Listen to the Episode — 53 min
Alanis: The Ex-Worker:
Clara: an audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: a twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: for everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Welcome to episode number nine of the Ex-Worker. Today we’ll be taking a closer look at insurrectionary anarchism, from its history among guerrillas in Spain and criminals in Italy to its influence among North American anarchists today. We’ll also review Armed Joy by Alfredo Bonanno, one of the most influential texts coming from the insurrectionary tradition.
Clara: There’s also an exciting interview with a participant in California Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, some feedback from listeners about nihilism, news about animal liberations, a slew of political prisoner birthdays, and more. My name is Clara…
Alanis: And my name is Alanis, and we’ll be your hosts. For links and more info about anything we discuss today, don’t forget to visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast. And if you want to get in touch, send an email to podcast [at] crimethinc [dot] com, or leave us a voice mail: at 202–59-NOWRK; that is, 202–596–6975.
Clara: The secret is to really begin, so… let’s get started!
THE HOT WIRE:
Alanis: And we’ll begin with The Hot Wire, some news of interest to anarchists from around the world.
Clara: NATO 5 prisoner Mark “Migs” Neiweem has been labeled a gang member by authorities in Pontiac Correctional Center in Illinois for being an anarchist. Prison officials are trying to use Migs’ politics to justify extending his sentence beyond his projected release date in November. According to them, gang symbols include not only the circled A, representing anarchism, but also the circled E, symbolizing “radical equality,” because it also connotes “the 99%” - an effort to retrospectively criminalize the Occupy movement in the prison system. He’s asked for letters in support; you can find his address on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: Later on in the show we’ll have a report from the California prisoner hunger strike, in which one of the core demands has to do with challenging the system for labeling gangs on the inside. The discourse of “gangs” is an especially powerful tool of repression, because it criminalizes not our behavior but our affinity, our relationships to each other and how we organize. (http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/)
Clara: Speaking of our relationships to each other: have we convinced you to delete your Facebook account yet? No? OK, how about this: Facebook just announced that it will expand its facial recognition database to include profile pictures - adding a billion extra faces. And we already know from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that Facebook collaborates with the NSA to share data on their users with the government. The FBI and other agencies used to spend tons of money on mapping relationships between activists; now, we do it for them for free, and better than they ever could. And integrating facial recognition software with this repressive social mapping has implications too creepy to imagine.
Alanis: A massive agricultural strike in Columbia has seen over 200,000 farmers stopping work and blockading roads in protest against free trade agreements and the impoverishment brought on by privatization.
Clara: In other news, some high profile anti-police arsons took place recently. In Portishead, UK, the Angry Foxes Cell took responsibility for a major arson against a Police Firearms Training Centre.
Alanis: And the Free Mandylas and Tsavdaridis Cell of the International Conspiracy for Revenge of the Informal Anarchist Federation/International Revolutionary Front claimed credit for an arson against a police training school in Balikpapan, Indonesia, in solidarity with arrested Greek anarchists.
Clara: In our last episode we reported on a major mink release by the Animal Liberation Front in Idaho; turns out there’s been a whole summer full of animal liberation actions. Recently the ALF took credit for vandalism attacks against San Diego’s only fur store, Furs by Graf, the latest of a dozen attacks the store has received over the years. The same night, the homes of the owner and her parents were also targeted. The FBI is now investigating this coordinated attack.
Alanis: The ALF also freed a bobcat from a Montana fur farm and fifteen cows from a slaughterhouse in North Branch, Michigan.
Clara: After the recent liberation of dozens of game birds, the owner of the Ash Grove Pheasant Farm in Riverside, CA told the media that she will keep any recaptured birds as pets, but will no longer sell pheasants. Though the closure is unconfirmed, it appears that the ALF effectively shut down this farm!
Alanis: The communique from this release reminded listeners: “Wildlife farms are everywhere. Their victims can be immediately released, with no rehoming necessary. This life saving action took no specialized skill, less than twenty-four hours of planning, and fifty dollars. With basic tools and determination, anyone is capable of destroying the barrier that stands between an animal and their freedoms… For only a fool would cling to this world as it is.”
Clara: And the summer liberations keep on coming! On August 14th, the 6th major animal release this summer let approximately 2,000 mink free from a fur farm in Morris, Illinois. This farm was one of the smallest in the US, and it’s possible that every animal was freed. The raid also included dousing two trucks with paint stripper, and spray painting a barn with a message:
Alanis:: Liberation is love.
Clara: How touching!
Alanis: And two weeks later, the ALF raided Royal Oak Fur Farm in Simcoe, Ontario, releasing an estimated 750 mink and 50 foxes.
