A Movement at the Crossroads: The Future of American Anarchism

  • Posted on: 4 June 2019
  • By: thecollective

From It's Going Down

An analysis and critique of the present anarchist movement with some broad proposals heading into the future, while looking towards continued economic breakdown and political polarization.

The anarchist movement in the United States stands at a crossroads. Behind us lies a long history of successes and failures, the catalog of experiments that have brought us to where we are today. Popular movements have subsided for the moment, and most of us are regrouping and preparing for whatever lies ahead. In recent years a debate has simmered about the kind of movement we want to build. On the one hand we have a vision of the movement that is broadly the same as that we inherited from the 1990s: subcultural, insular, and engaged in worthy but largely-reactive projects that fail to build durable power. On the other, we have a vision of a movement yet to come: oriented toward the broad base of the oppressed, focused on organizing popular resistance, looking ahead to the looming possibility of revolutionary change. One of these visions presents a viable future for the movement; the other does not.

The movement that we have inherited achieved many successes. The ecological, anti-capitalist, and anti-war struggles of the 1990s and 2000s were carried on by precisely the kind of movement this piece is critiquing. Our comrades, organized largely in loosely-linked affinity groups, kept hope alive in the era of capitalism’s seemingly-complete triumph. Black bloc actions during mass demonstrations ensured that we received media coverage and that new people heard about our ideas. Mutual aid projects provided key services, like support for political prisoners, and helped to show the softer side of our movement. By the time of the 2008 financial crisis, anarchist ideas had spread enough to inspire the ethos of the Occupy movement and its forms of organization. The anti-police uprisings from the Oscar Grant and Mike Brown protests onward likewise borrowed from our arsenal of tactics and organizational ideas.

These latter movements – Occupy and Black Lives Matter – demonstrated both the power of our ideas and the anarchist movement’s limits. We were able to jam up business as usual and force issues – like the injustices of capitalism and police terror – into national attention. We helped to demonstrate the power of decentralized combative action. When 2016 brought the renewed threat of street-level fascist organizing, we fought back. The anarchist movement did much of the heavy lifting in anti-fascist work and we won a crushing victory in our first round against our new opponents. But while each movement radicalized new participants and left a scattering of smaller affinity groups across most cities, neither dramatically increased our organized strength or capacity to achieve our goals. (This critique will come as no surprise to the readers here, they have been repeated time and time again by other, wiser comrades.)

Why? The movement has remained trapped in the circumstances from which it emerged. We still operate much too much like a sub-culture, focusing on the visual and symbolic trappings of “anarchism” (clothing, abstract stances, etc.). In too many spaces insularity and cliquishness are confused for security culture. More broadly, the movement has focused too much on the opposite poles of direct action and aid programs and too little on the concrete work of organizing: that is, deliberately reaching out to and bringing new people into the movement.

Now, more than ever, it is critical that we address these shortcomings. We are entering an era of intense polarization, the rise of a genuine ultra-nationalist and fascist threat, and ecological catastrophe. Multiple indicators suggest that another recession is in the offering roughly in the next year or so. Many more people will be radicalized by the next recession and the coinciding electoral spectacle, and they will be looking for answers. If we do not reach these people, others will. In the best case, they will be reached by others preaching the dead-end roads of electoral reform or distant and ill-defined revolution. In the worst case, they will turn to the fascists. We have to recognize the present historical moment for what it is and behave accordingly.

What must be done? We must make our movement an organizing movement. I am not arguing for the triumph of one tendency or another. If we want to build toward insurrection, we must have as many comrades as possible who share our vision and skills. If we want to create a powerful federation, we must have a popular base to draw new members from. If we want to build revolutionary syndicates, we must have organized strong unions and spread revolutionary consciousness in the broader working class. Whatever tendency we hail from, the days of isolation and sub-culturalism must end.

How do we build an organizing movement? By focusing our energies primarily on organizing with the broad base of the people for the struggles of our era. What is organizing? Organizing is building a structure to increase the power of that structure’s members and enable them to collectively fight for their goals. Where we are exploited by the bosses, we must build revolutionary unions. Where we are robbed by the landlords, we must build radical tenant unions. Where we are brutalized the prison system and ICE, we must create networks of prisoners, migrants, and neighbors to resist the violence of the state. In each case, we must deliberately and consistently reach out to the unorganized, building relationships of trust with new participants, and create the capacity to resist where it was lacking. We must then link these organizations into wider networks capable of expanding our ability to support one another when it counts.

There are already some encouraging signs in this direction. Comrades across the country have organized in support of the prison strike, organized tenant unions, done outreach with inspiring mutual aid programs, and carried on the anti-fascist struggle. Networks like the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and Symbiosis Revolution seem to be moving toward coordinating projects at the national level. But these efforts need to be significantly expanded if we are to meet the challenge that faces us.

Our movement is uniquely positioned to succeed, if we chose to do so. We believe in the power of the oppressed; we do not waste our time canvassing for the next SYRIZA. Our comrades are extraordinarily dedicated and prepared to make real sacrifices when necessary. The key is for our movement to channel this dedication in a direction that will allow us to grow, spread our vision, and build power. But if we do not change the way that we presently operate, we will be left behind by less-promising forces.

