"I'm not an anarcho-insurrectionist, but..." (Or: Maybe smashing windows is a good idea?)

20 posts / 0 new
Last post
ultraviolet's picture
ultraviolet
Offline
Joined: 14-04-11
Jul 22 2013 03:50
"I'm not an anarcho-insurrectionist, but..." (Or: Maybe smashing windows is a good idea?)

I'm not an anarcho-insurrectionist, but I find a point made in one of their pamphlets quite convincing.

I used to think that breaking windows at demos was stupid. Not because of a moral judgment, but because I saw it as useless... it could get you arrested or beaten and it doesn't even do any good.

But recently a comrade who leans towards insurrectionism gave me this pamphlet that made me think maybe breaking windows (and other such things) can be useful. I'll quote the parts I found convincing below. I'd like to hear what other people think about it before deciding whether to really embrace this particular point or not.

If you don't have time to read the excerpts, the basic message is that if there is a degree of insurrectionist (illegal and destructive actions, but not terrorism of civilians) on a regular basis, this is a good thing even if most of the public disapproves of it. Because in capitalism it’s inevitable that every now and then people will get very pissed off about the political/economic situation. And when that happens, if they have been exposed to the example of insurrectionist acts in their country, then it’s more likely they will participate in such acts. But if the only examples they're exposed to are law-abiding protests (or even labor strikes), then that’s what they will do.

The author says a history of such activity in Greece explains the huge riots there in response to austerity. I know that rioting isn't high on the list of productive revolutionary activity, but what appeals to me is the argument that mild insurrectionary acts can help witnesses of it develop a healthy disrespect for state power, a willingness to break certain laws and fight authority, and the confidence to do so.

I would never embrace this as a substitute for class struggle organizing, but at best as an occasional supplement.

Shwarz, A. G. “The Spirit of December Spread Round the World.” wrote:
I have heard many anarchists from other countries ask,"Why weren’t the Greek insurrections generalised to other countries, and what could we have done to make them spread?" ... The insurrection in Greece came from years of experience preparing society and anti-authoritarians themselves to fight back with everything they had....

... The Broken Windows theory of policing used by the authorities may propose a better explanation. Acts of disorder (such as broken windows) provide a signal to the people that authority is weak and further acts of disorder will be tolerated. ...

note: the broken window theory refers to research findings that if a neighborhood has a broken window that is obviously visible, crime will creep upwards in that community.

Shwarz, A. G. “The Spirit of December Spread Round the World.” wrote:
... And this is one reason why people living under other governments, no matter how much they personally were affected by the killing of an anarchist youth, did not riot with abandon. The signals of disorder were absent, because other governments were not directly weakened by the situation in Greece.

Additionally; because in the previous months and years Greek society was accustomed to seeing occasional attacks on police stations and banks carried out by anarchists, this form had entered the social consciousness and was ready and available for all the tens of thousands of high school students, immigrants, and others who needed some tool, some expression to their rage. If all they had seen in their worlds were peaceful protests in response to the aggressions and insults of State and capitalism, that is probably all they would have organised in response to the murder.

Shwarz, A. G. “Signals of Disorder: Sowing Anarchy in the Metropolis.” wrote:
As far as Greece is concerned, the argument is that by carrying out attacks—primarily smashings and molotov attacks against banks and police stations, which constitute the most obvious symbols of capitalist exploitation and State violence for Greek society—insurrectionary anarchists created signals of disorder that acted as subversive seeds. Even though most people did not agree with these attacks at the time, they lodged in their consciousness, and at a moment of social rupture, people adopted these forms as their own tools, to express their rage when all the traditionally valid forms of political activity were inadequate.

An interesting feature of these signals is that they will be met with fear and disapproval by the same people who may later participate in creating them. [...]

... The sensible thing to do is to attack Authority whenever we can.

boozemonarchy's picture
boozemonarchy
Offline
Joined: 28-12-06
Jul 22 2013 20:00

If all they had seen in their worlds were peaceful protests in response to the aggressions and insults of State and capitalism, that is probably all they would have organised in response to the murder.

This seems to be the crucial element of your IA friends argument, it really comes off as a giant logical leap. I'm not entirely convinced that shit kicking off in Greece is the result of years of preceding small scale smashy smashy by anti-authoritarians.

