A response to Bring the Ruckus
by Jerry Bellow
I read with interest the recent article from Bring the Ruckus (or The Brigade, presumably some subset of BTR, which is itself a multi-tendency organization) concerning the recent Anti-Fascist events in and around Trenton NJ. It is clear that the author(s) or their informants were intimately in the actual actions, as I was.
They seek to bring a critical perspective to what happened that weekend, and in some cases they are mostly dead on. With other conclusions, I feel as though they head in a direction that is dangerous to both the aboveground and underground portions of the movement.
BTR points out serious flaws in ARA’s organizing leading up the public mobilization in Trenton. I agree that much more time and energy should have been spent out in the community, meeting people, explaining who we are, what we do, why we are there, and why it would be fun to join in.
In the organizing for ARA I have done in the past in the Midwest (mostly Ohio), a lot of time was spent on this sort of activity, both in big cities and in very small towns. The small towns were harder to do this in, because you are organizing among poor rural white folks, and there was always that fear that someone you met might be the enemy or one of their sympathizers. But, We Go Where They Go even if it’s a space and place where their comfort level is much greater than our own.
Hub City ARA, which is the ARA Network chapter local to Trenton, didn’t do enough of this base-building type work in a place where one could be 100% certain that the fascists had no sympathizers one might encounter unknowingly by chance.
But each ARA chapter is autonomous, each has to organize permanently in its own community, and each has to deal with the political repercussions of its actions in the long term. How Hub City chose to turn a Neo-Nazi mobilization to its own local advantage is Hub City’s choice, not the choice of the network as a whole.
To Hub City’s credit, their local organizing leading up to the event centered on exposing the locations and (sex) crimes of local NSM members. Despite the overall lack of base building, the NSM now has zero chance of gaining a foothold or building a base in Trenton. We Go Where They Go, and Hub City ARA rooted them out and exposed them.
The other point BTR raises in their article, and the one I find problematic is this one:
“Doing the aboveground organizing in the same space and time as the underground organizing is strategically paralyzing and decreases the effectiveness of both the more and the less militant elements from pursuing their separate goals.”
The conceptualization therein is a straw man. “More Militant” and “Less Militant” elements within ARA and within the anti-fascist movement do not have separate goals.
They have one goal and that is to defeat and dismantle fascist organizations. “Elements” (or that is to say, people) are not more or less militant, tactics are more or less militant.
People, as individuals, have more or less military capability.
The formulation that BTR suggests we use essentially places the more militarily capable people within the organization in a separate political and organizing space from the more aboveground and “less militant” (although it takes a lot of work to carry out militant action in broad daylight downtown) people. This is an error.
The clandestine operation, the sudden strike by night, the essentially more illegal actions with high potential for physical violence (which is what I think BTR means by “more militant”) are tactics.
These tactics must be employed from time to time, and the capability to employ these tactics must be built, honed and maintained for the sake of both effectiveness and credibility. Clandestine activity however, is still only a tactical adjunct to the core work of Anti-fascism, which is mass organizing.
Separating these elements leads to disaster in the long term. Time and again, revolutionary organizations have separated their clandestine elements from their mass elements, or failed to build mass elements at all. This leads to a focus and fetishizing of clandestine activity at the expense mass organizing and mass militancy.
As the clandestine political operator slides further down this road she or he becomes more and more separated from the masses, from dialogue with mass political organizing, with the realities of day to day life. When the Red Army Faction disbanded itself in 1998, one of the key self-criticisms they cited was a failure to engage in any above-ground work. They wrote:
“It Was A Strategic Mistake Not To Build Up A Political-Social Organization Alongside The Illegal, Armed Organization
“...In no phase of our [RAF’s] history was an outreaching, political organization realized in addition to the political-military struggle. The concept of the RAF knew only the armed struggle, with a focus on the political-military attack.”
In light of this, and the experiences of many clandestine underground organizations, the fault of ARA in Trenton was not the failure to separate the clandestine from public, but the failure to better coordinate the two. ARA and other antifa failed to communicate WHY we chose the tactic of wearing black, WHAT the relationship of this or that corporate institution is to fascism or WHY some of us chose to target them along with the open nazis. We failed to communicate why the population of Trenton should support us, why they should join us in these actions.
Separation would not have helped with that. Searching for new methods of communication, integration and inclusion are the way forward.