Wherever you are, I encourage you to start the hard work of organizing against those who are oppressing your community. Go out and speak with your neighbors, your coworkers, or those on the receiving end of the state’s violence. Link up with other groups in your area, get in touch with national organizations, or start your own group if necessary. There is much to be done and little time to waste.


this is like that ACG write up a few weeks back.
i’m not replying with poetry to this one.

I didn't know Kevin Keating had joined IGD.

I am analog, not digital. How do I e-mail IGD without having to be Mister Spock to do it?

Sure, fine. I agree with the author's desire to go beyond the limits of previous rounds of struggle. I just want to also pose a few bases that may or may not be in agreement with the text:

1) don't confuse organising with organisations. Its fun to critique subculture, but people finding each other around d shared politics on the basis of friendship and building the capacity to act is organising. It is working class organising, it is tenant organising. Rather than some new call to build the union, let's ask questions about how we find each other, how we refine our ideas and practices, how we go on the offensive. Maybe one possible answer is tenants union, but it surely isn't the only one.

2) I want to help people self-organize, not organize them. Anarchist projects are by definition not for "everyone". Things that aim to be for everyone, for all of society, for the people (whatever you want to call it) are totalizing projects. The idea that a totalizing project can be anarchist because of its internal process is probably not true, since this assumes there aren't serious but valid differences between how people want to organize their lives. To me, its better to ask how we can encourage a multiplication of autonomous initiatives and how those initiatives can build practical solidarity with each other.

3) Neither the form nor the practice is anarchy. I like that there are anarchist federations and I like that there are clandestine attacks. But neither the structures we build or the kinds of actions we choose to take can encompass anarchy, which exists both as a form of material exchange to reproduce life (or society) on a different, free basis, and as a tension between free individuals and forces that tend towards domination and hierarchy. Anarchy is in asking what is possible along these poles, not idealizing this or that organisational practice

4) we don't need to be the resistance, the official opposition to the capitalist state. Let's ask instead what we bring to this moment as anarchists that is distinct and powerful. Anarchism in the US is mostly super vague and barely legible as such, so deeply entangled with left and liberal movementism. This dilution of ideas is largely due to that desire to be for everyone and to be the leading edge of the left. I don't mean to say give up on big movements or on seeking influence for anarchist ideas and practices, just that that isn't the only measure for what's worthwhile. Think qualitatively to break out of the quantitative delusion where more numbers is always more better

Its great that people want to talk about vision and strategy so much these days...


Acting like American anarchy had a present much less a future

american "anarchists" are liberals pretending to be anarchists

Not quite true. Decentralised and non hierarchical practices spread a lot in the late 90s and 2000s, which made anarchism almost a default discourse among sections of the left that wanted to be independent of parties, unions, NGOs... For better or for worse, it no longer has that default position in contestation. There are opportunities here, since it means anarchists now are more committed to actually anarchist ideas, but it also means fewer people are paying attention

that's all great. There appears to be one reality, however the weakness of unions can be explained by those who say "they're just another business". It would be nice just to continue cleaning the fear off the lense of perception...hence making it useful again.

"Acting like American anarchy had a present much less a future"

What is this dogshit troll trash in the comments section? So people can just spew insulting lies about anarchism in the US here and anews provides a venue for it, even if has zero content whatsoever?

Fuck you, you stupid piece of shit, for getting paid (or not!) to just post demoralizing zero content trash on here! And fuck whoever let's you do that! You are despicable and disgusting!

Let's not just make space for anti-anarchist shit to post here! Kill their fucking comments! To start with!!!

and if i'd seen it before the response from 13:59, i would've removed it. as it stands however, 13:59 is an example of how stupid and empty comments can be stimulus for more interesting comments.
which yours, btw, is not. yours is almost as empty as the initial one (though longer and with more exclamation points). but i'm leaving it so that i can respond to it, and maybe people will learn something. see how that works?
thecollective member .4
(don't blame thecollective for my assy comments ;) )

"what is this confused, [activisty] dog shit doing on my beloved anarchist news? —rfa"

organize! organize! build power! struggle! struggle! build power! focus! power! organize!

The last commenter should go find a nurturing space on the Chester-thread...

IGD = It Gets Dumber
There's nothing pointing towards anarchy in this "What is to be done?" Leninist garbage.

There's nothing pointing towards class against class direct action for a full scale social revolution in an ever-more richly promising declining US in the US anarchist subcultural grease trap.

"american anarchism"? leaving aside the whole mass movement mentality, do people seriously think that way? doesn't that make it just another "national anarchism"? seems pathetic to me.

i don't recognize geo-political boundaries, except when i am forced to when dealing with state apparatus. crossing those boundaries usually requires dealing with state apparatus. hence, i don't.

it is kind of like the idpols who claim to want to get rid of gender entirely, and proceed to define themselves by gender.

"like the idpols who claim to want to get rid of gender entirely, and proceed to define themselves by gender."
Sums the whole discussion up neatly.

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