Insurrectionary anarchy and revolutionary organization

A piece by Sabotage that attempts to find common ground between insurrectionary anarchists and platformists/anarcho-syndicalists.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 21, 2012

In recent years there have been many debates within the anarchist movement about the insurrectionary method of organizing for revolution.1 But often these debates do not go into detail regarding the organizational proposals put forth by insurrectionary anarchists. This piece hopes to highlight these organizational methods and serve as an introduction to this project and tendency within revolutionary anarchist thought.

Formal vs Informal Organization?

One of the biggest debates around the insurrectionary method has been that between the need for formal or informal anarchist organization. One does not need to dig far to see that such debates are a false dichotomy. In the Postscript to Issue 2 of the Swedish journal Dissident named Insurrection and Anarchy, the Batko Group explains “it is important not to trap oneself in the dichotomy between formal and informal organization. The form is always dependent on the capacity of initiative. Formal structures can sometimes be used, as long as the initiative is kept.”2

Even the father of contemporary insurrectionary anarchism Alfredo Maria Bonanno in one of his seminal essays entitled From Riot to Insurrection says:

“Certainly, it is still possible to go along the road of the organisation of synthesis, of propaganda, anarchist educationism and debate — as we are doing just now of course — because, as we said, this is a question of a project in tendency, of attempting to understand something about a capitalist project which is in development. But, as anarchist revolutionaries, we are obliged to bear in mind this line of development and to prepare ourselves from this moment on to transform irrational situations of riot into an insurrectional and revolutionary reality."3

It would be instructive if the current anarchist movement took heed of this above example. The quote above was from a speech given at a formal conference around the journal Anarchismo of which Bonanno was the main editor. Informal organization was not meant to be a dogma to be followed at all cost like staunch believers in the party or syndicalist forms of organization, but was a historical tendency that Bonanno was trying to analyze in motion.

In hindsight we can now see, like the Batko Group alluded to, that whether to intervene in the class struggle using formal or informal practices is a matter of choosing the appropriate means to achieve the desired ends.

Self-activity & Self-management

What then are the means by which insurrectionary anarchists propose to organize for revolution? Those familiar to most revolutionary anarchists, self-organization.

Insurrectionary anarchists take very seriously that the emancipation of the exploited and oppressed classes must be a project resulting from their own autonomous self-activity. This applies whether it be individuals, groups of anarchist revolutionaries, or mass bodies of the exploited in struggle for their own autonomy.

The reason this is of importance is because it is a major similarity shared between insurrectionary anarchists and the rest of the revolutionary anarchist movement. It is particularly interesting in the light of it being the same means historically that most anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists have desired, if refocused as we will later see in the discussion of their proposals for mass organizing. Not only is workers’ self-activity the preferred method for struggle, but it is the nucleus of the self-organized society anarchists desire to create through social revolution:

“Self-management of the struggle comes first, followed by self-management of work and society…Revolution of work is therefore the self-managed organization of these first elements of the future society, base production nuclei which grow from the autonomy of the struggle.”4

Active Minority: Specific Anarchist Organization of Affinity

Contemporary insurrectionary thought arose out of the historical conditions of post-war Italy. In the Italian anarchist movement at that time there was a hot debate between those believing in the validity of the specific anarchist “organization of synthesis” around the Anarchist Federation of Italy (FAI)accused of being “purists” and those defending the model of a specific anarchist “organization of tendency” around the Anarchist Groups of Proletarian Action (GAAP). Both groups were organized around a specific anarchist program whether pluralist (FAI) or platformist (GAAP).5

It was out of this reality that a third type of specific organization emerged, around local groups based on affinity. Affinity in this scenario did not mean that anarchists should just organize with their friends, or not organize at all like the anti-organizational individualists, but based around clarifying where comrades are at based on political discussion, analysis, and most importantly through experience working with each other in struggle. In short, a focus on building unity with others through praxis. Revolutionary anarchists of all tendencies should consider trying to learn from the best elements of such strategies. Instead of agreeing to political programs (whether minimal, transitional, or maximal) that are set in stone, revolutionary anarchists should strive to continue to have an analysis and organizing practice based and refined through participation in the social struggle:

“The affinity group on the other hand finds it has great potential and is immediately addressedtowards action, basing itself not on the quantity of its adherents, but on the qualitative strength of a number of individuals working together in a projectuality that they develop together as they go along. From being a specific structure of the anarchist movement and the whole arc of activity that this presents - propaganda, direct action, perhaps producing a paper, working within an informal organization - it can also look outwards to forming a base nucleus or some other mass structure and thus intervene more effectively in the social clash.”6

