“What I would do with $55,000: Our need for accountability and our failure to realize opportunities and build movements”

Every once in a while a really good article comes out of the movement. The kind of article that says what so many of us have been mulling around in our crazy heads, but never found the words or boldness to state it properly.

From the blog of the Four Star Anarchist Organization comes such an article

We thank them dearly for giving us the okay for reposting it via a mutual comrade.

What I would do with $55,000: Our need for accountability and our failure to realize opportunities and build movements
June 1, 2010 ·

On May 2nd 2010, I received an email in my inbox calling for “solidarity” and “emergency donations” to pay the bail of 11 self-identified anarchists in Asheville, North Carolina. They were alleged to have smashed ATMs, bank windows and small shops in celebration of May 1, International Workers’ Day. The price to bail out each of the 11 who were arrested? $5,000. As predictable as the paper-hawking of countless Communist factions at street demonstrations – anarchists locally and nationally got to work planning benefit events. Arrestee benefits are something we are always able to pull together. Yet our inability to create effective momentum, organization, and lasting impact, especially during economic and ecological crisis, is exacerbated by the fact that our “movement” allows anyone to identify as an anarchist, go on “the attack,” and turn months of potential movement-building efforts into benefit shows and talks about their actions.

I became an anarchist in the late 1990s. Since then, I’ve seen countless projects and groups fall apart due to lacking the resources and organization. Rarely do groups continue moving forward in a productive way. I started to ask myself how anarchists here in Chicago could use $55,000 to build and strengthen our movement. The numbers I use are obviously not exact. However, they point to the possibility of creating mass base movements instead of acting as an isolated political sect.

To strengthen our current movement, I would attempt to pay the rent of several existing anarchist and related projects for the year. To strengthen formal organizations and social centers I would pay Biblioteca Popular $9,600 and Locked Out $12,000; the I.W.W and Lucy Parsons Worker’s Center would get $4,300. That would leave $29,100. To strengthen community projects I would give Cop Watch $5,000 to buy new cameras, recorders, vests, and supplies for the communities that they organize in.

That would leave $24,100. I would use this money to address weaknesses in our movement, including our inability to effectively outreach and expand anarchist ideas outside of our circles. I would buy one industrial CD-R/DVD read and write drive for $1,000; a printing press for $5,000; and a screenprinting press for $8,000. This leaves a remainder of $16,100.

Opportunities that would exist outside of this budget would include buying land or buildings instead of renting. We could afford to operate a worker-managed bus program to combat the Chicago Transit Authority’s cuts and layoffs. We could fund, for an entire year, direct action worker centers throughout the Midwest. Most importantly, we could use the funds to build our capacity as organizers. We would finally have a chance to break out of being isolated militants.

This is all hypothetical, but remember that there is still $16,100 left. How would you use it to build models of anarchist resistance?

Chicago has made international headlines as being the most violent city in the United States. Not only are we the most violent, we also have 70,000-75,000 foreclosed homes in Metro Chicago. We also have the highest rates of foreclosure amongst small apartment owners, with Englewood ranking first, followed by Austin, West Englewood and then New City. Chicago’s unemployment rate hit 11.6% (which doesn’t include those who have given up looking for work). For African-American youth, the unemployment rate is the same as the unemployment rate for the general populace during the Great Depression. Do we even need to talk about the skyrocketing incarceration rate? It’s increased from 1.8 million in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2008. Furthermore, the immigrant deportation rate has doubled over a ten year period and continues to increase.

As anarchists, members of our movement are the first to cry out to build barricades, occupy buildings or even pick up arms. And yet, through labor organizing, I’ve seen workers who live in fear of writing their name on a petition for a list of demands. Clearly, we have a ways to go. To believe that we can reach a system without bosses through isolated window-smashing and “attacks” against the state is foolish. To believe that this system could defend itself against capitalists and fascists is absurd. While street fights in Greece have been very inspirational, they mainly appeal to our American love of good action movies and prime-time TV. But the insurrection isn’t the only part of their movement. We should not overlook the massive successes of Greek anarchists with organizing immigrants (particularly Afghani immigrants) in labor and social struggles.

