Activism, Action, and Attack
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, one in seven Americans have taken part in some sort of political activity in the past year. This, of course, includes such meaningless activity such as posting to Facebook or Twitter. Never before has it been so easy to be an activist. If this study is to be believed, one might even venture to say that we live in a nation of activists.
“Activism - The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” -Oxford Dictionary
By definition, activism takes place within politics, within society, within the system. By begging, debating, and voting, activists seek to change the system. These means of change, though, are never on a tangible level. Activism is trapped within the realm of ideas…forever trying to convince just one more person to reach critical mass, and eventually changing society in some rapture-like moment which never comes.
Activists are forever stuck within the system, most notably indicated by their unwavering support of nonviolence. They will even go so far as to corral people by using physical force, forcing marches to stay on the sidewalk, or use violence to detain people so that the police can arrest them. The “peace police” present at many protests, who deny people access to the street…all the while chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” are perhaps the most blatant example of this. For many activists, the biggest physical threat faced is a splinter from a wooden sign pole. Even when attacked by the authorities, activists still cling to the same “law” that beats them.
“When a liberal is abused, he says: Thank God they didn’t beat me. When he is beaten, he thanks God they didn’t kill him. When he is killed, he will thank God that his immortal soul has been delivered from its mortal clay.“ -Vladimir Lenin
It is through these mental prisons of nonviolence, voting, and protesting that opposition to the system does not need to be coerced by force. Activists’ resistance is by definition hamstrung by the idea that the only acceptable forms of opposition are those that do not upset the balance of the system, and conform to its rules. Activists will never be successful in transforming society as long as their idea of trying to transform society is holding a sign and yelling.
“Pacifism is racist. In displacing massive stat violence onto people of color both outside and inside the mother country, rather than absorbing any real measure of it themselves (even when their physical intervention might undercut the state’s ability to inbflict violence on nonwhites), pacifists can only be viewed as being objectively racist.” -Ward Churchill
There are those, however, who venture to turn themselves away from their computer screens and “free speech zones.” Some people have been compelled to take action…
“Action - The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim.” -Oxford Dictionary
By the definition of the word, action is not limited, like activism, to politics or society. Action is free to act within or without the system. It is not restrained by the limits that activism is. Action is people taking their fates into their own hands, for better or worse. It is people doing what they feel is right…even if it may not, in the end, prove to be beneficial to them…even if the powers that be do not approve.
Well known examples of action outside the system include Food Not Bombs, free stores, and free schools. These actions lie outside the acceptable range of activism, because they take direct control, rather than acting on the stage of politics. Action outside the system is completely able to benefit people without the help of “benevolent” rulers.
Action can even have the benefit of indirect damage to the system at time. While activists spend money on permits, signs, and flyers, those committed to action take away what would have been claimed by capital. If you feed a neighborhood, it does not have to buy food. If you teach and empower people, they do not have to pay for education, and then sell their “educated” labor for wages. By taking action, it is possible to, in small amounts, drain capital of its lifeblood and deny it resources it would have otherwise consumed. The authorities, of course, are not blind to this, and attempts are often made to crush action that gets out of hand. Capital has some incentive to allow some action to occur, as a sort of release valve, and to bolster the facade of “democracy.”
Action’s goal, unlike activism, is not to convince people by acting, but simply to act, and directly change things. Proponents of action often claim to be creating a new world “in the shell of the old.” While a noble pursuit, this ignores the fact that it is usually a bad idea to start building in a warzone.
Capital will not sit idly by while outsiders attempt to sap its power from underneath it. As soon as an organized action is viewed as a threat, it is eliminated, regardless of how openly it opposes the system, or even if it calls itself nonviolent. From Beguines and Beghards being persecuted by the Inquisition, to the remnants of the Sioux at Wounded Knee, to the camps of the Occupy movement. The textile labor of the Beghards became useless with the advent of the mechanical loom…they were labeled heretics by the Church and persecuted. The spiritual revolt of the Ghost Dance began to revitalize native resistance to the US…the Sioux were massacred, regardless of how insignificant of an actual threat they posed. The act of protesting through Occupy began to give way to the more tangible act of establishing camps, and creating spaces which attempted to live outside the hierarchy of the system…they were evicted by law, and by force when necessary. There are no exceptions…resistance will be crushed. No mercy is given…not to “subhuman” natives, and not even to “concerned citizens.”