Autonomous Base Nuclei: Self-managed Leagues for Workers’ Autonomy

As mentioned earlier the self-activity of the exploited and oppressed is incredibly important to insurrectionary anarchists. This reveals itself in the ideal form of mass organizing proposed by insurrectionary anarchists, autonomous base nuclei. “Base” is the Italian word for grassroots. “Nuclei” is another word for “cells.” Autonomous base nuclei are essentially self-managed grassroots cells or leagues independent from any political party or syndicalist/union alliances. They are mass organizations based on total workers’ autonomy and self-organization.

Insurrectionary anarchists work within community, labor, or other mass struggles with intermediate aims always encouraging workers to organize autonomously if possible. Examples of such organizations from their practice were the self-managed leagues created to fight against the construction of a U.S. missile base in Cosimo, Italy.7 The Movimento Autonomo di Base (Autonomous Movement of the Railway Workers) in Turin, Italy is also often cited.

There has often been suspicion that such structures mimic the front organizations created by many Leninist parties, proving that insurrectionary anarchists have a substitutionist and vanguardist practice. On the contrary the call for such self-managed organizations to take on characteristics of direct action (attack), permanent conflictuality (critique of representation) and so on seems to mirror the strategy and tactics espoused by some contemporary revolutionary anarchists who have theorized a practice of “direct unionism.”8

There has also been a misguided notion that insurrectionary anarchism is a political theory and method that is for the active destruction and attack of the existing Left in the various unions and syndicalist organizations. One may only need to take a look at Bonanno’s Critique of Syndicalist Methods to see that this is not entirely true:

“A project to disorganize the unions would require a destructive logic…It would be dispersive to put energy (which we do not possess) into such a perspective, and not the right way to look at the problem of worker organization. Quicker and better results would be obtained from making a radical critique of the unions and extending it equally to revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalism.”9

Insurrectionary anarchists do not argue against working within such structures but for bringing their radicall anarchist critique and ideas to these organizations in order to move past the historical passe most such organizations find themselves in. They work towards the building of more class wide structures that are not limited to the workplace or community struggles but where people fight for their own issues and struggles, not just deffensively. A more current example of such organizations can be seen in the “solidarity network” model that has popped up recently where workers fight against their bosses and landlords but have also participated in struggles against the police and sexual perpetrators.10

Putting the Dead to Rest

In conclusion anarchists should recognize that the perceived differences between insurrectionary and other currents of revolutionary anarchism are not as large a schism as often portrayed in some circles. These divides seem to be derived more from ignorance of the insurrectional project by both proponents and opponents alike or based on historical comparison to perceived similar historical currents. Hopefully this introduction to insurrectionary organizing methods for revolution helps clarify where there is similarity and where there are differences, as well as dispel common myths. Instead of swaying back and forth in the continual debate over organizational form hopefully the anarchist movement as a whole can start focusing further on the (anti-)political goals and visions that revolutionaries of all tendencies are hotly debating today.

Originally posted: February 21, 2012 at Black Wave Communist Collective

  • 1Crimethinc’s Say You Want An Insurrection?, Peter Gelderloos’ Insurrection vs. Organization, and Joe Black’s Anarchism, insurrections and insurrectionalism
  • 2Dissident #2 PostScript
  • 3A.M. Bonanno From Riot to Insurrection
  • 4A.M. Bonanno Looking Forward to Self-management
  • 5Coordinadora Informal Anarquista Vivir la Anarquía
  • 6 Insurrection #4
  • 7 Insurrection #4
  • Direct Unionism
  • 9A.M. Bonanno Critique of Syndicalist Methods
  • Solidarity Networks



12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Ambrose on February 21, 2012

Awesome article!

If they are Anarchist, then they are sisters and brothers in my opinion.


12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by KriegPhilosophy on March 5, 2012

Brilliant article :)

Black Badger

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Black Badger on March 6, 2012

Maybe you should read this other piece from them if you think they're so awesome....

