Chapter Thirty of The Authority of the Boot-Maker by Mal Content.
“Anarchism is neither sectarian nor dogmatic. It’s theory in action. It doesn’t have a pre-determined worldview. It’s a fact that anarchism is manifest historically in all of man’s attitudes, individually or collectively. It’s a force in the march of history itself: the force that pushes it forward.”
– Nestor Makhno: to Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti, Paris, 1927.
This, my friends, is where the cop-out ends, once you’ve accepted that there is no one above or below you, you become responsible for everything that happens within your sphere of influence. Who gives governments the power to abuse, torture and kill? It is you. The prison I referred to earlier exists only in the mind, in the collective consciousness, the defeatist attitude that: “nothing can be done”. In fact everything can be done and already is, in this world we built with our hands, eyes and brains. Everything you require to live is provided by your fellow workers, as you provide for them. The intervention of bosses, accountants, academics and politicians only serves to make the process less efficient and pleasant to operate. If we allow these intermediaries to manage our desires they will stifle and kill them. Despite not being noticeably more competent or wise than anyone else they have been elevated above their fellows and it isn’t in their interests to upset the applecart. They will patiently explain why we can’t have what we want, just yet.
“Our people stand for action on the march. It is while going forward that we overtake. Don’t hold them back, even to teach them `the most beautiful theories’ …”
– Francisco Ascaso, quoted by Paz and others.
Direct action is that which seeks its ends without the mediation of a third party; it does not necessarily involve protest, and where it does, is not limited to protesting. Breaking up a fight is direct action, calling the police is not. It can be anything from distributing free food to the needy or recycling old clothes, to strikes, sabotage and factory occupations. This principle demands that those who have most invested in a struggle should direct it, whilst relying on solidarity from others, so priority should be given to projects and organisational forms which give confidence to those who are marginalised or unused to taking action.
Q. How many Anarchists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None – “The light bulb must change itself!”
Direct action is most popularly associated with the practice of revolutionary syndicalism or industrial unionism, which gained currency at the turn of the last century but lost out to Bolshevism; however the abject failure of political and industrial representation has revived its popularity in this one.
The importance of direct action goes far beyond its immediate goals; it ingrains the habit of taking responsibility, of working with others in a voluntary and horizontal fashion for reasons other than personal reward. It builds confidence and trust, shares skills and teaches by example. A solidarity action that at first glance seems to have only a minor impact, in fact operates on several fronts. It gives satisfaction to the participants, courage to fellow workers who hitherto felt powerless, and issues a warning to the exploiters that their acts have consequences. It helps repair the social cohesion and sense of community that capitalism tries so hard to abolish. Above all every comrade must feel valued and supported, every blow must be returned, until over time a culture of militant solidarity is established, only then can we act coherently in our common interest, and prise power from the exploiter’s grip.
There are many traps into which revolutionaries can fall; relying on the limited vision and experiences of a few people for example, or on the other hand diluting the movement with those who have too much invested in the status quo; falling back on dogma, or abandoning essential principles. It’s a mistake to assume that every oppressed person is ready and able to shake off their oppression, and equally erroneous to wait until conditions are perfect. To transform society we must transform ourselves, we can do it along the way but we have to start now. Lines must be walked between making real improvements to the lives of people in the here and now, and giving in to reformism, we want the earth, but we’ll take it a piece at a time.
“This task of laying the groundwork for the future is, thanks to Direct Action, in no way at odds with the day to day struggle. The tactical superiority of Direct Action rests precisely on its unparalleled plasticity: organisations actively engaged in the practice are not required to confine themselves to beatific waiting for the advent of social changes. They live in the present with all possible combativity, sacrificing neither the present to the future, nor the future to the present. It follows from this, from this capacity for facing up simultaneously to the demands of the moment and those of the future and from this compatibility in the two-pronged task to be carried forward, that the ideal for which they strive, far from being overshadowed or neglected, is thereby clarified, defined and made more discernible.
Which is why it is both inane and false to describe revolutionaries drawing their inspiration from Direct Action methods as “advocates of all-or nothing”. True, they are advocates of wresting EVERYTHING from the bourgeoisie! But, until such time as they will have amassed sufficient strength to carry through this task of general expropriation, they do not rest upon their laurels and miss no chance to win partial improvements which, being achieved at some cost to capitalist privileges, represent a sort of partial expropriation and pave the way to more comprehensive demands.
From which it is plain that Direct Action is the plain and simple fleshing- out of the spirit of revolt: it fleshes out the class struggle, shifting it from the realm of theory and abstraction into the realm of practice and accomplishment. As a result, Direct Action is the class struggle lived on a daily basis, an ongoing attack upon capitalism.”
– Emile Pouget: ‘Direct Action’.
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