When it comes to window breaking on a demo? Meh. . . Most of the time I see it as probably useless, but probably not anymore useless then your A-B demo. Other times its harder to criticize from my specific vantage point. Example; The cops are trouble in my neighbourhood, but they are not assassinating people on the daily and though they are a boot to the neck, this isn't made painfully obvious every other minute. When that shit is a reality in a neighbourhoods eventually the community is gonna cut loose and attack places understood to be aiding or complacent with that situation. I think that stuff is inspiring.

Other situations for the smashy smashy? Well, it would seem that breaking the windows of a retail or restaurant business that is operating with scabs is just plain and simple workplace sabotage. A window broken at the factory probably wouldn't do much to stop production, but a big window in the seating area of a restaurant would probably gum things up nicely. Decisions best made by the participants of course.

Also, I don't understand IA to be any more connected with window-smashy then class struggle anarchism. I don't think we should let trust-fund brats with nothing better to do define IA with what stupid shit they got up to over the weekend. On the other side of that coin, we should be careful to not let those who are critical of IA get away with boiling it down to a "smashy or no smashy" understanding.

klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
Offline
Joined: 5-07-09
Jul 23 2013 03:23

also this isn't really IA if you ask me... it is gelderloosianisms... i.e. A.G. Schwarz is a pseudonym... it is stuff that has been picked up by self-styled IAs in north america tho i will admit

ultraviolet's picture
ultraviolet
Offline
Joined: 14-04-11
Jul 23 2013 04:38

thanks for the input. my enthusiasm for this theory has waned a bit. my mind goes back and forth on it.

Auld-bod's picture
Auld-bod
Offline
Joined: 9-07-11
Jul 25 2013 06:40

I’m very sceptical when a tactic is pumped up into an elaborate theory.
Years ago there was a shop outside Partick Cross Underground station which proclaimed the owner had donated a front window to the British Army where recruiting material was on display. One evening a half brick sailed into the display. For years afterwards the new window advertised jam.

Some time later on a London anti-Vietnam war demo several hundred anarchists broke away from the main march and made their own way to Grosvenor Square. As the demonstrators marched along some people kicked in every ‘keep left’ sign on the road leaving a trail of broken glass marking our route. The look of incomprehension on the on-lookers faces made me question what these demonstrators thought they were accomplishing.

ultraviolet's picture
ultraviolet
Offline
Joined: 14-04-11
Jul 25 2013 02:01

no one can get mad at jam. not even marmalade.

Noah Fence's picture
Noah Fence
Offline
Joined: 18-12-12
Jul 27 2013 06:11
Quote:
Other situations for the smashy smashy? Well, it would seem that breaking the windows of a retail or restaurant business that is operating with scabs is just plain and simple workplace sabotage. A window broken at the factory probably wouldn't do much to stop production, but a big window in the seating area of a restaurant would probably gum things up nicely. Decisions best made by the participants of course.

Spot on.

'The smashy smashy'. Lol - a great new addition to my revolutionary vocabulary!

Efficacy aside, there are few more beautiful sights than the arcing trajectory of a well thrown brick en route to a glistening plate glass window.

Mike S.
Offline
Joined: 28-07-13
Jul 31 2013 08:18

The sound of breaking glass is scary. It's shocking. I guess the point is to give people a shocking experience. A spectacle. Violence without violence. I'm not sure these sorts of actions have the possibility as being a sort of defibrillator for dying class consciousness. Sort of "smashing the representation of capital" (glass in banks/corporations etc). Symbolically smashing the system. Take that Bank Of America! Take that McDonald's! I showed you! Mumbles under breath....."bastards".

Mike S.
Offline
Joined: 28-07-13
Jul 31 2013 08:23
Auld-bod wrote:
I’m very sceptical when a tactic is pumped up into an elaborate theory.
Years ago there was a shop outside Partick Cross Underground station which proclaimed the owner had donated a front window to the British Army where recruiting material was on display. One evening a half brick sailed into the display. For years afterwards the new window advertised jam.

