insurrectionalism

Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the State or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men’s discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising, but a rising of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The Revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on “institutions.” It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only a working forth of me out of the established. If I leave the established, it is dead and passes into decay. Now, as my object is not the overthrow of an established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not a political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose and deed
—  Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own pg. 420-421

-Noël

But rebellion and street violence are not necessarily anarchist. Resistance to oppressors is praiseworthy in itself, but much resistance takes place in support of other authoritarian powers. This is all too familiar in other parts of the world, where illegal violence on the part of fascists, paramilitaries, gangs, drug cartels, mafias, and authoritarian revolutionary movements is an essential aspect of domination. Aspiring authoritarians often take the lead in attacking reigning authorities precisely in order to absorb and co-opt popular unrest. Rioting per se is not always liberating—Kristallnacht was a riot too. Even if some participants have the purest intentions, insurrections can go any number of directions: remember what happened to the Russians following the insurrection of 1917, or the Iranians following the insurrection of 1978-79.

So anarchists must not only provoke confrontations, but also ensure that they contribute to a more horizontal and decentralized distribution of power. In this regard, glorifications of the superficial details of militant confrontation—black masks, Molotov cocktails, and so on—are largely beside the point, if not actively distracting. The flow of initiative among the rebels, the ways decisions are made and skills are shared, the bonds that develop between comrades: these are much more important. Likewise, one must strategize as to how social uprisings will contribute to long-term revolutionary momentum rather than simply enabling reactionary forces to consolidate power.

—  Say You Want an Insurrection: “Not Just Insurrection, but Anarchist Insurrection” [Source]

“Riot porn,” the depictions of anti-authoritarian violence that abound in insurrectionist media, is only a subset of the representations of sex and violence surrounding us in this society. Pornography doesn’t just cater to desire—it also shapes and directs it; in the case of riot porn, it glorifies the moment of physical conflict, while removing the social context that gives it meaning. Pornography can promote roles that have little to do with the actual needs of the participants; those who have been influenced by corporate pornography sometimes make disappointing sexual partners. Likewise, a cynical observer might caricature some current manifestations of insurrectionism as a misguided attempt to distill a strategy from the aesthetic of riot porn: no difficult negotiations with allies, no intermediate or long-term goals, only the moment of attack, isolated in a vacuum.

Actual sex and violence can be reclaimed from patriarchal society, but in some ways it is more challenging to reclaim representations of sex and violence. Anybody can shoot a motherfucker, but in this society the image of the gun is almost inextricably associated with notions of male power and domination. Anti-authoritarians who think spectacular representations of violence can be turned against their masters are playing with fire in more ways than they think.

—  Say You Want an Insurrection

A great deal has been said against activism: it is a specialized role that frames social change as the domain of experts; it is predicated on dialogue with the powers that be; it promotes inauthenticity and limits the scope of change. A lot of this is mere semantics—many people who do not deserve such accusations see themselves as activists. Some of it is projected class resentment: those who have time to mess around in everyone else’s business, “changing the world” rather than solving the problems of individualized survival, must have privileged access to resources, as the right wing has always alleged.

It’s not easy to distill the kernel of truth in this flood of vitriol, but one thing is certain: activism that does not explicitly challenge hierarchy fortifies it. Reformist struggles can win adjustments in the details of oppression, but they ultimately help the state maintain its legitimacy in the public eye—not only by giving it the chance to redress grievances, but by reinforcing the notion that the power to effect meaningful change lies in the hands of the authorities. It is better to struggle in such a way that people develop an awareness of their own capabilities outside all petitioning and bureaucracy. Reformist activism also tends to build up internal hierarchies: as if by chance, the best negotiators and media liaisons often turn out to be college-educated white people with good skin and conciliatory tones. Of course, certain insurrectionist practices may simply build up hierarchies according to different criteria.

—  Say You Want an Insurrection: “Against Activism” [Source]
In the US, militant struggle means taking on the most powerful state in the history of the world. It demands a strategy that takes into account the repression, legal support, and prison sentences that will inevitably result, and somehow turns them to our advantage. The absence of such a strategy is perhaps the most significant structural flaw in insurrectionist projects today. We have to engage with the issue of repression beyond the usual security culture, limited prisoner support, occasional solidarity actions, and wishful thinking. “Don’t get caught” isn’t a plan, it’s a prayer.
—  Say You Want an Insurrection: “Making a Virtue of Repression” [Source]

No membership, no statements, no public face. This might make it harder for the state to single out enemies, but it also sounds a little like the invisibility and isolation that make it so hard for comrades to find each other and get started.

In the current atmosphere of repression, the insurrectionist approach is often framed as a question of security: with infiltrators everywhere and the legal repercussions of resistance intensifying, it is simply too dangerous to engage in visible organizing. However, it’s far from certain that less visibility is any more likely to make anarchists safer or more effective.

It often happens that in attempting to correct old errors, people commit new ones; forsaking problematic strategies, they learn the hard way what advantages led their predecessors to adopt them in the first place. So it is that anarchists, who only came into the public eye a decade ago, are now fantasizing about returning to the shadows.

The government would like nothing better than for anarchists to retreat to private scenes and cliques, leaving few opportunities for unconnected individuals to get involved. It is to the authorities’ advantage for small numbers of radicals to escalate to more militant tactics while losing connection to a broader social base; this makes direct action less likely to spread, while rendering it easier to justify repression […]

If this is true, the most pressing task for anarchists is not to carry out secretive military strikes but to spread skills and practices. There is no substitute for participatory activities that offer points of entry for new people and opportunities for existing groups to connect. Likewise, refusing to interact with the public effectively means leaving it to the corporate media to tell one’s story—or else suppress it. Just as insurrectionists must tie the escalation of conflict to the pace at which it spreads so as not to overextend themselves, they must also balance the practical advantages of secrecy against the necessity of circulating new formats and rebellious energy.

—  Say You Want an Insurrection: “Is It Safer in the Shadows, or in the Spotlight?” [Source]

The most sustainable forms of confrontation seize resources which can then be employed in further struggle. The classic example of this is the European squatting movement of thirty years ago, in which the occupied buildings were used as staging areas for further social struggles. This approach supersedes both self-defeating reformist activism and self-destructive insurrectionist dogma. Unless it provides for the practical needs of the participants, insurrectionism is just an expensive hobby: activism with felony charges and a smaller base of support. Insurrectionists of other eras have recognized this and robbed banks rather than simply smashing their windows.

Revenge is itself a need, but it is hardly the only need. People who face enough challenges just getting by will not be much more attracted to gratuitous vandalism than they are to activism that has nothing to do with their daily lives; on the other hand, tactics that enable them to sustain themselves may be more appealing. Insurrectionists who are frustrated with the lifestyle-oriented anarchism of those they perceive as “subcultural” actually stand to learn a lot from them. The latter remain involved in their version of anarchist community not because of moral or ideological imperatives, but because it sustains them. For insurrection to spread, it must do the same.

—  Say You Want an Insurrection: “Sustaining Confrontations” [Source]
Unless it provides for the practical needs of the participants, insurrectionism is just an expensive hobby: activism with felony charges and a smaller base of support.
—  Say You Want an Insurrection