The common person works 20 to 50 hours a week and, with limited time, spreads the remainder between family, bill-paying and personal time. Having the capacity to revolt against bosses, developers and landlords requires that we build our ability to organize and fight through continual work and dialogue with time- and money-stressed individuals. Dialogue and continual work, whether formally or informally, has the capacity to build a culture of resistance. But this method is only a revolutionary means, not an end. Take the Republic Windows occupation. During the struggle, Mexican-American workers stated that in Mexico, their union would occupy the factory when machinery was being moved. Here in the U.S, when the equipment was being removed and production relocated, they stuck with methods that they knew would solve the problem. This is important because it indicates that if you build a person’s capacity to self-organize, even using militant methods, that individual can defend their coworkers or community members – even in a new situation. We see from this example that it can not only happen across neighborhoods or industries, but also across borders.

We have to be critical of our movement and how it relates to the working class in which people of color face the most obvious blow from capitalists. Anarchists who put on ninja jammies and go on the attack in the “Berkeley” liberal town of Asheville demonstrate how cut off they are from working-class people. At a time when families are being evicted and lack work or healthcare, we have to ask: Was it really advantageous for the alleged attack against small businesses in a liberal Southern city? Thousands of families are being evicted from their homes and our response was to break an ATM? VIVA! Really? This is what we call a militant movement?

What we lack is continuous organization and participation in social struggle. This would allow us to analyze current political and economic conditions, learn from our mistakes, and build on past victories. How does informality and disorganization limit our opportunities to grow? Many of us have been involved in some sort of grassroots activity as anarchists – from food programs to prisoner support; from anti-police work to labor activity. Yet we’ve created no real “pull” or “mass” in society. During the 1960s, all of these activities were necessary for the growth of the Black Panther Party. But what we lack – and what they had — is a uniting theoretical message. We must foster unity while working together to build a popular movement. This unity must come with accountability to each other.

To counter the email that I received, I’m putting a call out for “solidarity” with working class people and asking for “emergency funds” to build an anarchist movement. This it to defend and aid those harmed most during this recession and by the state. It’s time to be serious about anarchism.

While I understand that one of the anarchists arrested in Asheville lived in Chicago for three years, and that many recognize him as a comrade, we have to be critical of our actions and theories. We must strive to be reflective in our practice. No matter how close those people are to us, their actions as individuals are not necessarily in our interests as a movement. I hope that this article challenges anarchists to think about their approach (or lack of it) to movement-building, and to create productive ideas for new directions.

Please check out the Four Star Anarchist Organization for other great articles


Filed under Anarchism

12 responses to ““What I would do with $55,000: Our need for accountability and our failure to realize opportunities and build movements”

  1. Tom K

    This article is terrible. And I hope no one stuck in jail happens across it because I’m sure it would be very disheartening.

    First off, state repression never needs an invitation, as it is constantly going on. Actions like this, and the dozens of others that occurred on may day, are a reaction to state repression, not an invitation.

    This article assumes some sort of guilt of those arrested. Whether or not they did break some shit, they are not guilty of any real crime if you ask a real anarchist. And the fact remains that many/all of them could have just gotten swept up in police arrests. Or maybe that only happens to organizational anarchists…

    Second, oh yes, that’s what we need. To funnel money in to infoshops and the IWW and THEN the revolution will start.

    50 year old anarchist bookshops and 150 year old “anarchist” Unions are a sign of defeat, not victory.

    The IWW took a shot and did a lot of great shit, but the state has adapted to take away it’s real power, and as a result most of it’s resources and membership have dwindled. It’s a bummer, yes, but that’s how a lot of people feel. This is coming from a former dues paying member and true believer.

    That said, by all means, up the IWW and their attempts, but don’t try and tell everyone that money sent to them is somehow going to advance the revolution any more than freeing a prisoner of the state.

    Infoshops are businesses. Non-profits are businesses. It’s just the nature of capitalism. When you take on a business, whatever your intentions, the business develops its own interests. And eventually you will be faced with the interests of the business being at odds with your anarchist beliefs. And, in most cases, you will side with the business because it is something you have worked hard to to build and don’t want to lose. And that is how capitalism enslaves you even in your attempts to destroy it. Besides, they are obsolete. If you want to spread information use the internet it’s a lot more egalitarian. Or table events.

    No one has to send money to anyone in jail, but the fact that people routinely shell out cash for those incarcerated rather than paying out to groups or businesses should indicate what a lot of people value and support.

    Long term anarchist groups are just a way of anarchists “settling down for the long haul.” Which means giving up. What a tragic thing it must be to be an 80 year old anarchist. The old models have failed, be they One Big Union, Urban Guerrillas, or revolutionary vanguards. This is not necessarily because of some failure in their theory, and certainly not a failure in the resolve of those who participated, but because the state adapts and defends itself. Go figure.