Some time later on a London anti-Vietnam war demo several hundred anarchists broke away from the main march and made their own way to Grosvenor Square. As the demonstrators marched along some people kicked in every ‘keep left’ sign on the road leaving a trail of broken glass marking our route. The look of incomprehension on the on-lookers faces made me question what these demonstrators thought they were accomplishing.

You were alive for the Vietnam protests?

Auld-bod's picture
Auld-bod
Offline
Joined: 9-07-11
Jul 31 2013 09:22

Mike S. #9

Surprisingly I was - recently spotted this footage from 1965, it was one of my first demos. Faslane was then under construction - recognise at least two comrades.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTeZpIPgLS4

Mike S.
Offline
Joined: 28-07-13
Jul 31 2013 10:37
Auld-bod wrote:
Mike S. #9

Surprisingly I was - recently spotted this footage from 1965, it was one of my first demos. Faslane was then under construction - recognise at least two comrades.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTeZpIPgLS4

I'm worried about making it past 40. I've chain smoked and drank for about 20 years. Congrats on a life well lived. I'd be interested in your comparisons of the 1960's demos and Occupy. I would think Occupy wouldn't compare as Vietnam and the draft were a major motivator and things in the 60's, at least it seems to me, were more real. More passionate. Like there was a real sense that people could change the world. I didn't really get that vibe with Occupy.

boozemonarchy's picture
boozemonarchy
Offline
Joined: 28-12-06
Aug 3 2013 18:44

dp

boozemonarchy's picture
boozemonarchy
Offline
Joined: 28-12-06
Aug 2 2013 13:37
Quote:
I would think Occupy wouldn't compare as Vietnam and the draft were a major motivator and things in the 60's, at least it seems to me, were more real. More passionate. Like there was a real sense that people could change the world. I didn't really get that vibe with Occupy.

Having not been a part of either of these movements maybe I should hold my tongue? Nah. . .

Speaking specifically about the US;

Both Occupy and anti-war 60s era were protest based movements. Neither one achieved anything save some consciousness raising perhaps. Both were dominated by self-appointed peace police who desperately wanted folks to be beat up by the cops. Both had a counter-cultural element though Occupy stands out as allowing a right-wing element to sponge off of it because "freedom"? Appealing to our overlords better sense was the failed strategy employed by both. Anti-war 60s movement falsely claimed victory when the war was ended directly by soldiers, Occupy claimed victory by simply existing and is still self-congratulating. I think they are quite comparable, and we should draw some lessons here.

And not to be so negative about both;

Both produced or connected up some interesting elements within them that went on to do some other organizing that was a bit more specific.

Mike S.
Offline
Joined: 28-07-13
Aug 2 2013 19:20
bozemananarchy wrote:
Quote:
I would think Occupy wouldn't compare as Vietnam and the draft were a major motivator and things in the 60's, at least it seems to me, were more real. More passionate. Like there was a real sense that people could change the world. I didn't really get that vibe with Occupy.

Having not been a part of either of these movements maybe I should hold my tongue? Nah. . .

Speaking specifically about the US;

Both Occupy and anti-war 60s era were protest based movements. Neither one achieved anything save some consciousness raising perhaps. Both were dominated by self-appointed peace police who desperately wanted folks to be beat up by the cops. Both had a counter-cultural element though Occupy stands out as allowing a right-wing element to sponge off of it because "freedom"? Appealing to our overlords better sense was the failed strategy employed by both. Anti-war 60s movement falsely claimed victory when the war was ended directly by soldiers, Occupy claimed victory by simply existing and is still self-congratulating. I think they are quite comparable, and we should draw some lessons here.

And not to be so negative about both;

Both produced or connected up some interesting elements within them that went on to do some other organizing that was a bit more specific.

I agree both were more "social movements" rather than class struggle as was seen earlier in the 20'th century. Maybe it was a result of McCarthyism? Stalinism being so unattractive? Maybe it was partly due to the New Left's reaction to Stalinism and the US working class (in their view) reactionary mind frame? I still think the 60's/early 70's movement was more serious than Occupy by far because of the Vietnam war/draft. I think the US government learned to try to avoid material conditions which set the stage for mass movements like that.