Clara: And in other animal-related news, this week fishers in the Danish/Swedish strait of Oresund discovered Pacu, testicle-biting fish native to South America. This cousin of the piranha is vegetarian; however, because these fish love chomping nuts with their powerful jaws, they sometimes mistake human reproductive organs for their favorite snack. Experts advise swimmers in the strait to wear a swimsuit as a precaution.
Alanis: And now it’s time for listener feedback. Today we’re going to catch up on replies to our 7th episode.
Clara: Whew! we got some fiery responses to our Chopping Block review of Attentat, the new nihilist journal. Turns out people have some strong feelings about nihilism!
Alanis: One listener believes that nihilism is “interesting, but hardly ever relevant… Nihilism, as an existential view, is the status quo in postmodern thought- meaning our age believes nothing truly matters or means anything… Meaning is a weapon and a means of survival… Realizing our way of life is rotten and based on unhappy myths that don’t ring true, we tell new myths - such as ‘the heroic nihilists fight against all odds to live an authentic life for what really matters and subvert all authority by building strength through inspiration to create an insurrectionary moment, a poetic orgasm of destruction that swiftly creates a new world before you can say Zapatista.’” They went on to argue that change happens slowly, and long-term revolutionary struggles shouldn’t be discounted if they’re not explosively glamorous at all times.
Clara: Another listener, with steam coming out of their ears, characterized the argument of one of Attentat’s articles as saying in essence: “‘Insurrectionary anarchists are doing what we the Attentat writers would be doing, if we thought there was any point.’” Thus, as our listener sees it, "they take precisely the least interesting aspects of the insurrectionist approach—the pseudo-intellectual pretensions, the self-importance and generalized negativity — while ditching the one beautiful aspect, the focus on immediate and existential revolt, which makes insurrectionist anarchism a way of living meaningfully in a smothering world. It also, incidentally, seems to me to violate their idea of the attentat as an overloading of a moment, rather than an act weighed on the scales of strategy. In this light, their masturbation about the Black Banner group, who acted without hope in a much different situation (and whose history, incidentally, has been passed on to us by people whose anarchism has nothing to do with nihilism), appears especially repugnant.
“Who are the nihilists of Attentat…? They are spectators of suicidal, hopeless rebellion, who do not themselves engage in it, but who critique everyone who does not, getting so carried away by the ego trip of critique that they can’t even stop short of purporting to critique critique… The real critique of critique is via action, abandoning mere discourse to demonstrate other possibilities.”
Alanis: Whoo damn! Well, we may take the time in a future episode to explore nihilism in more depth, both its history in 19th century Russia as well as some of its expressions in contemporary anarchism. We don’t want to be attacking (or defending) a straw nihilist here. But for today we’re going to focus on introducing the basic ideas of insurrectionary anarchism, since we’ve been throwing that term around a lot.
Clara: What do you think we should review on the Chopping Block? Drop us a line at podcast[at]crimethinc [dot] com and let us know. Also, if you’re a writer or publisher and you want us to review something, feel free to send it to us. No promises, of course, but we’ll always take a look.
And now it’s time to share a piece of the CrimethInc Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Critique and Self-Management.
For more explorations of the war in every word, visit crimethinc.com/contradictionary
FEATURE: INSURRECTIONARY ANARCHISM
Clara: “Hurry up, comrade, shoot at once on the policeman, the judge, the wealthy, before a new police will hinder you. Hurry up and say no, before a new repression convinces you that to say no is nonsensical and crazy and that you should accept the hospitality of an asylum. Hurry up and attack the capital, before a new ideology makes it sacred for you. Hurry up and refuse work, before a new sophist tells you: Work makes you free. Hurry up and play. Hurry up and arm yourself.”
Alanis: If you’ve had any exposure to anarchism in North America or Europe over the last few decades, or if you’ve been listening to our podcast regularly, you’ve probably heard the term insurrectionary anarchism tossed around quite a bit.
Just like anarchism, insurrectionary anarchism can mean a lot of different things to different people. And that’s because, also like anarchism, it isn’t a static set of rules or positions that one must adhere to, but rather a way of thinking about and engaging with the world.
Clara: By definition, an insurrection is an act of revolting against a civil authority or government. So, an insurrectionary anarchist would be an anarchist who is in favor of revolts against civil authority or government, or more specifically, one who believes that smaller revolts against authority will lead to larger revolutions. But aside from this straightforward definition, insurrectionary anarchism is heavily informed by a rich history, which we’re going to dive into in order to clarify how this tendency came about, and what it looks like today.
Alanis: It’s the late 1930’s, at the tail end of the Spanish Civil War. The CNT, a large and diverse anarchist organization in Spain, agreed to join forces with the Stalinists in the Popular front, betraying some of its more radical elements. The split wasn’t entirely cut and dry– some insurrectionary elements would always remain within the CNT, including an internal organization called the FAI, the Iberian Anarchist Federation. But the differences between the FAI and the more moderate, syndicalist leadership of the CNT marked the beginning of longstanding tensions between anarchists who advocated for large, formal organizations and those who advocated for illegal actions.
