Burn the Black Flag
In nearly every major city and most small towns, there are anarchists, or people with unlabeled anarchist values, plotting ways to create space for our radical projects promoting positive freedom. In most cities, our efforts are duly encumbered with the toil of filling in the abyss of gaps in state services: from Food Not Bombs to refugee squats. Our ethos is one of responding directly and with accountability to need. After all, supporting people to live in spite of the violence of the state and mega-corporations is a project of positive freedom. Yet we also dream and whisper and fight and fuck and love in a myriad of other ways as well.
In times of great repression, looming fascist creep, and ecological disaster, the ever-present sense of capitalist alienation can run deeper. It can go so far as to crowbar apart the relationships we do have with outbursts of trauma, fear, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and paranoia and the collective impact of things like trials and incarceration. I’ve spent long depressive bouts feeling as though I couldn’t talk to my friends and I drifted farther from my support and as well from my networked potential to make trouble and freedom.
And yet for others still, they aren’t in a big city with a dozen public-facing projects to slowly build trust and plug into. They’re in a small town where the only other person with possibly similar values to them is a type of person the city punk would scarcely recognize as “radical”. In small towns, organizing has to happen differently and you can’t afford to be so picky about matching up niche sub-identities with your friends. You are forced to find the good in different kinds of people and maintain those relationships more deeply than the Tinder-style networking of big city radicalism. But despite these phenomena that some may see as limitations, even in the small towns, anarchists and those in our affinity, find resonance big and small. Even if just in little comments about the shared working-class resentment of cruel bosses or backcountry troublemaking while fleeing the authorities.
No matter our obstacles, or how alone we may feel, we can touch the pulse of a larger, bloody, beating heart at the center of our internationally networked struggles. The internet makes this more obvious. Despite the constant surveillance, infiltration, and platform repression of radical movements on the internet, many of us still seek out and find our voice together. When you enter some radical forum or group and slowly make friends with people in disparate locations from you, this notion of anarchist connectedness can become more clear. We are everywhere.
This isn’t to imply some kind of greater good, nationalism that we can tap into and rally behind. Anarchist connectivity is an imagined community. We are not, and will never be, a nation. We abhor and attack the very fundamental roots of such violent lies. We’re something very different. We acknowledge and strategically utilize our decentralization and disconnectedness as a means to fight and defend ourselves.
Only the undercover wants to know about every below board thing going on in the community. We delight in the quiet suspicion that it was probably so-and-so who did such-and-such but since we weren’t a part of it, we don’t want to know about it. We love the freedom of not knowing the details and yet smiling smugly with a sense of the contour.
Similar to this intentional ignorance, we do not pretend to share everything. Complexity and illegibility has always been our weapon. It is no secret that in just about every place with more than one anarchist there will eventually be sectarian scene beef. There are a plethora of critiques of this kind of fickle divisiveness, but it also serves the purposes of keeping our ideas and values dynamic and accountable. We prevent abuse by attacking the collective identities that could obscure or protect it. We tell the abusers to fuck-off and sometimes we make mistakes in the ways we handle it, but we keep the threat against people who would commit coercion alive.
We aren’t Anarchists with a capital-A, we are networks of complexly overlapping identities and values, all fighting for coherence and legitimacy. As shown by James C. Scott (among countless others) our very complexity is what makes us illegible and uncontrollable. When the state kills or imprisons our “leaders”, we mourn, provide solidarity, and ultimately route around the damage. A fascist organization crumples in on itself in a vacuum of power while an anarchist network thrives.
We already distrust leaders and are often quite critical of our intellectuals and figureheads. No one is insulated by power from our curiosity to grow and learn more. Because we don’t trust a greater authority, we seek to know for ourselves, questioning the scene patriarchs and social capital cuties along the way. Aside from our deeply sentimental, kind, earnest, and caring loyalty, we’re also annoying and obstinate and we like it that way. From the youth who struggles against the illegitimate abuse of power of their teachers or parents, to the audacious nerd who overturns a hundred years of scientific hegemony, this is our spirit– and it is available to anyone, with or without the anarchist label.
As a result of this, there is no one to email if you have a message for the anarchists or antifa. There is no one person that the fascists could kill to debilitate us. We are amorphous and turn our own collective identities into compost for ever more intricate networks of affinity. We will burn the black flag with glee.
Standing Together, Apart
This is where it starts to get interesting.
As a result of all of this, we don’t share a kind of national identity but an underlying web of values and strategies that we are constantly simultaneously testing and exploring the limits of in every area, digital or physical, where we gather and bond and provide solidarity. That means that the conversations happening in one town about a banner drop, infoshop, website, zine series, direct-action, protest, insurrection, reading group, rad support circle, community-defense crew, anarchist think-tank (ahem), antifascist research/response group, or long-term mutual-aid project are happening all over the world without any central coordination other than the spark of an idea and the sharing of our lessons. This isn’t to say we don’t organize widely– of course we do!– but just that much of what we do can be done in a distributed way that doesn’t generate the vulnerabilities of centralized power.