    The only way revolution will happen is if we are willing to really put ourselves in conflict with the state. Not by attempting to mediate between it and workers, or by buying in to capitalism by starting a business. Sitting around at our “anarchist spaces” (a laughable term when you consider what anarchist space means in other places) or in our endless series of meetings is just cowardice. And refusing, and even worse, encouraging others, to not support those who have thrown off their fears is counter-revolutionary. The same as those who said to not support Alexander Berkman, The Haymarket Martyrs, Sacco and Vanzetti, The Weather, The RAF, The IWW, etc. for the past 2 centuries.

    Finally, Copwatch rules. People should totally send money to copwatch. But guess who gets arrested a lot? COPWATCH. So this article doesn’t do them justice either.

  2. Alex

    I think you’re missing the point. This article is a critique of a rampant trend of lacking tactical forethought that’s all to present in the US anarchist milieu. It is asking folks to question the risk vs. reward of the organizing and actions that we do.

    As far as presuming guilt of those accused, I disagree. But I also find it irrelevant, because the point it makes is broader, as there most certainly are anarchists outside this certain incident who have done it, regardless of whether or not they were caught.

    Nor is it telling people not to support the people in the action it talks about. It is asking folks to question their action. It is asking for open dialogue, for self-criticism of our movement. I’ve seen all to frequently in my own experience criticism being mistaken for lack of solidarity, this is no exception.

    Yes, smashing ATMs, or windows or any other property destruction, and any other assault against capital is a reaction. And it is understandable, but that does not always make it effective, or tactically sound.

    Is supporting an infoshop and keeping it funded or funding IWW locals going to destroy capitalism in and of itself? Of course not. But neither is smashing an ATM. However, which is going to do more using in building an anarchist base within the working class at large? This is the point the article is making. Which one has the potential of creating a critical mass of resistance capapble of actually challenging the state?

    The anarchist movement in the US is nowhere near that critical mass, and without building a larger radicalized base within the working class, putting ourselves in conflict with the state will have no more effect than infoshops will, but certainly yields a much higher risk. The question then, is when is that risk worth it? The article is asking us to ask that question about our work. What is the risk, what is the potential gain, and is the gain worth the risk?

    I am not trying to condemn all actions like this, nor am I trying to condemn this one in particular as I am not familiar with the intimate details. The point of this article, however, is still valid. Without self-criticism and tactical thinking, the anarchist movement in the US is never going to break out of the marginalization it finds itself in.

  3. Tom K

    first off, even if everything you’re saying about the author’s intent is true (which i’m not sure of), releasing it in the context of people with pending charges still makes it a dick move.

    i think you’re missing the point of what i said. which is that the old ways didn’t work, and we shouldn’t be in a hurry to try and go back to them.

    when i hear phrases about “building our base in the working class at large” i see the same old activist position that i feel is what keeps “us” marginalized.

    the difference between that old model and what has been going on in the streets (what you refer to as a lack of technical forethought) is that more and more anarchists are no longer thinking of themselves as apart from struggle. smashing shit is an expression of your own struggle and rage, as well as a sign of solidarity with others.

    you wanna talk tactics? let’s talk about how to smash more shit and get away with it more often.

    i also wanna reiterate i support a diversity of tactics and that no one is expected to shell out any money to bail out someone if they don’t support their action.

    • ladylibertyslamp

      “let’s talk about how to smash more shit and get away with it more often”.

      No, let’s not and never say we did.

    • Anonymous

      “you wanna talk tactics? let’s talk about how to smash more shit and get away with it more often. ”

      Sure thing, officer!

      “i also wanna reiterate i support a diversity of tactics and that no one is expected to shell out any money to bail out someone if they don’t support their action.”

      So don’t complain when no one wants to donate money to repeatedly bail someone out of jail who makes a habit of getting arrested in the course of committing a crime. Political prisoners are termed such because they are in prison for their speech or due to a corrupt judicial process; persons who are jailed for smashing a window are not in jail because they talked the window into smashing itself but because they picked up an instrument, caused property damage and made a mess all while in complete and total recognition of the legal statutes regarding such behavior.

      tl;dr: You’re not a political prisoner because you broke a window.