In 1940, the Spanish Republicans, including the Popular front and the anarchist forces, lost the war to the nationalists, who were led by General Francisco Franco. He would rule Spain as a fascist dictatorship until his death in 1975, and anarchists who were on the losing side of this battle paid heavily. Under his rule, 200,000 political dissidents were executed, and many others were imprisoned in jails or labor camps, or forced into exile, often either in France or in South America.
Some anarchists who had been exiled to France, such as the infamous Francisco Sabaté Llopart, better known simply as Sabaté, fought with the French resistance during World War II and subsequently also spent time in concentration camps. During and after the war, some of these exiled radicals returned to Spain and fought in small, clandestine affinity groups against the Franco regime. Within these small, nimble groups they waged attacks, assassinated political figureheads and police, and freed prisoners, while robbing banks to support themselves and living illegally and clandestinely.
Clara: Fast forward to the 60’s– Another group called the Situationist International began to make its influence felt in France and abroad, especially during the massive student and worker uprisings in May of 1968. Their theories, which extended to the entire structure of capitalist domination, influenced anarchists heavily. This included talking about the Spectacle – a complicated concept about which a lot can be said, but let’s just call it shorthand for the way in which our interactions with each other are mediated by images and the mass media. Situationist ideas also draw heavily on Karl Marx’s theories about labor, commodities and alienation, while simultaneously advocating for insurrections as a break with daily monotony and routine. They were critical of the large anarchist organizations, which they viewed as fossils from another era. Not-so-incidentally, members of the Situationist International were also involved in material support for political prisoners in Francoist Spain.
Escalating attacks around Europe provoked controversy in the various anarchist milieus and organizations. Some of these attacks included machine gun fire against the Spanish Embassy in London, as well as the kidnapping of the Vatican representative to Francoist Spain. These attacks were in solidarity with political prisoners of the Franco regime, and often made reference to Situationist ideas in their communiqués. The ideas were growing teeth.
Alanis: Meanwhile in Italy, a tendency called commontismo also utilized the Situationist critique of everyday life, while advocating a return to illegal actions – not so much the bank robbing illegalism of turn-of-the-century anarchists, but rather a buildup of smaller, daily illegal acts such as shoplifting, expropriation and fare evasion. They felt that the struggle against capital should be waged in a a criminal way, in direct conflict with the law and the misery of everyday life.
Class tensions were heating up throughout Italy. Student and worker organizations, as well as marxist armed struggle groups, contributed to a diverse and complex terrain of struggle…
[Other voice] “The revolutionary movement including the anarchist one was in a developing phase and anything seemed possible, even a generalization of the armed clash. …”
Alanis: wrote Italian insurrectionary anarchist Alfredo Bonanno, reflecting on that heady period in 1970s Italy:
[Other voice] “But it was necessary to protect oneself from the danger of specialization and militarization that a restricted minority of militants intended to impose on the tens of thousands of comrades who were struggling with every possible means against repression and against the State’s attempt — rather weak to tell the truth — to reorganize the management of capital. That was the situation in Italy, but something similar was taking place in Germany, France, Great Britain and elsewhere. ”
Clara: Some anarchists found more affinity with one of the armed groups, called Revolutionary Action, whose members advocated for tactics that were widely reproducible rather than ones that required special training, such as gun fighting and urban guerrilla maneuvers. In his prolific writings over the next 40 years, Bonanno would elaborate on this idea of using reproducible tactics to generalize struggles. He would become one of the most well-known and influential anarchists in the insurrectionary tendency.
The long-standing tensions with the formal organizations, the influence of the Situationists and their critique of everyday life, the petty illegality of commontismo, groups of students and workers and urban guerillas – all of these factors contributed to the climate in which insurrectionary proposals were hatched.
Alanis: But insurrectionary currents also developed independently of this situation in Italy. In Barcelona, for example, after yet another reformist move by the CNT in the 90’s, similar insurrectionary ideas and tactics began to emerge. None of the classic insurrectionary texts had been translated into Spanish or Catalan at this point, but perhaps the proximity to Italy and circulation of comrades had something to do with it.
Furthermore, in Chile, the development of insurrectionary ideas mirrored their emergence in Italy, stemming from critiques of the Marxist urban guerilla groups which were active after the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Clara: So, what are some of these ideas?
A few tenets of insurrectionary anarchism:
The time is now: Many organizations and movements, including some that are explicitly anarchist, promise to challenge the powers that be as soon as the groundwork has been prepared; but the world is always changing, and one may lay a foundation only to discover that the terrain has shifted. Once one gets used to waiting, even if it is only a matter of needing to prepare a little more, it is always easier to go on waiting. Revolution, like parenthood and everything else momentous in life, is something one can never be adequately prepared for.
