Decenter the Strike

Submitted by Juan Conatz on June 22, 2011

Make It Spread
Politicians, activists and sensational journalists will continually act to draw all attention to the symbolic center of political activity. All eyes will be on the capitol. While the space of the capitol building itself creates an interesting zone of inoperativity—a space for play and experimentation—the space itself functions as the primary limit to the elaboration of such play. Certain enthusiastic radicals will point to the exciting ways in which people act to create new relationships within the space. Such optimism misses the multifold way in which the constraint of such activity to the space severs such activity from any potential. Firstly, the presence of workers and student in the capitol building marks their absence from buildings and channels that comprise the material basis and flows of capital. Put another way, if this “making of new relationships” remains separate from our daily lives (both in space and time) it ensures the absolute impossibility of changing the activity and relationships that haunt the corridors of our lived misery: our classrooms, workplaces, streets and homes. Secondly, this centralization of inoperativity within a specific geography allows for the efficient and concentrated efforts of those who take it as their task to manage and re-orient any energy within the space. From the tone of one’s message, to the degree of adhesiveness of one’s tape, each element within the occupied capitol was subject to an absurd level of micro-management, by the up-and-coming class of activist-managers. Lastly, and perhaps most sinister, is the subjective limitation intrinsic to the participants in the capitol occupation. In viewing the building as “our capitol” and in expressing “this is what democracy looks like,” those captured by the political-symbolic cathexis of the geography of Madison internalized the very structure and limit of the building itself. To physically damage the building, to act out, or to take any material communizing measures would be to do immense damage to the fantasy of democratic legitimacy that animates all activity within the space. The meaning of the building—its mythology of democracy, progress and people-power—attaches itself like a parasite to those who act within it. The Madison line, came to name the most passive and impotent way of acting.

To clarify: in all unfolding events, our sole interest is the strike. More specifically, blocking the economy, the cessation of economic roles and the possibility of the immediate communization of the material underpinnings of society. As such, we are immensely excited about those elements of the Wisconsin situation that point to the generalization of tactics of striking (namely: sick-outs, walk-outs, workplace sabotage). The occupation of the capitol marks a spatial, temporal, tactical and subjective limit to the strike. Our strategic horizon must be to de-center the capitol and to spread the strike beyond all of these limits. Walk-outs at the university, the occupation of the theatre building, the neighborhood assembly, attacks on complicit businesses can all be seen as gestures towards such a spread. As antagonists, our activity must be this spreading.

It is crucial that we elaborate the logic of the strike. This means that beyond the sick-out and walk-out, we need to introduce and draw connections to other forms of economic disruption. Workplace sabotage, jamming of door apparatuses, DDOS attacks, expropriations, sounding of alarms, strategic occupations, barricades of all sorts—taken as a whole, these tactics could point towards a de-limiting of our very conception of a strike. In a world where we are increasingly marginalized, we need to teach one another new ways of experimenting with the power of the excluded to make this all stop.

Criticize, Intensify
As a minority with a specifically articulated desire to destroy capitalism, we have two unique sets of skills to contribute to these situations. Based on our experience and our eclectic interests, we can offer the gifts of critique and of tactical escalation. The limits to the situation are endless: Democracy, Unionism, Non-Violence, Family Values, Whiteness, Policing, Representation. It might be more accurate to describe the situation itself as a limit. Our engagement with such a fundamentally limited situation must be to consistently expose each of these ideological or tactical hindrances and to develop a strategy that points beyond them. This exposition reveals the only potential to supersede the various and interlocking constraints on our activity. In exposing, we need to push against, and in our pushing against we need to demystify. Criticize, intensify, rinse, repeat—such repetition builds the reflex and muscle memory of an insurrectional practice.

Stay Hidden
If the situation itself is not necessarily a revolutionary one, it offers us the rare advantage of cover, of space to act within. Put another way, the situation functions as a storm cloud blanketing the social terrain. From within this storm, our activity takes the form of lightning, which strikes can strike from anywhere, yet points back to nowhere in particular. In such a cacophony of movement, we have the unique opportunity to speak and act wildly, while remaining relatively anonymous. This anonymity is key. In refusing to be labeled or delegated as the anarchists, we can undo the categorization of antagonism as the activity that belongs to us, and us alone. If we can cease to be marked as the other, or more correctly, can disguise our otherness within the unfolding chaos we have the change to infuse the situation with our antagonistic disposition. Within these situations this means abandoning the roles of Anarchists and Communists, in favor of the being secret agents of anarchy and communization. We must consistently strive to sabotage the bifurcating roles of spectator and specialist. When an attack is anonymous and rage is general, anyone can see such gestures as something of which they themselves are capable. In this way, a marginal set of ethics can emerge as a virus from within the center itself.

