Illegal Anarchism: The false dichotomy

excerpt from a talk by Gustavo Rodríguez, in the Squatted Social Center “La Casa Naranja”, Tlalnepantla, Mexico State.

When we affirm ourselves as Anarchists, we are against the system of domination. We fight against and object to the whole social order and all the laws that aid it. All laws have been and will be made to give juridical support to oppression and domination. If we are against the state we have to be strongly against the laws which entitle and justify its existence. Therefore, as Anarchists we are illegal because we are Anarchists, that is to say, by nature. Then for the much confusion that exists — a product of the liberal intoxication stalking again in these times — we must be very clear. And hence it should also be very clear that each time that this euphemism is used, when the term “illegalist anarchists” pops up, it is making reference to “insurrectionalist Anarchism”, to its tactics, methods and logic, and doing so in a derogatory manner with bad intentions — pointing the finger from the pulpit, from the supposedly “legalistic anarchist” stance. Or you could say from the denial of Anarchism. Here is a very timely moment for the maxim attributed to Camillo Berneri and Bob Black popularised in 1980s, in other words but without doubt words that certainly evoked the essence of the original sentence: “they are those anarchists, enemies of Anarchy”.

We should start by doing something about that incongruous position, both conceptually and practically speaking, that calls for “legalistic Anarchism” and that simultaneously belittles, outlaws and impedes the subsequent actions of the supporters and the participants of Anarchy. To be able to understand why and how such an ambiguous term came about in our ranks and to be able to explain the peculiar interest that exists and persists in using such a label, we have to, once again, ask the inevitable question: what is Anarchism? As Bonanno has pointed out: it is always necessary to return to this question, even when we are among Anarchists. Often, just to be among Anarchists makes this question inevitable.

Alfredo Bonanno explains that the reiteration of this question owes itself to the fact that Anarchism isn‘t a definition that, once reached, can be guarded jealously in a safe and conserved as a heritage from which we take our arguments each time that we need them. And he’s right. Paradoxically, there are those who claim themselves as “Anarchists” yet argue the opposite, that is, they conceive anarchism to be an ideology to be kept it in a safe — like the safe that Bonanno mentioned — to “protect” it as if it were a creed.

These dogmatists of Anarchism understand the ideal like an undisputable Bible that gives them a rich array of arguments for every circumstance that comes their way and thus, avoiding reality by repeating its sacred prayers to infinity. The unprecedented part is that this distorted view of Anarchism, an idealized one to be exact, is shared by both sides of the currents despite their irreconcilable differences.

That is, both for the current “essentialism”, akin to liberalism, to the “historicism” direct descendant of Marxism, Anarchism is treated as an ideology. This, in a certain form, explains to us why each time that Anarchism moves away from the reality of concrete struggles — whether as a result of the withdrawal periods or times of reflux of the real movement of the oppressed — these old ghosts reappear and it degenerates into an ideology. At other times, we have insisted on this and we will not tire of repeating it: Anarchism obtains its own specific theory/practice at any time breaking sharply with his roots, here is where it develops as such, revealing its parricidal character.

We have to say that when mention is made of so-called “illegal Anarchism”, really as a rule what is being referred to is insurrectionary Anarchism, to a set of Anarchist strategies implemented principally in France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States during the last two decades of the 19th Century and the first three decades of the last. This particular period in our history, that in reality covers a little more, seeing that declarations of insurrection have been collected from the Congress of Madrid of 1874 and the so-called “retaliations” — without doubt suggests that this period served as defining moment for the birth of this false dichotomy of which we spoke of before of “legalistic Anarchism” vs “illegal Anarchism”.


the war on christmas; 12/13/13 anarchists lit an xmas tree up in Mexico City’s Plaza de la Reforma. photo from earthfirst! newswire

In those early years of the twentieth century, theories about revolutionary expropriation and propaganda by the deed were theorised over in heaps of insurrectionary anarchist publications that gave particular validity to these methods within the broad range of insurrectionary tactics.