Often, this preparation is framed in terms of the need to do more outreach and education. But until there is a clash, until the lines are drawn, there is nothing to talk about. Most people tend to remain aloof from theoretical discussions, but when something is happening, when the stakes are high and they can see concrete differences between opposing sides, they will take a stand. In forcing such ruptures, one can compel those who hide authoritarian and capitalist allegiances to show their true colors, while offering everyone else the opportunity to form other allegiances.
Insurrectionary anarchists are often criticized for their belief that immediate attack is always the thing to do. To react immediately against oppression without thought for the consequences is beautiful, and perhaps a way to recover one’s humanity in a desensitizing world—but it is not always strategic. It’s up to individual actors and affinity groups to have discussion about how to act in a strategic way that takes their conditions into consideration.
Informal Organization: The more energy one puts into maintaining an organization, the less time one spends struggling. Formal organizations, with membership cards and platforms, always require that the most energy be spent on maintaining the organization, honing their positions and padding their numbers. Less formal organizational structures – small groups that can come together at the appropriate time if need be– can spend less time maintaining themselves and more time waging attacks and engaging in clashes. These large, formal organizations and confederations may have made sense at one point in history as a way to fight against domination, but as capitalism has become more flexible, and its logic more ingrained in us, the ways in which we fight against it must also be flexible.
Affinity: We act in small, tight-knit groups of trusted comrades, sometimes referred to as Affinity Groups. This was how anarchists acting against the Franco regime organized themselves, and has since become an important strategic point for insurrectionary anarchists. These structures also tend to be more resilient in times of state repression, since their bonds are based on trust, experience, and acting together rather than pure ideology.
Permanent conflictuality: We’re not sure if the socialist, communist, democratic, or even anarchist utopia is possible, and if so, it’s certainly impossible to imagine what it would look like, given how much our ideas and positions tend to change during times of struggle. Rather, some insurrectionary anarchists believe that the meaning of being an anarchist lies within the struggle, and what that struggle reveals.
More importantly than simply acting, insurrectionary anarchists focus on how to make sure their actions spread. They don’t believe that a few people repetitively pummeling certain capitalist targets will make an insurrection or revolution, but rather that these small attacks are more like sparks. And once the sparks catch, the fire can rage.
“Attack is the refusal of mediation, pacification, sacrifice, accommodation, and compromise in struggle. It is through acting and learning to act, not propaganda, that we will open the path to insurrection, although analysis and discussion have a role in clarifying how to act. Waiting only teaches waiting; in acting one learns to act.”
Insurrectionary Anarchism Today
Clara: Given that the situation in North America is drastically different from the conditions in which these proposals were formed, how can they be useful today? Well, for starters, insurrectionary anarchists don’t take these ideas as gospel, but rather use them as they see fit to contribute to ongoing struggles and tensions that are inherent within our capitalist world.
Alanis: Insurrectionary anarchists are probably best known, aesthetically and in the mainstream media, for their participation in formations called Black Blocs at protests. This tactic involves individuals dressing in all black and covering their faces to form an amorphous blob of indistinguishable individuals who can carry out actions – including attacks against property – with less danger of being singled out by police, journalists or good citizens. Although not all insurrectionary anarchists engage with black bloc tactics, nor is every black bloc participant an insurrectionary anarchist, this tactic has proven to be one of the most visible and widely reproduced in demonstrations around the world, including the famous 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization.
Clara: In some places, insurrectionary anarchists choose to wage struggles against specific aspects of capitalist development, such as the construction of prisons or detention centers, infrastructure projects such as highways, gentrification and development in neighborhoods, or increased policing and surveillance. Anarchists will sometimes come together, in constellations of small affinity groups, to undertake multifaceted struggles against these projects, often discussing how to intervene within existing social tensions rather than trying to manufacture tension against a specific project. These struggles most often consist of propaganda distribution, agitation, larger demonstrations, and small, reproduceable clandestine attacks. Because they’re organized informally, they’re better able to withstand repression than a centralized organization.
Alanis: Insurrectionary tactics developed in part as a response to the imprisonment and torture of radical anarchists under the Franco regime; and today, support of prisoners and anti-prison activity remains an important part of insurrectionary practice. Historically, this has involved assisting comrades’ escapes from prison, and helping them live clandestinely once they’re out. Today, in an age when the state’s level of control makes this much more difficult, insurrectionary anti-prison practice has tended to focus more on encouraging connections within prisons, fostering the ability for revolts to happen, and strategizing about how those revolts can echo inside as well as outside of prisons.
Clara: In places such as the United States, arrest and incarceration are common experiences among disenfranchised communities. In this context, hatred of prisons and police become a point of connection between anarchists and other marginalized and angry folks. The struggles that come about based on these specific tensions often prove more interesting and fruitful, because they are based in direct conflict, rather than simply ideology.