Move Faster Than Our Enemies

Nothing of interest happens because of the situation. Everything of interest happens in spite of it. Every escalation is a result of uncontrollable elements moving faster than those who would control them. Wild cat striking happens when the rank and file acts despite the pleas of bureaucrats. The occupation of the Theatre building happened simply because those who wanted to take it left the activist-managers alone at their stage and moved inside without them. When people stormed the capitol after the passage of the bill, they did so because they ran past the literal and self-appointed police in order to bust through the doors and climb though broken windows. In each of these situations, the wild ones outmaneuvered and outran those who were interested in order. Likewise, when the managers of each situation finally caught up, they immediately set about trying to restore the situation to order. They told the strikers to return to work. They tried to institute strict rules at the Theatre and turned names over to the administration. They literally told people to leave the capitol and go home amidst chants of “general strike” and “occupy.” If we want to leave these people in the dustbin of history it is imperative that we recognize our agility as our greatest strength, and that we be constantly moving faster and one step ahead of their management.

Draw Lines, Expose Positions
The greatest failure of the situation in Wisconsin is the general malaise and confusion surrounding the positions of all those involved. In perhaps one of the most efficient examples of of this neutralization, by simply assuring everyone “We’re on your side!” the police were able to entirely control a situation and diffuse the form of policing through the entire body of the capitol occupation. In similar fashion, Democrats and union bureaucrats were able to capture the rage of the situation and ensure it didn’t express itself against the class society that they work to maintain. People found themselves fighting for the politicians who were the architects of their exploitation. Workers took directives from union officials, who only the week before had been entirely willing to sell out the interests of all their constituents to maintain their bureaucracy jobs. Students accepted the management and dictates of activists who had done everything in their power to prevent the very situation from happening. In each of these, antagonists were tricked and controlled by their class-enemies, through a rather simple process of mystification.

We must view the possibility of an entire crowd of people chanting “thank you, cops!” as the police surround and prepare to arrest them as the most horrifying situation imaginable. Such sympathy with objective enemies perfectly articulates the need to strategically draw lines and to expose positions. The firework demo against the jail, the maneuvering against the activist-managers in the Theatre, and the escalation of attacks against banks and workplaces must be seen as contributions toward this intention. We must find ways of acting that continue to resonate with the enraged throughout the state, but that force our enemies to prove themselves as such. When several buildings were sabotaged through the UW-M campus, janitors and students expressed much affinity with the vandalism (some even refusing to repair the broken locks, as their jobs required). Meanwhile, professional activists, campus police and politicians-in-training all immediately denounced the sabotage. When banks were vandalized the police denounced the attacks, and yet no similar denunciations were echoed by the mass of workers who hated the banks. When union officials first tried to control and later denounced the occupation on the campus, it revealed the intentions of the union leadership to everyone involved. When Maoist activist-managers were exposed as manipulative ideologues and party hacks, they lost the support of those who had complacently followed them for years. In each case, the positions of participants were revealed and everyone had to pick sides. We must ensure that we are the ones setting down the lines, so that the results of each choosing sides is desirable for our intentions.

Austerity offers us a unique opportunity, wherein the state and its agents serve the sole role of being the brutal enforcers of the economic order. When the state is reduced to pure policing, without any auspices of care, it is our job to ensure that anti-austerity struggle escalates to the point that the police must expose themselves. Only at this point is it possible for anti-austerity struggle to become anti-state struggle. We need to ensure each unfolding struggle reaches this point.

Use The Managers Tools Against The Managers House

Throughout the events in Wisconsin, one of our greatest accomplishments was the total political and social assault we waged on the self described “most advanced” of the activist leadership. It is important that we not become moralistic in our opposition to their management. We are against the managers because of their intentions and their allegiance to the social order, not because of their tactics and their forms. If we can be more efficient in deploying their tools, we should not hesitate to do so. We can facilitate and direct consensus meetings, use identity politics to undermine our enemies, positions ourselves strategically around meetings, have our own meetings to scheme their demise, make their own rules work against them, steal their megaphones, use their sound systems, be manipulative in order to expose their own manipulation. We can use our friendships and complicities against their positions. The social nature of our combat means that we shouldn’t shy away from rumor, gossip, shit talk and defamation in defeating those who are the enemies of conflict. War is politics by other means and in it we should know no monsters. When the activist-managers fled the occupation in tears and promised to never come back, we can only dream that their words prove true.