Today, revolutionary expropriations remain an essential vehicle of funding anarchist activities, both to carry out actions as well as for editing anarchist propaganda, books, publications, etc.. In regions such as Greece and Italy, where insurrectionary anarchism is very active, many compañer@s have gone to prison for failed expropriations. Alfredo Bonanno, Pipo Staicy, Christos Stratigopoulos and Yiannis Dimitrakis, the last two are still in prison, also victims of the silence and condemnation of “legalistic anarchism.” Compañeros Claudio Lavazza, Giovanni Barcia and Gilbert Ghislain, insurrectionary Italian anarchist prisoners in the Spanish State who also remain behind bars for expropriations. Giorgio Rodríguez and Juan José Garfia are also in prison for expropriation, the latter has been in jail since 1987. And heaps of other compañer@s that I don‘t remember their names right now. Not to mention in Chile and Argentina.

So when we address the so-called “illegal anarchism”, we do so acknowledging the gigantic size of this incongruity, but also acknowledging that this euphemism is referring to insurrectionary anarchism, then we must reaffirm the validity and objectivity of propaganda by the deed and of expropriations, recognising these tactics and practices as consistent with our principles, appropriate for times of withdrawal and retreat from the real movement of the oppressed and for the periods of reflux, re-articulation and accumulation of forces. But precisely for that reason, our action should not be limited to action for the action itself without ideals or principles that reaffirm them but instead as a direct consequence of those principles and those ideals put into practice. For this reason, we disagree with compañer@s who, like Miguel Amorós, despite being strongly critical of the false “legalistic” anarchism and the farce of the fictional organization supported solely by oral and written propaganda, they fall into the commonplace assertion that anarchism in general and as a whole suffered a metamorphosis which abandoned the tactics of insurrection and transformed into an ideology alien to the real struggles.

While it is true that in the so-called “anarchism in transition” period, following the defeat of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, an ideology in broad sectors of anarchism was produced, an ideological degeneration of abandoning all contact with reality and taking refuge in the abstract ideas of primitive currents. It is also true that all “libertarian” liberalism immediately after the French Revolution relentlessly pushed for the abandonment of insurgent practices and the ideological degenerations that are now so submerged, laying the foundations of this humanistic and philanthropic liberalism still being preached from the sacred temples of “official” anarchism. In the same bag, you can not put those who consistently and according to the circumstances imposed by a context of a set-back of the struggles, continue in arms against domination, with the corresponding tactics and methods for that period of crisis of the movement and of the dispersion or regression of struggles. Amorós himself in his many criticisms of the insurrectionalist Anarchism has recognized that under conditions of withdrawal and retreat of a struggle, minimum organization is the only possible option, and he has also highlighted the inability of the offensive against the system of domination in a situation of full retreat of the struggle. Then we ask how they can not recognize that it is precisely in such periods of crisis and decline which, limited by the circumstances, have implemented rebellious forms of struggle in order not to give the enemy the slightest of chances?

Not accepting the reformism, the evolutionary processes nor the contemplative attitudes of “legalist Anarchism”, we front ourselves with the dilemma of standing armed crossed waiting for the “objective and subjective” conditions to be ripe, or articulate or impulse other rebellious actions that keep us alive, at war and without giving any respite to the enemy, not one single second of peace to the system of domination.

We believe that recognising the tactics and methods that correspond to each period of struggle is essential to developing a unitary critique. We are convinced that whilst we are not spreading the rebellious conscience, we will fail to achieve the reconstruction of the real movement of the oppressed and while this doesn‘t materialize we can not extend the struggle and reach a generalised insurrection. Those with the essential ingredients needed to smash this old world that we inhabit to pieces and materialize the total destruction of the current system of domination. But we will not stay waiting for the maturation of the revolutionary process, we won‘t wait for the revolution nor are we very worried whether it ever happens or not, because known revolutions — from the French revolution to nowadays — have degenerated, all of them, into reformist, authoritarian and dictatorial processes that have only helped to strengthen the state. Our fight is and always will be for Total liberation, for Anarchy. We won‘t accept anything less. Thank you.

Sunday 3rd July 2011.

this is an excellent recounting of the history of insurrectionary anarchism. available in it’s entirety from the anarchist library archives. you may have to torrent it…

romeVAnBurn.jpgRome, Italy, October 15 2011 – photo via 325