Alanis: There isn’t a single way in which all insurrectionary anarchists act. But the common thread is that we do act, and in acting we learn, find meaning, and understand our place in the world.
From the classic insurrectionary text “At Daggers Drawn:”
At Daggers Drawn: "We can choose not to live. That is the most beautiful reason for opening oneself up to life with joy. ‘There is always time to put an end to things; one might as well rebel and play’ — is how the materialism of joy talks.
We can choose not to act, and that is the most beautiful reason for acting. We bear within ourselves the potency of all the acts we are capable of, and no boss will ever be able to deprive us of the possibility of saying no. What we are and what we want begins with a no. From it is born the only reason for getting up in the morning. From it is born the only reason for going armed to the assault of an order that is suffocating us.
On the one hand there is the existent, with its habits and certainties. And of certainty, that social poison, one can die. On the other hand there is insurrection, the unknown bursting into the life of all. The possible beginning of an exaggerated practice of freedom."
Alanis: Now it’s time for the Mugshot, when we profile contemporary projects that put anarchist ideals into action. Recently, the Ex-Worker had the chance to meet up with Isaac Ontiveros, a participant in the California Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, a group of the families and loved ones of prisoners in resistance along with their supporters. We’ve covered developments in the strike over the past few episodes, and we’re grateful for the chance to take a more in-depth look at what’s been happening and what’s at stake. Isaac discussed the background of previous strikes, key demands of the current strikers, how the strike is catalyzing resistance across the state and beyond, and how we can all support the courageous folks inside and out who are challenging the brutal and racist prison industrial complex.
Clara: I’m here today with Isaac Ontiveros from Critical Resistance who’s going to tell us a little bit about the California Prisoner Hunger Strike and the efforts to show solidarity with it. Isaac, thanks for being with us.
Isaac: Thank you for having me. Critical Resistance has worked since 2011 along with prisoners themselves, their loved ones, different organizations, different community members to support the hunger strikes that have rocked the California Prison System. There’ve been three hunger strikes that have happened in the past two years starting in July of 2011, then again in October of 2011; and now, hunger strikers are on their 45th day of hunger strike in the California prison system.
Alanis: The strike began on July 8th, though planning started many months before. The demands of the strikers seem so basic that it’s horrifying that these issues even have to be demanded.
Isaac: They’re striking around five core demands. The central demand is calling for an end to California’s practice of indefinite solitary confinement. California uses an arbitrary and administrative method to put people into solitary confinement and they can put them there indefinitely. So, what we have in California is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for decades. As your listeners probably know, the impacts of solitary confinement are devastating both physically and psychologically. And then as it relates to the rest of the prison industrial complex, the vast majority of people who end up in solitary are people of color. And to lock somebody up, for, you know, the rest of their life, for decades in solitary certainly has a devastating effect on their families. The prisoners are also going on strike to call attention to and seek changes in the policies that the prison uses in order to target prisoners and put them in isolation. It’s not like they have recourse to a legal defense. It’s not like they have a lawyer; these are administrative and arbitrary policies that are used to identify prisoners as part of a so-called ‘security threat group’ and then they’re thrown into isolation indefinitely. And one of the only ways to get out is to identify yourself as part of a threat group or to identify other prisoners and thus making them susceptible to being thrown into solitary. So it’s this very vicious, Draconian… prisoners have described it as Kafkaesque.
So they are calling for, at very least, changes in those policies. And then finally, they are also calling for an end to collective punishment used by guards that is more than often race-based. And then access for people who are in solitary, greater access to adequate, nutritious food and to educational programming and other things like that. Things that are, you know, things like a phone call, things like a picture of themselves to send to their family. We are talking very, very, very, very basic things.
Alanis: Each new hunger strike has grown exponentially, increasing the sense of power and solidarity among prisoners and challenging the isolation that the prison system attempts to impose.
Isaac: In 2011 when the strikes started initially there were about 7,000 prisoners that were on strike at the height of the July, 2011 strike. When they went on again in late September/October there was at least 12,000 prisoners. This strike again in 2013 now, at its height involved 30,000 prisoners in, I think, over 24 prisons in California. These have been massive protests that have seen the participation of prisoners not only who are in solitary but who are in the general population, prisoners from all different ethnic and geographic backgrounds very much cutting against the stereotypes and mythology of what life is like in prison, of how prisoners are able to be in solidarity with one another and how prisoners are able to be in solidarity with those on the outside.