Anyway, I may be wrong but I think our current state of the left in America is so ineffectual due to the left wing intelligentsia which sprung out of the 1960's. They kinda crippled class struggle in favor of social justice. This inst to say I'm against social justice activism. I think it necessary.

boozemonarchy's picture
boozemonarchy
Offline
Joined: 28-12-06
Aug 3 2013 11:48
Quote:
Anyway, I may be wrong but I think our current state of the left in America is so ineffectual due to the left wing intelligentsia which sprung out of the 1960's. They kinda crippled class struggle in favor of social justice. This inst to say I'm against social justice activism. I think it necessary.

Well. . .

I personally put all the blame on anarchists for crippling class struggle, or at least being asleep at the wheel. Its a bad state of things if the intelligentsia is louder then working-class organizations own activity and press. That sounds like a bad ball-dropping if the micro left-wing intelligentsia can cripple class struggle from behind their coffee (s)mugs.

/edit

Should be noted, class-struggle lib-left groups existed and did their best throughout that whole time.

Mike S.
Offline
Joined: 28-07-13
Aug 6 2013 20:45
bozemananarchy wrote:
Quote:
Anyway, I may be wrong but I think our current state of the left in America is so ineffectual due to the left wing intelligentsia which sprung out of the 1960's. They kinda crippled class struggle in favor of social justice. This inst to say I'm against social justice activism. I think it necessary.

Well. . .

I personally put all the blame on anarchists for crippling class struggle, or at least being asleep at the wheel. Its a bad state of things if the intelligentsia is louder then working-class organizations own activity and press. That sounds like a bad ball-dropping if the micro left-wing intelligentsia can cripple class struggle from behind their coffee (s)mugs.

/edit

Should be noted, class-struggle lib-left groups existed and did their best throughout that whole time.

The "intelligentsia" gets the funding, access to the larger "leftist" organizational apparatus (which more times than not is connected to votes for Democrat party in one way or another) and hence center stage as far as setting the tone if you will. Anarchists and Marxists in America simply can't compete with the liberal machine. And then there's the right wing machine. The left in America sabotaged itself though by adopting issues of identity over issues of class. Some of the blame for the current state of the left in the US can also be placed on Lenin, Stalin and Mao for warping the meaning of communism to the point where capital hardly had to make an effort to negatively portray "communism" to the western working class.

jojo
Offline
Joined: 30-06-12
Aug 7 2013 07:47

The Luddites were into the smashy smashy in a big way. Smashed machines, burned down factories, dressed as women (street theatre or scary?) and blackened their faces. Sort of terror movement, but working class. It didn't achieve a lot for them, and the death penalty was introduced against their activities as a suitable bourgeois smashy smashy retort. If we all joined together in a self-organized response to austerity, and developed our feelings for solidarity, then we'd be in a position to do some effective smashy smashy ourselves without destroying anything except the cocky confidence of the bourgeoisie that everything's going their way and under control.

Tyrion's picture
Tyrion
Offline
Joined: 12-04-13
Aug 7 2013 17:49
Mike S. wrote:
bozemananarchy wrote:
Quote:
I would think Occupy wouldn't compare as Vietnam and the draft were a major motivator and things in the 60's, at least it seems to me, were more real. More passionate. Like there was a real sense that people could change the world. I didn't really get that vibe with Occupy.

Having not been a part of either of these movements maybe I should hold my tongue? Nah. . .

Speaking specifically about the US;

Both Occupy and anti-war 60s era were protest based movements. Neither one achieved anything save some consciousness raising perhaps. Both were dominated by self-appointed peace police who desperately wanted folks to be beat up by the cops. Both had a counter-cultural element though Occupy stands out as allowing a right-wing element to sponge off of it because "freedom"? Appealing to our overlords better sense was the failed strategy employed by both. Anti-war 60s movement falsely claimed victory when the war was ended directly by soldiers, Occupy claimed victory by simply existing and is still self-congratulating. I think they are quite comparable, and we should draw some lessons here.

And not to be so negative about both;

Both produced or connected up some interesting elements within them that went on to do some other organizing that was a bit more specific.

I agree both were more "social movements" rather than class struggle as was seen earlier in the 20'th century. Maybe it was a result of McCarthyism? Stalinism being so unattractive? Maybe it was partly due to the New Left's reaction to Stalinism and the US working class (in their view) reactionary mind frame? I still think the 60's/early 70's movement was more serious than Occupy by far because of the Vietnam war/draft. I think the US government learned to try to avoid material conditions which set the stage for mass movements like that.

