Jun 21, 2005

Above and Below: Them, Them, and Us

The following document was submitted to the general body of the FRAC (Federation of Revolutionary Anarchist Collectives - Great Lakes Region) for it's 2003 Spring Conference.

The document, because it was presented at a specific moment, contains segments that now appear dated. The war and occupation in Iraq has come and delivered new realities that the document was incapable of fully estimating at the time of it's drafting. Also, some basic assertions have shown to have been limited or wrong. Two examples come to immediate mind.

The first, is related to the US protest movements. The document claims, "The chill that fell on the US protest movement after 9/11 has thawed". At the time of it's publishing this seemed correct and there were glimers of hope that US opposition politics would break out of it's stagnation, recapturing some of the dynamic qualities that had emerged post-Seattle. The mass walkouts, work slowdowns/stoppages, street protests and creative resistance that flared up in response to a looming war gave many heart. But the percieved failure of these movemnts to stop the war and the subsequent encapsulation of the "oppositions" energy into the Democrat's crippling Anybody But Bush strategy only brought another frost that has sent the impulses for mass action against the State back into hibernation.

The second, is the documents citing the U.S. based National Alliance (NA) as a leading force in the development of a small, but signifigant, radical fascist alternative to the State and bourgeois capitalism. At the time of the documents publication the NA seemed best situated to take advantage of the increasing polarization occuring in society post-9/11. The NA was carrying out mass outreach and demonstrations that brought hundreds of their cadre out into the streets. But in recent months the NA has fallen into shambles with inter-leadership factioning and splits. Key organizers have been sacked and whole Units have left the organization. The NA may be going through a period of regroupment or it may be in the throes of death. Regardless of the NA's future, there still remains an active movement of U.S. fascists that is "large by Left standards".

To be fair, what we have just raised could only be known with hindsight. Many situations have changed (some dramatically) since the documents release. What remains important for us are several key themes raised. In particular, the documents insistence on the 3 Way struggle: Them, Them and Us.

The documents emphasis that 1) we have seen the growth and development of autonomous and libertarian forces, globally. And 2) in defining the struggle against bourgeois rule as multi-dimensional the document lays out two distinct and competing approaches: authoritarian and anti-authoritarian.

The document is more cursory than not and should be taken as one more contribution to the dialogue about the terrain were on. Highlighting several important issues facing "our side", we place it here as a key text of the politics of this website project.


Above and Below: Them, Them, and Us - By BRICK anarchist collective

George Bush and his war hawks swarm down on the world from the heights of power and authority. The massive US war and occupation of Iraq has several aims: to aggressively establish US military and political dominance in the Middle East; to prove total US power to capitalist rivals around the globe; to insure direct control over the Middle Easts resources; and to favorably position itself for the ongoing struggle against a startling insurgency from below: Islamic fundamentalism/fascism.

This is a bold and radical course for the capitalists, full of risks and challenges. It already has caused injury, possibly fatal, to major ruling-class institutions like NATO, the European Union, and the United Nations. It has provoked a massive outpouring of antiwar sentiment, protest, and direct action, all across the globe. The chill that fell on the US protest movement after 9/11 has thawed.

Less spectacular but equally a part of this drive is the offensive directed at the working classes internationally, including within the US. Trade pacts, like Plan Puebla Panama, open up countries labor and resources; IMF austerity and privatization measures drive down wages and living standards and put education, healthcare, water, land, and infrastructure directly in the hands of the corporations. Antiterrorism is used to justify extensive new police powers, the erosion of civil liberties, carrying out advanced population mapping, and opening up public discussion of internment, assassinations, and torture.

The Bush government, in alliance with the Christian Right, is working to roll back the victories women have won at home, on the job, and in wider society. There is no doubt that his will also be true for GLBT communities. War has always increased racism here in the Homeland. Arabs and Muslims continue to face both official and vigilante attacks. Mexicans and other Latinos have had to deal with increased repression at the border, deportations, and sweatshop conditions. In the Black community, systemic police brutality and incarceration, economic marginalization, and an imposed drug epidemic have not let up. The white sections of the working classes are now too feeling the effects of downsizing and cutbacks. This presents opportunities for class unity, but also for white supremacist and fascist backlash and balkanization.

