligations. However, words acquire the meanings given by the people who use them.
Olga Economidou: From the very beginning of our conspiracy, we rejected the idea of a central model and chose to start from the basis of individual initiatives that wanted to collectivize. What emerged during organizational meetings were issues of coherence, consistency, individual and collective responsibilities, and direct action as a means of transforming our words into deeds. At group meetings, each comrade had the opportunity to propose a plan of attack, thereby opening a debate on planning, timing, political analysis, and operational problems posed by a given targets location.
Haris Hatzimichelakis: Anything to send a small shipment of terror into the enemy’s camp!
Christos Tsakalos: Oppositional arguments would develop into a powerful dialectic, and there was no guarantee we would all reach agreement. It was this process that allowed us to open our minds. We now created relationships not in the name of some “professional” revolutionary goal, but based on friendship, true comradeship, and real solidarity.
Giorgos Nikolopoulos: Ya, those right there… and self-organization, attack, respect, trust, those are all the cornerstones forming the foundation of diffuse urban guerilla war.
Michalis Nikolopoulos: We love what we do because it contains our entire essence. Therefore, the “conspiracy” isn’t just all of us together; it is also each of us apart. In cases when there wasn’t collective agreement on a particular action, we didn’t resort to begging from the prevailing democratic majority. Instead, the minority of comrades who insisted on carry out the attack took the autonomous initiative to move forward with their choice. This happened in parallel with the rest of the supportive collective in mutual aid and comradeship. That’s why a number of communiqués where signed by groups…
Damiano Bolano: Nihilist faction, Breath of terror commando, Terrorist guerrilla unit, Midnight Express, Nighttime Troublemakers, NO TOLERANCE, Cell of Abnormal – Heretics, Unlisted Extremists, COMMANDO FOR ACTIVE SOLIDARITY, International Revolutionary Front Deviant, Behaviors for the Spread of Revolutionary, Terrorism Cell of Reflective Attack, Conspiracy of Raging Arsonists, Insubordinate Cells of Solidarity, GUERILLAFORMATIO, ANARCHIST CELL OF REVENGE…
Panayiotis Argyrou: … that arose from each separate initiative. As soon as the debate ended, no matter how many meetings were needed to finish it and plan the attack, the collective brought together the central themes of the all the meetings and shaped the main axes around which the communiqué would be written.
Giorgos Polydoras: Cause actions are nothing if they remain orphaned and blind. Instead they gain all their meaning when they are proclaimed. Like we never took the easy way of subterfuge, we always proclaimed our events and actions. It’s like the theorists who don’t live a life of insurrection say nothing worth saying and activists who refuse to think critically do nothing worth being done. For us the unity of words and action” s come first
Gerasimos Tsakalos: We know that for us the opening phase of the struggle has been completed. However, we also know that nothing is over. The Conspiracy will not remain disarmed, it remains an open proposal to the antagonistic sector of the metropolis.
Haris Hatzimichelakis: We feel that committing to a new conspiracy most closely approaches the essence of the word, so we are opening up that possibility by making a proposal for a new Conspiracy comprising a diffuse, invisible, network of cells that have no reason to meet in person, yet though their actions and discourse recognize one another as comrades in the same political crime: the subversion of law and Order. This conspiracy would consist of individuals and cells that take action, whether autonomous or coordinated (Giorgos Nikolopoulos: through call-outs and communiqués), without needing to agree on every single position and specific reference point, (Giorgos Nikolopoulos: like nihilism or individualism, or whatever,). Instead, they would connect on the basis of mutual aid focused on three points.
Olga Economidou: The first point we are proposing, in this informal debate, is agreement on the choice of direct action using any means capable of damaging infrastructure.
Christos Tsakalos: However direct action on its own is just another entry on the police blotter, so it should be accompanied by a corresponding communiqué from the cell or individual claiming responsibility and explaining the reasons behind the attack, thus spreading revolutionary discourse.
Damiano Bolano: The pen and the pistol are made from the same metal!
Olga Economidou: The second key point of the agreement is to wage war against the state while simultaneously engaging in a pointed critique of society.
