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May 25, 17

Crossing Paths in New Terrain: Philly, Revolt, the Left & Trump

This text is in part a reply to the “Drinking From the Cup of Fascist Tears: Boston Report Back” but is generally meant to be respond to the shifting political terrain since Trump won the election in November of 2016. All unattributed quotes are from the Boston Report Back.

The social terrain been changing in Philadelphia. For the last half a year, since Trump’s election campaign through to his current presidency, I’ve seen more and different types of opposition to the political system. This opposition takes many forms; an increase in the popularity of anti-fascist organizing, a re-emergence of black blocs within larger demonstrations and as their own demonstrations, and a broadening of progressive ideology to include revolutionary perspectives in the face of the Trump administration. This change of terrain has me both excited and worried.

An influx of leftist organizations and groupings has me nervous. Since November, I’ve found myself in the street running alongside leftist militants more than I have since 2012. I’m not interested in changing minds or offering the “truth,” instead, I’m interested in clearing up some misconceptions and clarifying the positions of some anarchists in Philly. This way when tensions arise between insurrectionary and leftist perspectives, when we inevitably step on each other’s toes (as must happen when paths cross, as opposed to run parallel), they can be understood for what they are, differences in approach, perspective, and trajectory.

New Energy and Practices

With the arrival of militant leftists willing to take conflictual action, the space to act and experiment has expanded and changed. For some time insurrectionary anarchists have dismissed most marches and demonstrations, jaded and bitter, after too many bad experiences with activists (despite their often fiery rhetoric). Every now and then some of us would attend a march or rally, but for the most part those places felt unwelcoming. Seeing so many people taking to the street in black has been exciting. The spread of anonymous attendance, material preparedness, and uncompromising messaging is appealing to say the least, not to mention that many within these blocs are not showing up empty handed. Many of us are trickling back into the streets, once again donning our black masks, excited to see what new potential exists for us on this new terrain.

The spokes councils and other open ended forums that have sprung up mesh well with our informal and affinity based approach. They provide space to share information and coordinate action without taking away individual or group autonomy, or becoming decision-making bodies, that aim to steer the entirety of an action.

These changes are exciting, the space and energy have made more things feel possible. They have created more lines along which solidarity can be shown, and also more tensions between political tendencies that can hopefully complement each other rather than detract from the overall struggle against this miserable world.

Philly Before Trump

Anarchist and anti-fascist struggle here has not always looked like it does today. For a long time progressive and revolutionary forms of struggle took different and less militant forms, with Trump around this has changed, insurrectionary anarchists have and most likely will continue to share the streets and take similar action with progressive and revolutionary leftists. However things were happening before Trump. I’d like to clear up some generalizations that don’t take into account how things have been.

“In Philly, blocs work closely in a sphere of mutual respect with local Left organizations to make sure that everyone is on the same page when actions combine the interests of multiple groups.”

The statement that Philly black blocs work closely and in a sphere of mutual respect with left organizations erases years of activity in Philadelphia. Black bloc is a tactic, not a group. No political tendency has a monopoly on it, nor can it be spoken for as though it was a formal group. It might look like black blocs have mutual respect for the left if we only look at blocs that have taken place since Donald Trump’s election, but even then when we squint we see blocs that don’t fit that narrative.

The recent past has seen more black blocs within larger demonstrations, or as demonstrations of their own, many of these have been organized in coordination with left groups, but again not all. When looking into the past one can see the use of black bloc being upsetting to leftists. Whether organizing autonomous blocs to clash with police and disrupt civil society in solidarity with rebels in Ferguson in 2014, or the various attempts to escalate conflict during more Black Lives Matter protests than we care to count, to organizing against prisons as part of the nation-wide prison strike, to attacking police and business from within recent anti-Trump and anti-fascist protests, use of black bloc has mostly received mixed reviews until recently. This may be because for many insurrectionary anarchists, the black bloc was never meant to be a symbolic or spectacular display. For most of us black bloc is a way to hide our identities while we engage in forms of struggle we expect will bring about repression from the state or other groups intent on protecting the social order. Black bloc is a tactic we use to further our goals, not a representation of struggle we sacrifice and delay our desires for.

“Philly anti-fascist groups have moderated our own political urgencies to smash fascists and the state for the sake of building these relationships due to the advantages that strategic alliances with sympathetic noncombatants can provide.”

The above statement (like the one about black blocs in Philly) skips over the anti-fascist and anti-state activity here that has, and continues to take, an uncompromising position. The injured fascists, the damaged cars, the doxxing, and the hours of research were not the results of moderation. Before Trump won the election, a lot of anti-fascist activity here took place in a less spectacular context. White supremacists were confronted by occasional demonstrations, like Lief Erikson day for example, but mostly a less visible opposition did the job. Efforts to expose, sabotage, or otherwise disrupt fascist organizing were uncompromising whenever they could be. Potential alliances were not dismissed completely, but the times when they were prioritized over directly striking at white supremacy left us feeling disappointed.

Watering Down Of Struggle

It’s not hard to find someone opposed to neo-Nazis; only the most conflict avoidant liberals wring their hands when a self-described white supremacist gets punched in the face. It’s harder to come across people who are in opposition to society and all the racist trappings that hold it together: work, police, gender, colonialism, government, prisons, etc. While not so distant memory reminds me that whole cities burned in response to unexceptional policing, and that prisoners across the country attempted to destroy the prisoner labor economy, it leaves me concerned to see the so much of the struggle against white supremacy retreat into a defensive one focused on a specific administration and a specific brand of overt racism. For me it’s not enough to want to defend myself and my friends from Trump and the white supremacists he has emboldened, I need to struggle against the society, the civilization, that created them. To sound cliche, radical for me means grabbing a hold of problems by the root.