Frame Questions, Shape Discourse

Another successful set of experiments is the way in which we acted to subvert the mainstream discourse and to impose our own discourse in its place. Intensive deployment of propaganda made it so that “strike, occupy, takeover” became the default phraseology when things were at their most tense. The distribution of communiqués from previous occupations and strikes informed the language and practice of an entirely new set of actors. Though a general strike never came to fruition, thousands of people began to think of and prepare for one, as if it was actually possible. Appeals from comrades around the world, could be used to add ethical weight to radical sentiments. Calling for assemblies to specifically answer the questions of how to prepare for a strike, put the strike on the horizon for all who hear the call. Any successful debater will tell you that whoever poses the terms of the debate wins. We need to consistently be posing such terms if we want to ever garner desirable results.

Recognize Potential In All Relationships
The most beautiful elements of these situations are the ways in which old relationships are infused with new definition and hidden potentials are revealed. Friends, co-workers, neighbors and classmates all become potential conspirators in the course of the struggle. Our friendships become animated by a new urgency, a sense of shared complicity in the desire to push the situation beyond its limits. The streets we walk down every day are enchanted and decorated with an entire new set of narratives and discourses. At the coffee shops where we sit every afternoon, we can hear the same rage on the tongues of people at every table within earshot. Those who previously we could only relate to through economic logic, now have much to teach us and much to learn from us about how we might destroy that very logic. New friends and comrades will reveal themselves. More importantly, we need to be attentive in order to map the new terrains of affinity that exist outside of unions and activist organizations. A new type of party can only emerge out of such a network of affinity and shared dispositions. Going back to the old ways of relating is the greatest possible defeat.

Just Do The Damn Thing

While the urge to be cautious might be strong, never buy into it. There is nothing to lose. The situation is already a loss. We simply need to do what we all know needs to be done. Restraint is always just the expression of an internal limit. Throughout the entire situation, there wasn’t a single measure of escalation that wasn’t met with approval by the vast majority of participants in the situation. Everyone wanted to see things go further, and yet everyone wanted to wait—anarchists included. Hesitation is weakness and shows a lack of imagination. In a world where everyone is waiting, ceasing to wait means everything. In the future, it is imperative that we trust our intuitions and be animated by them.

Drop The Dead Weight Of Old Forms
In the situation, spectacular and symbolic forms proved themselves to be dead ends. Rallies, speeches, meetings. Each of these sucked the momentum out of the situation and left behind a bloated corpse. We need to avoid these situations at all costs. When we cannot, we need to find ways to subvert their purpose and force everyone to flee them. It’s important to be attentive to the ways that such control and stagnancy shifts. A tactic that was radical a month ago can be drained of all potential tomorrow. One need only look so far as the capitol occupation to see the rapidly encroaching limitations to that set of tactics. Where in California, occupation was a threat to the university system: it is now the go-to tactic of the most bland activists around the country. We need to be continually moving and experimenting so as to not be trapped by the repetition of failed forms. We don’t have any adequate formulas. As we are faced with new and uncertain situations, we need to be prepared to learn from the past, but also to deploy new and untried strategies.

Know How To Measure Our Gains
In a situation where we have no interest in the popular stated goals (unions, democracy, whatever), we need to be able to set our own objectives and measure our own accomplishments. Re-call elections, large rallies, union membership, political capital have nothing to do with our project, and as such we need a new rubric by which to measure our activity. We have a great deal to gain in these situations, so long as we know what to strive for. If we can enter the fray knowing what we want out of it, we will be all the better equipped to realize our desires. Spreading chaos, strengthened relationships, new comrades, wide-spread disillusionment, the dethroning of activist-leaders, new narratives of revolt, material destruction, fleeing from our predicates, finding one another, being better prepared to provide for ourselves and determine our lives—these are the hallmarks of successful participation and intervention into crises. Those who have unspeakable intentions must find real ways of speaking to each other about what we have actually accomplished.

Plan C: If All Else Fails...

... steal as much as humanly possible. If our efforts to push a situation are defeated in all the imaginable ways, we need to have exit strategies that ensure we are more materially prepared going into the next set of events. When students speak of occupations, make sure they occupy places with print resources, building supplies, electronic equipment. When enthusiastic new participants begin talking about doing economic damage to companies that supported the bill, suggest that they begin with looting the complicit grocery stores. If enemy groups have funding from their political parties, be sure to divert as much funding as possible. Sound-systems, money, food, propaganda, computers, fly new gear: stack everything!