Practical Platformism: Revolutionary Cadre Organisation

By Red Zarathustra

Common Struggle – Libertarian Communist Federation (LCF), formerly known as the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC), has been in existence for nearly eleven years now. From its inception it has billed itself as Platformist: that is to say, generally following the guidelines of the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists (or, General Union of Anarchists). Needless to say, any organisation grows and evolves over time and this is often healthy – but I’d like to take a moment to examine our relationship to Platformism and to determine if we have strayed from that model, and if this desirable. I wish to rehash elements of an old debate: the Bring the Ruckus (BTR) – NEFAC debate, specifically in regard to revolutionary cadre organisation and dual power. I wish to go back to the Platform, as well as the memoirs of Nestor Makhno himself, where he lays out numerous lessons we must heed.

Nestor Makhno, who was one of the main theoreticians of the Platformist tendency, was proponent of cadre organisation, which is typically associated with Marxism. Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that many in the anarchist milieu have called the Platform “authoritarian” – though this is completely unfounded. This is a case of anarchists fetishising form over content, something unfortunately common within the anarchist milieu. That is to say, to consider the way things function organisationally or aesthetically as opposed to the libertarian content in their work. We see this in the incessant demand for things like infoshops, for instance, or other cultural projects that, while not bad in themselves (counterinstitutions are necessary), cannot substitute for organising and do not require the collective discipline that serious organising requires (ie, revolutionary libertarian cadres). Another example of this demand for form over content is those anarchists who reject Marxism so outright that they will not even read Capital, though their entire critique of capitalism was formulated mostly in the first volume of that book. It is for lack of critical analysis that this attitude is taken towards cadres.

To my dismay, during the BTR-NEFAC debate those arguing on behalf of NEFAC chose to attack BTR on the grounds that it is a cadre organisation (that is not the only thing their critique focused on, but it was a major aspect of it). I don’t believe the points raised, specifically in Nicolas Phebus’s article “Differences of Strategy and Organization”, were particularly helpful in critiquing cadres, because they did not address the type of organisation that BTR was hoping to create – libertarian cadres. Why? What is typical is the dismissal of the Leninist concept of cadre and vanguard that is hierarchical and patronising. I believe that from a Platformist point of view, which naturally gravitates towards cadre organisation, it is impossible to dismiss such cadres. Unlike the Leninists, Libertarian cadres “[do] not seek to control any organization or movement, nor does it pretend that it is the most advanced section of a struggle” and “it assumes that the masses are typically the most advanced section of a struggle.”i BTR concludes by stating, “the organization would not actively support any kind of activism but only those struggles that hold the potential of building a dual power.”ii What is questionable is BTR’s strategy towards achieving dual power, which was rightfully critiqued by Wayne Price in his article “What, if anything, is a dual power strategy?”, not the idea of creating a dual power situation itself, and destroying the state and capital simultaneously through social-revolutionary action. Price argued that their race-reductionist politics are, in fact, not as strategic for building a desired situation than the solid class-based politics of (at the time) NEFAC.

Much of Phebus’s article was designed to point out supposed “contradictions” in cadreorganisation, but it does not. Firstly, it begins by defining what BTR and libertarian cadres are based upon old definitions that are irrelevant to the reality of what is practiced – the article insists that they are a bourgeois, authoritarian leninist-appropriated method of organisation. It does not define BTR’s project on their own terms. The article claims that by having prefigurative politics that are then spread to the masses, it is authoritarian and believes the masses “dumb”. No, BTR is simply realistic about revolutionary organisation and building power. Because it is true what Platform said of anarchism, that “the outstanding anarchist thinkers, Bakunin, Kropotkin and others, did not invent the idea of anarchism, but, having discovered it in the masses, simply helped by the strength of their thought and knowledge to specify and spread it.”iii However, it is naive to believe that because anarchism was discovered in the masses that, in bourgeois society which does everything in its power to suppress it, the proletariat will magically come to this idea. Some of them will, someone of them will not. We revolutionary anarchists are an example of those who did. Those at Occupy are an example of those who are close to it, but lack the clarity to articulate their true desire – libertarian communism. At work we find reactionary working class people: racists and sexists who reinforce the worst aspects of the capitalist system.