The official opposition (Democratic Party, AFL-CIO bureaucracy, major civil rights groups, the Greens) are either totally complicit in this offensive, or serve as a means to co-opt and dilute any autonomous struggle against these attacks.


The world system of capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and the state is going thru a monumental reorganization which involves a great deal of inner-ruling class competition. This has temporarily weakened it at points, providing openings for resistance from below. Roughly speaking we would divide the resistance into two camps: 1) authoritarian, and 2) autonomous and anarchist. The differences between the two general approaches and visions are significant, and cannot be bridged by a shared militancy. In fact, as anarchist revolutionaries, antifascists and radical feminists we understand our situation as a three-way fight. Them, Them, and Us.

Authoritarian movements

9/11 and the war in Afghanistan have brought home the fact that there is a serious force committed to fighting and overturning the US government, other western governments and radically remaking society. But they are our enemies also. Al-Qaeda and movements like it include tens of thousands of fighters with sophisticated weapons and communications, a major bankroll, and the ability and the audacity to pull off spectacular acts of sabotage and terror. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan gave us a glimpse of what this kind of force looks like in power. Women were removed from public life, stripped of all rights. A large paramilitary force physically policed public morality. War, conquest and criminal enterprise were central to the economy. No activity outside of the ruling structures was allowed.

In North America and Europe, but also in parts of the global South, right-wing nationalism, white supremacy, and fascism have reemerged. In Europe populist-fascist parties have made serious runs at state power. In India, Hindu fascists in political power have sanctioned mass pogroms and rape of Muslims. In the US a relatively small (but large by left standards) fascist cadre organization, the National Alliance, is carrying out professional mass outreach, carving out a music and cultural underground and has started to test the streets. The fascists in the US have actually felt more repression from Ashcrofts Feds than any section of the left outside of the Arab communities.

Beyond fundamentalism and fascism there remain other authoritarian currents of opposition from below. Authoritarian communist and nationalists continue as guerilla groups in several Third World countries and as opposition parties in the West. Their goals, which once may have seemed radical, are now clearly about control by a party elite (usually middle-class intellectuals) of a revolutionary state, that in turn controls all of society. While instituting certain reforms from above, their obsession with centralization, production, and total ideological control have devastating effects on the land, working people and any autonomous movements or impulses.

Autonomous movements

So who is the Us? Who do we stand with on this planet? The Zapatistas uprising, the Battle in Seattle, and Argentinas revolt. The anarchist and alternative unions in Europe, the land seizures in Brazil, and the heroism of RAWA. The anti-privatization movement in South Africa, the Belfast-based free-speech forum The Blanket, and the bonfires in Quebec City. Peoples Global Action, the IndyMedia Centers, and the International Libertarian Solidarity network.

This sample of movements, organizations, actions, and projects may seem unwieldy, but it has a logic. As a movement, its main characteristics include: conscious anti-capitalism, a rejection of vanguardism and statecraft, a broad repertoire of militant direct action, a directly democratic process, an egalitarian vision, a commitment to autonomy, political and physical hostility to the fascists and fundamentalists, an ecological understanding, and deep reservations about the effects and effectiveness of an armed-struggle strategy- among others.

Anarchism is a significant minority within these movements, better known and with more momentum than any time in the last sixty years. Marxists and ex-Marxists also exert significant influence, and Indigenism and different religious beliefs are also important guides or references for many. Anarchists cannot be passive participants in these movements. We have a responsibility to argue for explicitly anarchist methods and goals. There is nothing guaranteed about these struggles, many first launch themselves with a strong autonomous character, only to come under domination of an authoritarian group, or be co-opted back into the system. The Solidarity movement in Poland and the first Palestinian Intifadeh are examples. The anarchist role is not seizing leadership, but encouraging and defending the most far reaching self-organization against all authority.

Culture has played an increasingly important role in our movement. It gives life to the resistance. We also know that any culture becomes a target for capitalism to be sold back to us as a commercialized empty shell. Within hip-hop, punk, queer and other subcultures battles are being waged between a committed underground and corporate colonization.