Damiano Bolano: The enemy can be found in every mouth that speaks the language of domination. It is not exclusive to one or another race or social class. It doesn’t just consist of rulers and the whole potbellied suit and tie dictatorship. It is also the proletarian who aspires to be a boss, the oppressed whose mouth spits nationalist poison, the immigrant who glorifies life in western civilization but behaves like a little dictator among his own people, the prisoner who rats out others to the guards, every mentality that welcomes power, and every conscience that tolerates it.
Olga Economidou: The third key point in our proposal regarding the formation of a new conspiracy is international revolutionary solidarity.
Gerasimos Tsakalos: The solidarity we’re talking about doesn’t require those showing solidarity to express absolute political identification with the accused. It is simply a shared acknowledgment that we are on the same side of the barricades and that we recognize one another in the struggle.
Christos Tsakalos: Like another knife stuck in powers gut!
The roles of secret societies within the movements against the state are similar to functions played by such societies in various indigenous nations: the need to keep society from being homogeneous, to undermine the solidification of power, and to transmit histories. Our secret societies destabilize not only the apparatus of governmentality, but also the effects of social-movements that seek to normalize anti-social antagonisms. The history of the Comanche Dog Soldiers is of interest here. The Comanche nation had 6 military societies, (amongst various other secret societies) the kit-fox, red shields, crazy dogs, crooked lance, bowstring, wolf warriors, and the dog soldiers. According to Thomas Mails, “soldier societies provided martial training, socialization and preservation of tradition” as well as enabled “elaborate special gatherings with noisy songs, effusive dances and the sparkling and varied colored outfits”
Following an inter-tribal incident the dog soldiers where banished from the nation and became a singular autonomous society. At this time of violent resistance to the settler genocide, the dog soldiers attracted “all those who were unequivocally hostile to the encroachments and who chose war as the means to repulse this invasion of Indian country”. As opposed to viewing the dog soldiers as an isolated war machine, we can acknowledge an exacerbation of tensions within a society that is fighting a war of resistance. The dog soldiers established an escalation of hostilities and allowed a line of flight for others to join them. They became the fiercest of fighting forces arranged against settler-ism. By primitively evading the concentration of power within their autonomous society, they rejected any state-forming, and continued to rebel against occupation (although we must note that we do not know what space women occupied). Similarly in our social war, anti-social forces operating autonomously within the peripherals of the larger social movements allows for interventions of escalation and ways out for activists seeking to exchange their identities for the chance to attack.
They may be considered a secret society of the “Metropolitan Indians” and they are the final example that we will cut and paste from the secret universe. VOINA (WAR) is a secret society against the state, currently living underground in Russia with the immediate threat of arrest; VOINA practices the insurgency of everyday life as “principled position against the state”. Refusing to pay rent or purchase food, the group’s living-wild is a direct attack. Art is another weapon utilized as attack, but the art VOINA creates is just a part of clandestine life, “For us, art is not the measure of life. We create new life, new events, that one can refer to. Our rifles are charged and aimed at art so that it stays at a distance and will not spread its art stench over here. We hate PR. We are an underground group”.
As an underground group plans are made in secrecy; before an action, “we already decided everything. What and how, I won’t say. Because that’s a matter for inside the group, information only for the participants. I don’t share it because of security matters. We rarely announce our actions”. The method of the attack is extending the preparation to its conclusion; all of this is conducted in shadow; “With the idea for a future action we work under an especially guarded territory. Right under the hearts of the pigs. In their lair. One has to learn a lot, always the training gets to you, and life in the underground can drive you insane.” As a secret society VOINA is closed but open: “We don’t let in anyone from outside. Nobody gets into the group by accident. Even though we give everyone a chance and look them over.”
VOINA declares themselves as:
“A street collective of actionist artists who engage in political protest art. Political orientation: anarchist. Enemies: philistines, cops, the regime. Organization type: militant gang, dominated by horizontal ties in everyday life and employing vertical relationships during actions. The group preaches renunciation of money and disregard towards the law. Initially, VOINA actions were clandestine and anonymous, and were called “training” or “practice”.
To date, over 200 activists have participated in VOINA actions. At least 20 criminal investigations into the group’s activities have been initiated, some of them still ongoing.