The prisoners have been able to make gains. Obviously they’ve gone back on strike because the prison regime has, broken its promises to them, not implemented reforms, you know, or implemented reforms that have, in fact, constituted an expansion of the use of indefinite solitary confinement. But at the same time, what we’ve seen is the political activism and development of thousands of prisoners. We’ve seen the leadership being exercised by their loved ones out in their communities. They’re really kind of blowing the lid off of the torture that is practiced in prisons not only in California but elsewhere. I mean, one of the really interesting things about this current strike is the way that the prisoners who are, kind of um, spokespeople for the hunger strikers have talked about their protest being related to prisoner protests in Palestine or Guantanamo or even the political organizing work of, you know, what they clearly identify as oppressed people from across the world. I think that creates this very ripe political moment for us to understand what’s possible politically for imprisoned people but also for the communities they come from and I think the solidarity work outside of the prison has also shown that in ways that people have come together.
Alanis: Earlier, in our discussion of insurrectionary anarchism, we mentioned how anti-prison struggles provide a way for radicals to connect with folks from other marginalized communities and form bonds much stronger than those based on ideology. We’ve seen this on a massive scale in California, as families of hunger strikers step to the forefront and connect with others in resistance to the prison industrial complex.
Isaac: I can’t even count how many people that I’ve been honored to work with who this is their first time becoming active and, you know, what they’ll says is, they’ll say: “I’ve never participated. I’ve never organized before. I’ve never come out to a rally. I’ve never, you know, whatever, come out and in fact part of the reason I haven’t was that I was taught to be ashamed that I have a loved one in prison and now I’m not. Now I’m part of this movement or this growing movement.”
Alanis: The hunger strike may appear to be a reformist struggle, with demands that fall so far short of the radical transformations we want to see in dismantling prison society. Yet the fight for these basic reforms contains seeds of revolutionary potential, as rebellious prisoners and supporters build power and networks of solidarity.
Isaac: We are certainly trying to make it so that these strikers can win their demands and we are certainly wanting changes in the prison system at very least. But I think that there’s also reverberations to what becomes politically possible for greater and wider changes both in the prison but also outside of the prison. I think more narrowly in the support for these hunger strikers, you know, coming from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition which is very much trying to put pressure on decision makers in California to negotiate with the strikers and at very least to implement the very reasonable changes that they’re [prisoners] are outlining, that they want having to do with the conditions of their confinement. I think that that’s looked like, you know, putting pressure on the governor of California or the prison administration itself or other decision makers in California who can then put pressure on the governor especially since the governor in California has remained silent, complicit in the silence. I’m sure for your listeners, those channels, you know, trying to get, you know, elected officials to move at all, to change these systems that they are in charge of is whatever, like boxing a glacier. But I think part of the solidarity work is to think about how we understand the leadership of prisoners, how we can be in conversation with them about their demands, and how we can try to make some incremental changes. I mean, this is about as bad as it goes as far as imprisonment goes and it’s not to outline a hierarchy of oppression here but we’re talking about nearly unimaginable conditions and we’re talking about people who are incrementally trying to change those things and sustainably change those things. And I think that by making these incremental changes, we can chip away at some of the violence of the prison system while also increasing the capacity of our communities to resist that violence and to create change that doesn’t rest in the hands of politicians and so on but really does start to shift power to those communities.
Alanis: The impact of the strike is rippling outwards through prisons around the country remember last episode how political prisoner Tom Manning in solitary confinement in North Carolina sent a shout out to the Pelican Bay prison where the strikes first began. And opportunities to show solidarity aren’t limited to California.
Isaac: I think for your listeners, as far as what they can do to become involved, is to stay aware, to visit prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com early and often. There’s all kinds of information there. It’s updated daily. You’ll get statements from prisoners themselves from, you know, different organizers. You can seen pictures from things that are happening and one of the things the coalition is encouraging people to do all over the world is to take action where they are, to keep it in mind, to use it as an opportunity to talk about the nature of imprisonment in the United States and then to try to compel some change and people can have different understandings of how change comes about and where change comes from and what’s actually useful and I think that’s actually a beautiful thing as far as this coalition is, is that there’s a broad political diversity. You know, we’re very much focused on trying to get those in power in California to negotiate with these strikers but I think it’s also, you know, people want to show solidarity with them. That helps build movement inside. That helps other people understand what’s possible. That helps community members wherever they are involved in local fights understand what’s possible as far as organizing goes and how to really build with all kind of different peoples in very, very local settings and then hopefully national and international settings. I think the idea here is to keep it alive, to keep it in people’s minds and to do our best to try to chip away at what is increasingly becoming, you know, one of the most repressive prison regimes in history here in California.
Alanis: As of today, prisoners have reached their 55th day of hunger strike. We don’t have information on exactly how many people are still refusing food or participating in some way, but we do know that there are folks in critical, life-threatening condition at this point. It’s especially urgent now to do what we can to support this uprising. You can get the latest updates at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity dot wordpress dot com.
THE CHOPPING BLOCK:
Clara: And now it’s time for the Chopping Block, the part in each episode when we review… hey, what is it, Alanis?