This should make you feel stronger. When you think that thought-crime you are a part of a huge network of uncoordinated persons all wondering how to make the world better in similar, but flourishingly divergent ways. Your ideas don’t rely on each other but they do build off each other.
This makes us dangerous to fight directly. It also makes us agile to adapt.
Although we don’t have leaders or a national identity, we still respond to threats against each other. When anarchists in one city are under attack, anarchists across the world revolt in kind, in a proliferation of different creative strategies. We phone-zap the jails, graffiti, bust up the embassies of the country affronting them, write editorials to spread the word, and organize in grassroots fundraising for medical and legal expenses. Nobody tells us to do this but we show each other that we are not alone, that we are supported in our bravery by quiet cells and large networks everywhere at once. But even at a more local level, if an anarchist gets killed by a nazi in greece, a nazi office gets burned down. Obviously cycles of revenge are dangerous and complicated things but it should go without saying that attacking the anarchists is a strategic gaffe, even for the state.
It’s not as if we can’t be harmed. Palmer raids have an effect but Emma Goldman kept writing. Brazilian military and paramilitaries burning down anarchist squats is effective but collectives just remove “anarchists” from their name and keep going in secret. We can transform. We have our own vulnerable infrastructure but we also have something else, stigmergic parity.
Let’s Have Some Fun. Shall We?
- n. A mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action.
- n. Equality, as in amount, status, or value.
- n. Functional equivalence, as in the weaponry or military strength of adversaries.
Parity as a concept is often used around a lethargic electoralism or with regard to global south authoritarians trying to get nuclear weapons. It tends to have a very single iteration prisoner’s dilemma feel — if you nuke me I’ll nuke you back and we both die. From this caveman approach to diplomacy you also get ratcheting justification for nationalism and authoritarian centralism in a constant state of emergency/exception.
Our parity is different. Although we don’t want to play Kissinger style game theory, we do want keep alive some threat of our collective defense on many different fronts (physical, information warfare, Starbucks windows, etc). But we will never have the armies and weapons of our enemies. We are not masters of cruelty and don’t want the monopoly of violence. Our strategies have to transcend these games of power. The thing we have, that they have not, is the most simple and complicated thing in the world — trust. We embrace the cringeyness of empathy because we don’t believe in violence for its own sake and know we cannot beat the violence monopolists at their own game. We invent new avenues for cooperation that tear apart the dilemmas at their seams.
As a result of our intimate and living mycelial networks of trust and reputation, we have a very special form of solidarity and despite the constant existential threats to our movements, we are irrepressible. We do our best not only to build a new world but also defend it and each other against saboteurs. Not with the heavy-handed centralism of the NKVD, but act-by-act in networks of love and struggle. This is a parity through trust.
Our parity is an unpredictable, many-headed hydra. The Trump regime may have known protests were coming on J-20 but they couldn’t predict or control the scale of our grassroots coordination and independent, discrete rebellion. People from all over descended on the capital to fight creeping proto-fascism and xenophobic racism but at the same time small to large groups in towns and cities across the world also responded. There were solidarity actions in major cities around the globe. Then when the trials of the J-20 defendants began, revolt spread again, and we made our voice heard in our beautifully haphazard and disjointed poetry of radicalism.
Many of the actions on and after J-20 failed by their original goals but nonetheless contributed to a stigmergic collective response that, in its leaderlessness, was unable to be mapped, war-gamed, and predicted by our federal technocrats and their blue lackies. Regardless of our unpredictability, because we are bottom-up, we are also agile and responsive to rapid shifts in the local context. As Kevin Carson noted in Desktop Regulatory State (a great read for thinking about stigmergic power), the constant failing of the U.S. empire, both in Iraq and Vietnam, was the tedious process of adapting to changes in a massively hierarchical organization. When the IED began making its appearance, the soldiers witnessing the carnage they caused didn’t have the power to adapt their strategies to defend against them. They had to file reports that would then run all the way up and down the chain of command before a change could be made. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda cells just saw that the strategy worked and reproduced it instantly in autonomous cells elsewhere, not asking permission of anyone. Al-Qaeda are obviously pieces of shit themselves (don’t @ me with “they’re anti-imperialists”) but it makes a compelling point, decentralized and distributed movements have responsiveness and unpredictability on our side in fighting empires and actors who rely on attempted hegemony to gather their power.
Our constant attacks on power give us a different form of it. Our creative and playful acts of joyful defiance are both defensive and offensive.
Give me Your Hand, You’re Wonderful
So we build community defense networks rather than armies. We build trust rather than power. We merge joyful play and defiant revolt. We show our love through solidarity and we betray our collective identities and geographic loyalty through blasphemous acts of audacious curiosity, striving, and friendship. We build living networks, not cliques. And even when we feel alone, we are embedded in a quilt of radicalism. Through our actions and our thoughts, our resistance large and small, we are building something very special. So while the pain and struggles you face are deadly real, so are our bonds. Try as they may, anarchism can never be killed. So we can take courage, even as hope becomes ever more expensive. You are not alone.