Anyway, I may be wrong but I think our current state of the left in America is so ineffectual due to the left wing intelligentsia which sprung out of the 1960's. They kinda crippled class struggle in favor of social justice. This inst to say I'm against social justice activism. I think it necessary.

I think in the case of both the anti-war movement and OWS, the lack of a base at the point of production hindered effectiveness. The 60s anti-war movement especially had a largely student base, and the feasible methods of direct action were much more limited than if opposition to the war had been more based within those industries directly related to it (e.g. arms, chemicals, aviation, etc.).

One segment of the population that was both directly necessary to the war effort and which was radicalized against it to considerable extent, however, was soldiers--the generalized hostility toward American soldiers on the part of certain ant-war types is particularly appalling given that American soldiers did far more to prevent Vietnam from being even further obliterated than any chanting peaceniks and self-styled "militants" did. There's a very interesting report by a Marine colonel Robert Heinl that was published in the military's own Armed Forces Journal (so certainly not a bastion of anti-war sentiment) in 1971. Strikingly, Heinl wrote that "All the foregoing facts – and mean more dire indicators of the worse kind of military trouble – point to widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917." The full report can be found here.

I think the resistance within the military is of infinitely greater significance, both in what it what it contributed to the American withdrawal and in its broader implications, than the impotent domestic "movement" against the war--it's no surprise that typical bourgeois history highlights one much more than the other.

Auld-bod's picture
Auld-bod
Offline
Joined: 9-07-11
Aug 7 2013 21:07

I think it is a myth that the majority of the anti-war movement in the sixties were students. For example I understand that the disproportional number of Afro-Americans drafted off to Vietnam engendered huge resentment in their communities.

My opinion based on experience in the UK was that only the Trotskyites of the ‘new left’ – the I.S. & I.M.G. had a large portion of student members. Harold Wilson the P.M. did not refuse to involve the UK in Vietnam because of militant anti-war universities. The war was generally thought stupid and unwinnable an example of an arrogant foreign power trying to enforce its will on an unwilling people (nothing changes).

Yes the war eventually collapsed because more and more U.S. soldiers thought the war futile. At home they were often treated as dupes. Many became active in the anti-war movement.

From ‘The collapse of the armed forces - Marine Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr.’:

‘Yet the problem is not just one of trouble-makers and how to cope with them.
The trouble of the services – produced by and also in turn producing the dismaying conditions described in this article – is above all a crisis of soul and backbone. It entails – the word is not too strong – something very near a collapse of the command authority and leadership George Washington saw as the soul of military forces. This collapse results, at least in part, from a concurrent collapse of public confidence in the military establishment.
General Matthew B. Ridgway, one of the Army’s finest leaders in this century (who revitalized the shaken Eighth Army in Korea after its headlong rout by the Chinese in 1950) recently said, "Not before in my lifetime … has the Army’s public image fallen to such low esteem …"
But the fall in public esteem of all three major services – not just the Army – is exceeded by the fall or at least the enfeeblement of the hierarchic and disciplinary system by which they exist and, when ordered to do so, fight and sometimes die.’

One New Year when visiting relatives I got chatting to an army shrink attached to the then USAF base at Edzell. It was obvious he had plenty of work as many of the service men had serious problems. Don’t remember the details though I felt sorry for him as he was stressed out.

Tyrion #18

‘…the generalized hostility toward American soldiers on the part of certain ant-war types is particularly appalling given that American soldiers did far more to prevent Vietnam from being even further obliterated than any chanting peaceniks and self-styled "militants" did.’

Sorry I think this is nonsense, are these benefactors of the Vietnam people the same American soldiers who committed numerous atrocities and polluted the country to such an extent that tens of thousands of children have aborted or born with appalling defects decades after the war ended? I do not blame the soldiers who decided their lives were not going to be used as cannon fodder but were they altruists? I think not.

Tyrion's picture
Tyrion
Offline
Joined: 12-04-13
Aug 7 2013 22:34

Yes, that's why I criticized "generalized hostility" and didn't criticize taking an unfavorable attitude to particular gung-ho mass murderers.