Alanis: OK, so I’m with you about supporting prisoner struggles. And a lot of that insurrectionary stuff resonates with me. But that quote at the beginning about how we should shoot on cops and judges and rich people… that’s a little much for me!
Clara: Of course, dear listeners, the Ex-Worker is not telling you to shoot anybody, so put your slingshots away.
Alanis: Who is this Bonanno guy, anyway?
Clara: Ah, well, funny you should ask- because it is actually time for the Chopping Block, and this time around, in the spirit of this episode and to answer your question, we’re gonna take a look at Armed Joy, which is one of Bonanno’s best known texts - and the source of that quote that caused you such consternation.
Alanis: Ah, whatever. He’s probably just one of those armchair revolutionaries who’s always trying to get everyone else to do the crazy stuff he only writes about.
Clara: Umm… well, he spent years in prison after multiple arrests for armed robbery, and was most recently released in 2010, at the age of… 73, I think?
Alanis: Wow, OK.
Clara: I know, right? And in his introduction to Armed Joy, he wrote that he spent 18 months in prison for writing it, and that it was banned and all copies of it ordered to be seized and destroyed. The Italian government literally ordered libraries to burn the copies of it they had in circulation!
Alanis: Geez! What was so dangerous about that little book?
Clara: Well, its argument is pretty simple. We should revolt, now. Like right now. Not when we get off of work, not when we finish listening to this podcast, but right now. Not by philosophizing or writing more pamphlets; not by joining big left organizations or unions or specialist guerrilla groups; but by jumping right in to whatever conflicts and struggles are unfolding around us. He’s proposing that we rebel not out of duty or obligation or ideology or morality, but to live more joyful lives.
Alanis: What has he got against radical organizations and theory and all that?
Clara: Basically that they just get in the way of what’s really important. Remember that he’s writing in Italy in the 70s, when all sorts of Marxist and communist groups are competing with capitalists and democrats about how best to manage people and production. And all these so-called revolutionaries seemed so… pious, as he puts it. These lefty bureaucrats and grim militants need to lighten up and reconnect to the reasons why they want a different world - because this one is so damn boring and sad! As he saw it, while all these professional revolutionaries wasted time debating the best methods for reorganizing production, they were ignoring the rebellions that were going on every day around them, as people in factories or schools fed up with being exploited were taking all sorts of actions, not because they’d read the right books but because they paid attention to what was making them miserable and acted directly against it. So for Bonanno, it’s central to reject work: not just capitalist wage labor, but all the efforts to put us back to work for this cause or that theory, keeping us alienated from our actual desires. Play is a better way to understand what we’re doing when we take up arms against the existing world; emphasizing the qualitative over the quantitative, the passionate risk over the carefully calculated strategy.
Alanis: That sounds cool. But obviously we’re living in a different world today. Are these ideas still relevant?
Clara: Well, Bonanno wants us to read it in the context in which it was written, but to think about how we can apply the basic concepts to what we’ve got going on around us today. So for example, in the fifth chapter he lays out this critique of “self-management”, you know, becoming our own boss. He says, “If the struggle is extinguished, self-management becomes nothing other than self-management of one’s exploitation.” This is decades before the advent of all the “flexibility” and Craigslist self-employment and stuff that predominates today, but he really hit the nail on the head in recognizing that it’s the antagonism between managers and the those they manage where the potential really lies, when we acknowledge how miserable and boring our lives in production are and start our resistance from there.
Alanis: OK, I’m starting to understand that quote a little more. It’s kind of like a joke, but he also means it.
Clara: Yeah. The whole book is written in this wacky playful goofy tone, which suits the ideas he’s expressing to a T. I mean, listen to this sarcasm:
“People are tired of meetings, the classics, pointless marches, theoretical discussions that split hairs in four; endless distinctions, the monotony and poverty of certain political analyses. They prefer to make love, smoke, listen to music, go for walks, sleep, laugh, play, kill policemen, lame journalists, kill judges, blow up barracks. Anathema! The struggle is only legitimate when it is comprehensible to the leaders of the revolution. Otherwise, there being a risk that the situation might get beyond their control.”
Clara: And that’s just it. His notion of anarchism is about doing being totally out of control, unmanageable. As he puts it in the intro, he wants to “show how a practice of liberation and destruction can come forth from a joyful logic of struggle, not a mortal, schematic rigidity within the pre-established canons of a directing group.”
Alanis: Aw man, I remember that playing out in the Occupy movement all the time. All these protest manager types kept wanting us all to get on message and make mission statements and stuff, when there were always people who were just there to hang out in an autonomous space and were bored with all the meetings and bureaucracy. And when it came down to it, in the evictions and protests and stuff, a lot of the protest managers were either nowhere to be found or trying to negotiate with the police or something, while the wing nuts and goof-offs were actually there in the street, fighting like it mattered.