“Art group VOINA is a left-wing radical anarchist collective whose central goal is to carry out PR actions directed against the authorities, and specifically against law enforcement officials with the aim of discrediting them in the eyes of the public. Branches of VOINA exist in all major Russian cities. The group’s sympathizers number approximately 3000. VOINA members maintain contacts with anarchist groups and individuals from all around the world holding left-wing radical views on art and on the world order (Italy, Slovakia, France, USA, South Africa, Greece)”.
VOINA situates themselves in the heterogeneous history of failed uprisings. They herald that “the persistence of ones actions in destroying the system” is following the trajectory of the Decembrists, who in the late 18th century where a secret society that revolted against the tsar, and their conspiracy was in turn inherited by the nihilists following them. This “Rebirth of heroical behavioral ideals” in “a manner of Russian libertarian decemberism” signals the unbroken chain that unites present and past generations.
VOINA’s art is made “To show the people a convincing picture of decisive actions”. This takes on the reality of “training themselves to be street fighters, preparing themselves for battle, sabotage at the enemy’s flank”.
As for there art specifically, one need look to its conscious sense of escalation. To take only the last few actions (known of) is to sense the motor of history revving towards an epoch of a new kind of Russian revolution.
In their “Attack on the Winter Palace” they flipped 7 cop cars, documenting the whole thing in a How Is It To Be Done kinda way, and issued the messianic statement: “On the Judgment Day cops have to kneel down and beg us, workers of fine arts, for forgiveness. The God’s punishment is coming. Repent your sins, two-faced dirty dealin’ cops!”.
Following the arrest of several members, they responded with a mighty fuck you, painting an enormous cock on a drawbridge. The phallus – 65 m tall, 27 m across, weighting 4000 tones– slowly erected just opposite the headquarters of the KGB’s successors, the Federal Security Service. It could be seen from everywhere in the center of St Petersburg. “The Dick was turned on not only by the main KGB office, but by the whole hierarchy of power in Russia”.
Soon there after, following an obnoxious clamor of praise from the bourgeoisie art industry, VOINA upheld their threat that there must not be an attempt to appropriate their art. Following their trajectory of escalation and intensifying their disruption, they attacked a cop shop and torched trucks meant to transport prisoners:
“Dear Russians, this action is a modest gift to all of you from the VOINA Group. It’s a gift to all political prisoners of Russia: Let’s destroy all prisons! Freedom to all political prisoners! Feds don’t fuck us – we fuck feds! Happy New Year, comrades!”
This style of insurrectionary-art-intervention is a (re)new(ed) cartography for autonomous organizing.
Keeping the Secret~
Jacques Camatte wrote in his defection letter from the Party that the workers movements which succeeded the sects in Marx’s time have now become the parties and groupuscules that are void of unity and class struggle; as opposed to advocating the reconstitution of a group, or their supersession, he incites their destruction. He does not suggest the founding of a new group, informal or not, as all political groups, in that the fundamental nature of politics is representation, seek only to represent themselves, thus conforming to the spectacle of capital. Rather he suggests the pro-revolutionary recognize themselves “in a theory that does not depend on a group or on a review, because it is the expression of an existing class struggle”. He goes on to note “this is actually the correct sense in which anonymity is posed rather than as the negation of the individual (which capitalist society itself brings about)”. Our thoughts of secret societies against the state are similar to this idea of anonymous intervention. What brings us together is not the banal equivalence of some pseudo-commons, but friendship- the will to live, think and struggle; it is not the “racketeering” of the organization which keeps us around, but the common desire of abolition. As the “existing struggles” shift and fragment, so do our singular affinities.
Whereas we would like to continue with a few more militant investigations into secret societies against the state- such as the ULTRA hoodlums in North Africa, or the global Anonymous cyber-conspiracy, we did not seek to make any kind of catalogue. As a forewarning to his story on the Potlatch, G. Clutesi wrote that the book was made to “evade documentation”. We hope to have followed in similar spirit.
Returning to the pacific west coast are the rising waves on silent waters. Again secrecy becomes the protagonism against the state. Laying siege to the grand jury witch-hunts, comrades are proving that “In Silence, We Roar!” Solidarity actions, with those imprisoned silent ones who refuse to collaborate with the state, have seen to the increase of devastation to property in many cities, making diffused attack look all the easier. Such conspiratorial violence, making no demands, incites others towards the call: “May Our Waves of Secrecy Drown Them Out”.