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CSA: The Greek Riots - Anarchist Subcultures, Consensus, Affinity Groups, etc.

Krop | 05.01.2009 17:56 | 2008 Days Of Action For Autonomous Spaces | Analysis | Culture | Free Spaces

Very interesting analysis of anarchist struggle, how to nurture a movement, and how to avoid it becoming irrelevant.... mentions of anarchist subcultures, consensus, and direct involvement with other political forces to spread use and acceptance of anarchist methods.


C.S.A. Position Paper: The Greek Riots

It's been a very busy few weeks. What has happened in Greece is momentous. But since Christmas, the flow of news has slowed considerably, as evidenced by the shorter, sparser postings here, so this seems as good a time as any to reflect on these events and their implications for anarchists in the U.S. (with apologies to all of our new readers from around the world, although hopefully you'll get something out of this too.)

As we've learned from this excellent interview over at the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers' Collective blog, what happened in Greece was not accidental. In fact, the rioting, firebombing, street-fighting, occupying, looting, and marching was largely initiated and coordinated by autonomous affinity groups of anarchists, some more defined than others, with roots in the occupations and social centers around Greece. This should come as no surprise to observers; these actions bear all the hallmarks of non-hierarchical self-organization, from the break-away marches to the nighttime arsons to the spray paint. And it worked, beautifully.

If there's a lesson to be learned from such a structure--beyond a confirmation of our long-held belief that affinity groups form the basis of anarchy in action--it's that projects that sustain our communities are critical components of our fights elsewhere. That is not to say that mimicry of the Greek model will lead to success. Many anarchists have found that the maintenance of squats or occupations or social centers or infoshops in the U.S. is more draining than it is sustaining, and the events in Greece don't invalidate those criticisms; there may be reasons why such spaces are easier to maintain in Greece (and the rest of Europe for that matter.) What it does prove, though, is that we must build a sustainable, multi-generational anarchist community through projects that nurture and embolden our ranks over the long-term if we are to launch meaningful attacks on capital and the state. Inevitably that will look different here than it does in Greece; our task is to figure it out for ourselves.

Perhaps the most crucial point in the interview, however, is that anarchists in Greece have consciously worked to end their subcultural identification. It is worth quoting at length:

After ’93 we had a strong tendency in the Greek anarchist movement—accompanied by many serious internal fights—that eliminated the influence of “subcultural” styles inside the movement. This means that there is no punk, rock, metal or whatever anarchist identity in the Greek anarchist movement—you can be whatever you like, you can listen to whatever music you like, you can have whatever style or fashion you like, but that is not a political identity...The separation from subcultural identity politics made people understand that to call yourself an anarchist it takes much more serious participation, planning, creativity, and action than just wearing a t-shirt with the antichrist on it and walking around punk concerts drinking beer and taking hypnotic pills. Now there is an understanding that to call yourself an anarchist you have to come to demonstrations, to come out into the streets... Also, that you should participate every week in one, two, or three different assemblies with people for one, or two, or three different preparations of different actions, plans, or struggles to call yourself an anarchist. You have to be friends with people you trust 100% to plan anything dangerous, you have to be aware and informed about anything that is happening in this world to decide what the proper course of action is, you have to be crazy and enthusiastic, to feel that you can do incredible things—you have to be ready to give your life, your time, your years in a struggle that will never end.

Unfortunately, this could not be a less accurate description of anarchists in the U.S. Most anarchists here are content to languish in a subcultural ghetto comprised of amateur fashion critics and energetic music consumers. The strong subcultural affiliation of anarchist organizing in the U.S. is perhaps its greatest weakness, ensuring its inaccessibility and irrelevance to most people, even those with strongly-held anti-authoritarian politics. What is also obvious to most observers is that subcultures are rooted in fads, and only a tiny fringe of eccentrics remain attached to a dated fad. We cannot build a workable anarchist community if no one believes it has long-term viability, and our subcultural affiliation is in large-part responsible for that mostly accurate perception. Glorifying consumption habits, whether in clothes, music, or reading material, is not a strategy, it is a fetish, and in this case, a fetish that nullifies a great deal of otherwise valuable work. Pro-actively working to end this affiliation is necessary if anarchists are to become a force in American society, as they have become in Greece by doing the same.