Why not fight back? Why not attack? If we are going to be faced with violence no matter how much we decry it, why not make our goal tangible damage to the system? Pacifists would have us believe that violence somehow alienates us from “the public.” But what is the public besides some made up body that news organizations and activists refer to? The public does not exist…and deep down inside most of us, a smashed window or firebombed cop car brings a smile to our face…even if we do not outwardly show it. “The public,” if anything, is not blind to the events of the world, and makes note of the violence turned its way every day by the authorities. It is the fear of oppression, not the aversion to violence that keeps most people from physically resisting.
“"It is the obligation of every person who claims to oppose oppression to resist the oppressor by every means at his or her disposal. Not to engage in physical resistance, armed resistance to oppression, is to serve the interests of the oppressor; no more, no less. There are no exceptions to the rule, no easy out.“ -Assata Shakur
The fear of oppression is a false one, though. If you oppose the system, peacefully or otherwise, you will be violently acted upon by the powers that be. While liberals and pacifists claim that we should not act too rashly for fear of reprisal from the state, they ignore the fact that even pacifist movements get violently crushed. If we are going to be physically attacked, why not make it worth our while? Why not do some damage?
Attack differentiates itself from action and activism because it is so tangible. Its direct aim is to cause damage to the system. The non-physical aspects take a backseat, but are essentially more effective than those of activism or attack. Attack breeds awareness more than an protest, pamphlet, or squat can. Why is attack so important?
“Because the goal of the State is total social control. Because the trajectory of capitalism is towards the total commercialization of public space. Every time we identify another invasion of State and capitalism into the minutiae of daily life, every time we confront that invasion, we are potentially fighting for revolution. As Authority increasingly manages us at the nano level, the can of spraypaint, the rock, the molotov, deserve the same significance as the AK-47. “ -A.G. Schwarz
Attack not only damages the system, but also proves to others that there is an alternative to action and activism…that there is an alternative to acting within the means of the system. Instead of begging the system to meet our needs, or even attempting to act outside its boundaries, attack allows us to fight on the physical and ideological front in one fell swoop. It is no wonder that many police departments subscribe to the “Broken Windows theory,” a direct correlation between the physical state and level of social control of a neighborhood.
Interestingly enough, attack does share a similarity with activism, the “quantative” aspect…the idea that more is better. While activists agree that more ideas are better, attack would say that more tangible damage is better. Multiple attacks can put a dent in the budget of large companies, and can completely destroy small businesses…those businesses that would become conglomerates if only given the chance. There is no such thing as “good” capital, and although activists, who have a stake in the system, would disagree, all hierarchies are free game.
“The sensible thing to do is to attack Authority whenever we can. Attacking is not distinct from communicating the reasons for our attacks, or building the means to survive, because we survive in order to attack, and we attack in order to live, and we communicate because communicating attacks the isolation, and isolation makes living impossible.” -A.G. Schwarz
The problem with attack is that it is a tool of last resort. By the time many people attack, they are already on the radar of the authorities because of their activism and actions. For the authorities, it is easy to tell who is going to attack, those already frustrated by the deficiencies of other methods. It is easy for the surveillance state to track people as they go along the linear route from activism to attack. We must destroy that route. We must eliminate stages of resistance. Attack can only become effective when it is no longer the domain of those at the end of their ropes. When attack is just as much a tool used by everyone as action or activism, we will truly see resistance to the system. Everything else is lip service at best, and a restrengthening of the system at worst.
Again, while protesters spend money on sign making materials, apply for permits, and get covered by news crews…they strengthen the system both monetarily and ideologically. The idea that we are allowed “free speech” is false, and all that activists do is propagate this falsehood. People committed to action, while not abiding by the rules of the system, still ignore the world around them…the world that will eventually eliminate them if they get out of hand. Attack, while still the most important aspect of resistance by far, still stands as something used only by those who have failed in action or activism. When lines can be blurred between all three…when one person can practically and efficiently fight ideological battles, as well as fight tangible offensive and supportive physical battles…we will see the first true resistance our society has ever seen. Only when the division of labor in resistance has been eliminated do we stand a chance of effectively liberating ourselves from our present state.