I’m worried that the new wave of antifa oriented struggle will leave behind the wider fight against white supremacy, and the state (which necessarily includes anti-fascism anyway). While as an anarchist I am against the existence of fascism and fascists, I am also convinced that white supremacy and authoritarianism are much more powerful and popular in the form of the state and society. Police and snitches are a much bigger threat to my existence than self-described white supremacists or nationalists. I’m not going to dismiss them as non-enemies (I’ve connected a pole to a skull, a rock to a racist, surely not for the last time). The rioting across the U$A against police and race (aka anti-blackness, aka white supremacy aka…) was more interesting to me than the more narrow, “most common denominator” focus on overt and/or self-described white supremacists.

Additionally, these riots confronted many of the same white supremacists, while continuing to fight forward on their own terms. Angry crowds confronted Oath Keepers, right-wing militias, and other organized racists bent on policing the joyful chaos, without having to seek them out or deviate too far from their attack on society at large. The antifa struggle seems to be an entirely defensive one, focusing only on the most socially unpopular forms of white supremacy while leaving the rest of society mostly unchallenged. As a defensive struggle it doesn’t push toward an anarchic unknown, but toward a moment that many can agree was better, the moment before Trump’s election, or the moment before he ran for office, as though he didn’t emerge from a racist society that will continue to exist for as long as we do not to destroy it, whether he remains in office or not.

Hierarchy Rears Its Head

“Would-be bloc participants need organizers to let them know how they’re going to win the day rather than resigning themselves to a loss.”

“Boston bloc leaders…”

“…our troops…”

“Being a militant vanguard against the fascist tide means simultaneously moderating two fronts – the enemy front, against which we must stand strong and push hard – and the allied front, to which we must stay close enough to encourage support for our militancy.”

I am against hierarchy. I don’t want to lead or be led. I want to organize with friends, not organize “the struggle.” It’s up to each individual to make their own path, without coercion or outside authority. Being against hierarchy means being against any sort of vanguard, bloc leaders, or acquiescence to being someone’s troop. Everyone who attends an action or demonstration has their own idea of what winning the day is (let’s not even get into a critique of the idea of winning). No one needs an organizer to tell them how to win, since there are at as least many ways to win as there are people present. The notion that someone needs an organizer to let them know how to win, is paternalistic at best and authoritarian at worst, it assumes that individuals can’t make their own agenda of how they want to struggle, that it’s possible for an action feel like a victory to everyone.

My Idea Of Freedom

“Anarchy cannot exist when individuals or social groups are dominated — whether that domination is facilitated and enforced by outside forces or by their own organization.”
Post-Left Anarchy: Leaving the Left Behind

As insurrectionary anarchists our goal is insurrection, this much should be obvious. What that means is less simple and will differ from person to person. Broadly it can mean we are interested in moments of rising up against authority and social relations of domination. Some of us include revolution in this trajectory, many of us do not. Revolt is its own reward. Each of our experimentations with insurrection look different, for some it tends toward the personal, individual pursuit of fulfilling anti-authoritarian desire, for others it tends to be a social and even communal path, shared with others in revolt against this world.

I organize with others informally, along lines of affinity. This means I don’t try to build mass organizations tasked with taking on every aspect of struggle, instead I act with others to accomplish specific tasks without forming a permanent organization. This informal organizations are made up of people who feel drawn to both each other and the group’s intended project.

I’m not against working with leftists when our paths run parallel, I don’t expect a pure struggle of only isolated anarchists. I decide who I act with based on the affinity I feel toward someone. As any two people get to know each other, the appeal of doing certain things together goes up or down. The deepening of affinity — through conversations, shared experiences — can lead to taking action together. I’m open to working with anyone whose long, medium, or short term goals line up with mine, whether leftist, anarchist, or otherwise.

“What organization are you in?” “What group is doing this?” These questions and others like them point toward the sometimes confusing nature of an informal approach. Informal means not building membership organizations, instead coming together around specific projects (writing a text, planning a demonstration, carrying out an attack, etc) then disbanding. An informal organization exists for only as long as it takes to complete a project or until it is abandoned. There’s no membership lists, whoever takes part is in. Permanent organizations get bogged down by the task of maintaining themselves, are more susceptible to repression, and tend toward bureaucracy.

I am for the attack. I don’t believe the powers that be will step down, and I can’t just walk away from society. As anarchists there are so many aspects of this world that we are against, what better way to get rid of them than to strike at them? Besides the material damages, attacking heals the attacker, reminds them that they’re not completely domesticated, allows them to leave behind the obedience and compromise of daily life, and sharpens their daggers for when they find ourselves in larger revolts.

I am for revolt pointing toward rupture with society, not revolt as a means of social progression. I don’t believe that progress is good, or that things are getting better over time. Rupture means as complete a break with the existing order as possible, whether for a minute or a month, alone or across the whole city. There’s no clear path toward it, only constantly experimentation with what might bring it about. Some believe that when ruptures are taking place closer and closer to each other in both time and space, this can lead to revolution. Others feel that rupture is a good time in itself and needs no justification.

Philly, Spring 2017

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Philly Anti-Cap exists to promote and spread anti-authoritarian events and ideas as well as facilitate communication between anti-authoritarians and anarchists in and around Philadelphia. We hope that this site can be used to further preexisting struggles and dialogues, we encourage you to comment, discuss, and send us submissions.

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