On a different front, it is worth noting that the Greeks employed a combination of formal and informal consensus process. In the streets, the casual consensus of affinity groups gave them the mobility and flexibility necessary to carry out daring attacks and to make strategic retreats. In holding daily assemblies of occupied buildings, they employed the more formal process necessary for large groups of people. In both cases, the lack of centralized leadership, whether from individuals or federations, was pivotal to keeping apace of a dynamic and complex situation. Such a mix of non-hierarchical processes is nothing new, but in the U.S. it has largely been used in the context of summit actions. A greater awareness of process and its suitable deployment in everyday activities might prove fruitful for anarchists here.

Another important point raised in the interview is that many non-anarchists, especially youths, adopted direct action tactics due to the anarchist influence in youth struggles over the last four years. Anarchists in the U.S. have experienced a similar phenomenon with the adoption of consensus process by countless leftist and reformist groups as the de facto form of decision-making due to the influential role of anarchists in the anti-globalization movement. The point is that we can define the tactical framework for all radicals by engaging with others on our own terms. Anarchists did not spread consensus process by compromising with liberals and giving them extra votes at spokescouncils; we did it by proving the efficacy of our tactic while meaningfully engaging with people beyond our tiny subculture. The result was the widespread diffusion of our tactic and a larger audience for our ideas (in fact, some people arrived at anarchism simply by delving deeply into consensus.)

This is especially critical given the unprecedented attention paid to anarchists in the last three weeks. Even the most error-ridden, sensationalist news pieces have been forced to refer to "self-styled" anarchists as important actors in the revolt, bringing the term into the public consciousness for the first time in a good while. The challenge, and thus the opportunity, comes from the fact that anarchists are presented as being "over there"--in Greece--someplace far-off and exotic, unlike the mundane cities and towns most of us inhabit. By taking action locally and creating a public presence for anarchists, we can piggyback on the publicity afforded the Greeks and link anarchists here and there in the minds of the public.

By making our actions militant and avoiding symbolic protests which only serve to reinforce most peoples' sense that resistance is futile, we can create expectations for what anarchists do. This will, perhaps most crucially, shape our perception of ourselves as well. The Greeks have set a high bar for anarchist behavior; by rising to meet it, we can create a set of expectations for ourselves which will become our own standard for effective revolt.

Speaking of which, the call and response of international solidarity during the past three weeks illustrates the importance of building and maintaining contacts abroad. Greek anarchists and non-anarchists alike were impressed by the intensity and timeliness of solidarity actions in places like Spain and Germany, and indeed the media has formed a budding obsession with the use of mobile technology in spreading the word about the riots. But the truth is we could have done better in the U.S. The Greeks opened a window of opportunity for anarchists around the world to take action under a powerful spotlight. By reducing the layers of mediation and forming more direct contacts with anarchists elsewhere, such coordination will become faster and simpler.

In terms of what we can do in the very near term--aside from solidarity events, some of which have been powerful, other of which have been mundane--we can focus on January 20th. Even if nothing happens in Greece between now and then--and the smart money seems to believe something will--there is still plenty of momentum and opportunity to carry us forward. If ever there was a time to re-announce our presence and usher in an era of anti-political action, January 20th would seem to be the day. While some might object to synchronizing our efforts to the cycle of electoral politics, the date gives us a beautiful opportunity to convincingly and forcefully proclaim that, indeed, whoever they elect, we are ungovernable.

Furthermore, we can make the "Hope From People" call a swan song for anarchist leftism, rather than the beginning of a cowardly and counter-productive retreat into the failed bourgeois politics of mass and ideology. We can do that by outshining them, which shouldn't be hard since most people will ignore them. As has been proven decisively by our peers in Greece, anarchists can be as relevant and dangerous as we want to be--if we are organized, daring, and accountable. By holding ourselves to that standard, we too can make this moment our own.



Display the following 5 comments

  1. CSA? Position Paper? — bill
  2. wot the anarchy are you up to? — lhm
  3. awesome — one of many
  4. even better.... — viral
  5. You write well...but I dissagree — bec