Clara: Exactly. And that’s why Armed Joy is still relevant today. Obviously right now in US history is not an era of prominent communist parties and armed groups contesting the state. But we can learn a lot of lessons from these early insurrectionary ideas that do apply to our struggles here today.
Alanis: You can read Armed Joy online, at theanarchistlibrary[dot]org. And we’ve got the link up on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS:
Clara: And now we’ll wrap things up with Next Week’s News, a quick look at events and resistance to come.
Alanis: There are ongoing demonstrations and vigils to support the California hunger striking prisoners, in New York, Oakland, San Francisco, and various other locations. Keep posted or add something from your area to the calendar at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.
Clara: September 14th is an international day of mobilization in solidarity with imprisoned German revolutionary Sonya Suder of the Revolutionary Cells case, as we mentioned in our last episode, in recognition of the second anniversary of her extradition from France.
Alanis: From the 13 to 15th, there will be a “Fractivist” conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, for folks mobilizing against hydrofracking.
Clara: And on the 14 and 15 is the Victoria Anarchist Book Fair in British Columbia.
Alanis: And there are quite a few political prisoners with birthdays upcoming in the next two weeks:
on the 3rd, Steve Murphy, an Earth Liberation Front prisoner;
Clara: on the 5th, Brian Vaillancourt, who tried to burn down a McDonalds,…
Alanis: on the 6th, Sekou Kambui, a former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army soldier…
Clara: and on the 12th, Leonard Peltier, American Indian Movement activist framed for the murder of two FBI agents
Alanis: and finally, on the 14th, Marissa Alexander, a Florida mother who defended herself against her abusive husband by firing a warning shot that hurt no one, and who got 20 years in prison for it.
Clara: Take a moment to send some birthday greetings to these folks over the next couple of weeks. As usual, we’ve listed the mailing addresses for all of them on our website.
Alanis: So that’s it for the Ex-Worker this time around. Thanks so much to Isaac for speaking with us, to Underground Reverie for the music, and to all of you for listening!
Clara: This podcast has been a production of the CrimethInc Ex-Worker’s Collective. For a full transcript of the show you’ve just heard, plus links, mailing addresses, recommended reading about insurrectionary anarchism, and all sorts of other useful info, check out our website at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: Let us know what you thought of the show by giving us a holler to podcast at crimethinc dot com, or by calling 202–59-NOWRK, that is, 202–596–6975.
Clara: We’ll be back in two weeks to continue elaborating on our exposition of insurrectionary ideas by exploring how they connect to Earth First! and green anarchism, as we share excerpts from a recent debate about campaign organizing, eco-defense, and social struggles.
Alanis: Till then, remember- there’s no time to wait. Revolt now!
Clara: No, really. NOW!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
Here are a few helpful primers and core texts to check out if you want further reading on this week’s theme of insurrectionary anarchism: Some notes on Insurrectionary Anarchism, Insurrectionary Anarchy from Do-or-Die Journal, and At Daggers Drawn: With the Existent, its Defenders and its False Critics.
Rolling Thunder published Say you want an insurrection in issue #8. It includes a little more background on insurrectionary anarchism as well as a critique of how it’s used by anarchists in the United States today.
Many strains of insurrectionary anarchism are informed by illegalism and individualist anarchism. Wolfi Landstreicher’s Against the Logic of Submission and Renzo Novatore’s Toward the Creative Nothing are good starting places.
And, of course, if you want to go straight to the source, read everything you can get your hands on by Alfredo Bonanno including the text we reviewed in this show’s Chopping Block, Armed Joy. Mad props to Jean Weir at Elephant Editions for all the work she’s done translating his writings over the years—and for generally being a total badass.
Thanks to the North American Animal Liberation Press Office for providing much of our news this episode. Extra-special thanks to our office jobs, who unknowingly paid us to read these articles. Extra-extra-special thanks to those combatants out there still risking life and limb for our non-human animal friends’ freedom.
Information on the California Prison Hunger Strike
Address for NATO 5 prisoner Mark “Migs” Neiweem, who has been targeted by prison officials for his anarchist convictions:
Mark Neiweem #M36200
Pontiac Correctional Center
P.O. Box 99
Pontiac, IL 61764
Upcoming Prisoner Birthdays:
Marissa Alexander J46944
11120 NW Gainesville Rd
Ocala, FL 34482
Leonard Peltier #89637–132
USP Coleman I
Post Office Box 1033
Coleman, Florida 33521
Sekou Cinque T.M. Kambui (William James Turk) #113058
Bibb Correctional Facility
565 Bibb Lane
Brent, Alabama 35034
Address envelope to William James Turk, address card to Sekou
Steve Murphy #39013–177
FCI Three Rivers
Post Office Box 4200
Three Rivers, Texas 78071
Brian Vaillancourt #2013–0209249
Cook County Department of Corrections
Post Office Box 089002
Chicago, Illinois 60608