From reading the initial “Bring The Ruckus” statement, I have gathered that they fundamentally understood what a cadre is meant to uphold: collective responsibility, theoretical and tactical unity, and direct democracy. What differences are there, then, between the Federation and Bring the Ruckus organisationally? This is a difficult question to consider without insider knowledge of BTR, which I simply do not have. They do, however, have a common strategy and specific criteria that defines the work cadres are able to carry out under the banner of BTR. This not something that Common Struggle has, but it is something discussed at the 2011 Federal Conference and is being moved forward on in a committee. Phebus’s closing statement on cadres is this utterly confusing as he claims: “NEFAC has chosen a platformist federation model, BTR has chosen a cadre; they are not the same thing, whether we like it or not.”iv It is interesting, then, that the founder of the tendency of Platformism seemed to disagree with him. Makhno wrote in the first volume of his memoirs, The Russian Revolution in Ukraine: “Either we go to the masses and dissolve ourselves into them, creating from them revolutionary cadres, and make the Revolution; or we renounce our slogan about the necessity of social transformation, the necessity of carrying through to the end the workers’ struggle with the powers of Capital and the State.v

There are legitimate issues with revolutionary cadre organisation, but I do not believe they are not critiqued in the BTR-NEFAC debate. Namely, while they are tight-knit and committed to revolutionary struggle, they tend to be insular and reject the building of revolutionary anarchist organisation. While acknowledging that we do not seek to dominate, but will lead when appropriate, we also believe in the validity of anarchist communism as the only system which can eliminate exploitation and domination. As such, it is not enough for us to have an “anarchistic movement” – such as the current Occupy movement, with elements of anarchism (albeit so-called “small a anarchist”) like consensus decision making and general assemblies – but in fact to eventually have a revolutionary anarchist communist movement that enacts a social revolution to end exploitation and domination. Thus, the question of how we relate to the rest of the proletariat crops up. I do not have an exact scientific formula for solving this issue, but I do believe the answer lies in self-reflection and political education. It’s important to understand that “doesn’t automatically give us a method to bring up the level of the left to the unity and strategy we seek”vi but that this is something we are always striving for and challenging ourselves as revolutionaries to meet.

Cadres also tend to act as substitutionists, something which Phebus points out in saying, “of course, we must agitate for our idea and lead the battle of ideas, but as members of the class not as outside agitators.”vii I completely agree with this statement – I think Bring the Ruckus does as well, and Phebus here is merely misconstruing words, but the point is valid. If cadres think this way, that they are outside the class, instead of dissolving themselves into the class, than they are approaching revolutionary organisation in the wrong way. However, were are libertarians and not Leninists – with proper political education and leadership building in our organisations that should never be a problem. Defining cadres as inherently substitutionist is incorrect, especially in this libertarian sense of them! It is important to reiterate Makhno’s words here – that revolutionary cadres are formed from masses themselves. If this is properly understood than there will be no confusion of so-called “substitutionism”.

So then, what do these so-called “revolutionary libertarian cadres” look like? It is simple: they are local unions of anarchist-communists committed to struggle, which “emphasizes not just the organizational positions, but also the capabilities and activity of militants.”viiiThey strive for the central tenants of platformism, and keeping intact their libertarian ideology at all times they seek to politically educate their members to build leadership that is worthy of being the vanguard of the class struggle. Not only are they an organisation of organisers, because we cannot simple fetishise one strength that not everyone has, but an organisation of propaghandists capable of taking anarchism to the masses and building a revolutionary anarchist movement – backed by those toilers who the organisers build power with. This is not where Common Struggle is at, for now, but it is what we should be striving for if we are really Platformists.

It is with great interest we critically analyse the situations that occur in the struggle, to identify the most revolutionary aspects of the struggle and innoculate against reformism. In other words, the cadre seeks, at all times, to deepen and broaden the struggle to point of social revolution. The cadre is a serious organisation that requires discipline and commitment, because the task of creating an anarchist communist world is one of immense proportions.

iBring The Ruckus. Bring The Ruckus. Accessed 12/4/11.


iiiThe Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists. Delo Truda. Accessed 12/4/11.

ivDifferences of Strategy and Organization. Nicolas Phebus. The North Eastern Anarchist. Accessed 12/4/11.

vThe Russian Revolution in Ukraine. Nestor Makhno. Black Cat Press. 2006.

viWe Are Not Platformists, We Strive To Be. Scott Nappalos. Recomposition Blog. Accessed 12/15/11.

viiDifferences of Strategy and Organization. Nicolas Phebus. The North Eastern Anarchist. Accessed 12/4/11.

viiiWe Are Not Platformists, We Strive To Be. Scott Nappalos. Recomposition Blog. Accessed 12/15/11.


11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by lou.rinaldi on October 2, 2012

Hey, Black Badger;

I recommend you learn to critique.

Also, thanks for posting that BWCC article on here. It's cool that you want more people to read our stuff! ;)