      • Tom K

        your definition a political prisoner is worse than liberal. and the U.S. court system is incredibly corrupt.

        also, if you’ll recall i wasn’t complaining about any sort of lack of donations. and i’ve said several times that if you don’t support someone, then don’t give them any money.

        my criticism was with the timing and the assertion the article makes that giving money to an organization is “more productive” than helping someone get out of lockup.

        i guess it depends on what you’re trying to produce. i mean, look at all the fruits of the anarcho-liberal movement. money well spent?

  4. Anonymous

    You are complaining, because the practice of not donating money to causes you don’t support– namely the legal defense of a bunch of barely-political serial vandals– is what the article is about.

    You’re getting cranky over the fact that someone’s suggesting that summit conference vandalism is not a viable tactic. It’s not. It accomplishes less than nothing. It accomplishes the task of sucking money out of our limited coffers and increasing the ire of the state. It’s not even symbolic anymore– hell, the actual soros-funded astro-turf liberal groups who are protesting BP with nothing more than chocolate goddamned syrup have more symbolism than people whose most visible and lasting public political statement is to break stuff during summit conferences.

    Are you cranky because people are disagreeing with you, or is it because you’re not willing or able to adapt to changing tactics? Seattle was over a decade ago– the cops certainly have adapted to brutally counter tactics like this, and the majority of Th’ Movement is adapting to these changing conditions as well. C’mon, man– this is Art of War stuff. Read it.

    • Tom K

      The Ashville arrests were not at a summit. They were on may day.

      My money is not your money. We don’t have the same coffers. And for the millionth time, give your money to whatever you want. Just afford everyone else the same option. That includes giving their money to “barely political serial vandals.”

      I know some of those vandals. And they are workhorses. The dichotomy between those who are active in the streets and those who are active in organizing is a false dichotomy. In reality the dichotomy is between those who are not active in the streets, yet very active on the internet, and those who are interested in seeing a revolutionary change in their lifetimes.

      the fact that you think we should avoid “raising the states ire” is strait slave mentality. the state is murdering thousands daily, but god forbid you would put yourself in harms way, or cost some of “our” money.

      the real villains are vandals!

      I told a friend I would drop this, so let me sum up my points again and say goodbye.

      1) Revolution. ASAP.
      2) Do whatever you think will make that happen.
      3) It is unlikely that criticizing the attempts of others will help that happen.
      4) It is also unlikely that attempting to rebuild failed revolutionary groups of the past will help that happen.
      4) This article has shitty timing, and is state apologist.
      5) Copwatch rules.

      Total war on the state.

      • Anonymous

        the state is murdering thousands daily, but god forbid you would put yourself in harms way, or cost some of “our” money.

        Goddamn, you make it seem like smashing an ATM is like stabbing Henry Clay Frick.

        Deliberately provoking cops and then expecting “the anarchist community” to foot any amount of the legal fees out of some half-baked assumption that petty vandalism equates to revolutionary action is BULLSHIT. Revolutions aren’t started by property destruction; how the hell are you going to start a revolution when everyone is in jail serving time for breaking windows? Are you that naive to think the cops won’t track everything those people do and everyone those people associate with after they’re “let go?”

        Play acting revolutionaries have done NOTHING to stop Joe Arpaio from rounding up thousands of workers and splintering families. ATM-smashing kids have done NOTHING to force Shell to pay for turning the Niger River Delta into a polluted wasteland. Vandalism has done NOTHING to stop Mountaintop Removal, nor did it make ANYONE pay for the Kingston Fossil Plant fly-ash slurry disaster. When these same people get on a bus, go to Arizona and start liberating families from Arpaio’s gulags, THEN we can talk about them putting their “bodies on the line.”

        Hell, they don’t even need to go that far– there’s SEVEN ICE detention centers in North Carolina, three of which have repeatedly failed inspections and been marked “deficient.” See for yourself: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/23/nyregion/20100223-immig-table.html
        I don’t see any stories about this new vanguard of the revolution doing ANYTHING about them.

        These tactics are SHIT. They do more harm than good. They reduce our numbers. They drain our coffers. They allow the state to intimidate people into snitching or becoming moles. They force our people through the machinery of the state to be forever labeled and tagged as “enemies of the state.” This is not slave-mentality, state apologism or any other dismissive garbage you feel like doling out– this is reality.

        Play acting revolutionaries are no more the next Subcommandante Marcos than Alex Linder is the next hitler. Yes, that was an intentional godwin.

      • ladylibertyslamp

        Your “friend” also agrees with this article and not with “smashie smashie”.

        And so the cheese stands alone…