The autonomous movements are not without significant weaknesses and flaws. In general there is not a clear orientation towards insurrection- an immediate abolition of the state and collective appropriation of wealth and resources. The wariness towards armed struggle, often learned from direct experience, sometimes verges on pacifism. This gives the movement a distinct reformist side, though not as visible partly because of a general disinterest in electoralism. The enthusiasm this current has inspired among radical youth, indigenous communities, and campesinos has not yet found a strong base in the urban working-classes around the world, and this has to change.

In the North American Great Lakes region two small but important groups are examples of the autonomous movement. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has come the closest to merging the anti-globalization movement with the poorest sections of the working-classes thru direct-action case work and mass mobilization; and the Anti-Racist Action Network (ARA) which has doggedly struggled both physically and ideologically against the fascists, forming a core of young militant organizers.

The balance of forces in Mexico is also extremely important to us here. The EZLN in Chiapas are in many ways the prototype of what we mean by autonomous movement, because of their rebellion, their refusal to seek state power or to disarm, their liberated municipalities, and the sharp exchanges with authoritarian groups like the Basque ETA. Also in Mexico, we are starting to learn more about the struggles of the Consejo Indegena Popular Oaxaca- Ricardo Flores Magon (CIPO-RFM), a similar group with more explicit anarchist sympathies. We are committed to building a relationship with this group and other autonomous movements south of the border.


In trying to sum up this paper, we feel it is important for our Federation to: be able to analyze the moves of the ruling class and what problems and possibilities this presents, in particular this war against Iraq; to understand and be able to differentiate between authoritarian and autonomous resistance; to build and participate in the autonomous movements, especially among the working classes; to fight for revolutionary anarchist methods and goals within these movements, and struggle against repression, reformism and rising elites; to contest the authoritarian movements both physically and politically; and to link up with other struggles and movements around the world for discussion and mutual aid. We are a new grouping on a new world stage, most of what we try to do will necessarily be experimental. We must be bold as we advance while encouraging a thorough dialogue around all our activities.

Some Specifics Tasks

1. We need to develop our politics and vision. We need both a historical understanding of revolutionary anarchism, including the debates around the Platform, and a clear analysis of our current situation, the moves of the ruling class and the resulting problems and possibilities. We need to understand and be able to differentiate between authoritarian and autonomous methods and goals. We need to write short position papers on a whole range of questions facing us, for debate and discussion. We should hold at least one educational Day School annually, maybe jointly with NEFAC and others, that concentrates on internal education, debate, and discussion. Not just by and for experts and intellectuals, but recognizing we all have things to teach and learn. This also involves paying attention to, learning from, and building ties with the international anarchist movement.

2. We need to strengthen the organization. FRAC needs more of a public face with publications, position papers, a web page. The antiwar poster was an excellent start. We need to better collectively sum up our experiences, in local organizing, demos and actions, etc. with regular reports and discussion from the members, collectives and secretaries. We also need to stimulate and help bring out more collectives in our region. We need a strong sense of security culture, an understanding of different methods of repression including sophisticated counterinsurgency. We need to be able to organize a fighting movement that can successfully organize direct action, on both mass and small group levels. We should also systematically build ties with the new wave of anarchist organizing in North America- NEFAC and the other regional federations and networks.

3. We need to experiment more with trying to build organization and action in the workplaces and communities outside of the left and anarchist scenes. In Chicago, the small Uprise! initiative at UPS has proven that we can get a favorable hearing and engage in some struggle in these areas. Our effort to organize in the Pilsen/Little Village neighborhoods holds even more promise. We need to experiment, and try and draw lessons from the experience. This will take collectives and individuals committing to get these type of projects off the ground.

4. Developing revolutionary culture is equally important. A number of comrades are artists, musicians, and DJs, and almost all of us have connections to the subcultures. We need to analyze whats going on in popular and rebel culture, and figure out how to participate and impact cultural consciousness and movements. We need to make sure all of our activity has flava. We are not the rigid, boring left and we dont want to look like it.

BRICK anarchist collective
Chicago, ILApril 2003