Standing on the Shoulders of Yippies


Review of “No Regrets: Counter-Culture and Anarchism in Vancouver” by Larry Gambone with Further Analysis

By Llud

This article first appeared in the third edition of Wreck, Spring 2016

Unlike many other places in the world, Anarchism is a very new concept in Vancouver and throughout the coastal region of southern “BC”. Traditionally speaking, even the indigenous societies of these lands were not as anarchic as in many other places. Looking into the periods after invasion and colonization, and the conflicts within western society that also came, explicit resistance to capitalism often took the form of Marxist-Leninism brought by eastern european immigrants. Even the local wobbly chapters from the 30’s and before were of a more Marxist-Leninist character than their counterparts in many US cities. Of course there were autonomist and decentralist qualities in some of the early worker struggles but almost never with an explicitly anti-state analysis. It wasn’t until the counter-cultures of the 70’s that anarchism became an established part of the political and cultural landscape.

It is for this reason, among others, that Larry Gambone’s book “No Regrets” is an important historical document, placing anarchism among the modern tensions against capitalism and authority in Vancouver and regions nearby. It is important to transmit our history, as anarchists, geographically as well as inter-generationally; to gain a wider and more realistic perspective on the struggles we encounter, and to understand that we are contributing to something with far reaching consequences.

On a personal level, the book does a lot for me in filling in the gaps in my understanding of the historical context before my time. My parents were also politicized in the context of the 60’s and 70’s, and Larry’s thorough account of that time period answers a lot of questions I have been asking throughout my life. Most notably, how the highly subversive 60’s/70’s counter-culture could have devolved into it’s reverberations that I witnessed in my lifetime from the 90’s and afterword. But I’ll deal with this later.

In the book, which is written autobiographically, Larry details the early anarchist movement, it’s influences, and the ways it interacted with the social struggles of the time. He recounts his early flirtations with anarchism, finding out about the idea through an old Wobbly, and the SFU library, and his participation in the SFU IWW and the student struggles that took place there in the late 1960’s. He eventually found other anarchists through the youth counter-culture of the time and dropped out of the Wobbly chapter to influence social movements happening in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, no longer being a student. He then goes on to describe the Yippies, whom himself and others eventually founded after being inspired by groups and struggles in the United States, such as Yippie (1), and the White Panthers in Detroit. Later he describes the short-lived, first explicitly anarchist groups in Vancouver, “The Volunteers” (emphasis on voluntary association) and later the “Haymarket Anarchist Tribe”. Moving out of the counter-culture of the seventies he describes the Punk subculture in it’s beginnings, being inspired by the more explicitly anarchist messages within, and coming from a slightly younger generation. He talks about the actions of the Urban Guerrilla group “Direct Action” and immediately organizing support for the group regardless of guilt or innocence. He later talks about the surprise of encountering a larger movement of anarchists decades later during and after the anti-globalization movement, which gives him the feeling of “No Regrets”.

Yippies, Anarchism, and the 60’s-70’s Counter-Culture


Of particular inspiration for me was his accounts of the actions of Vancouver Yippie (or “NLF”, Northern Lunatic Fringe of Yippie) who were not an explicitly anarchist group, but had a number of members who identified as anarchists, and were very anarchistic in their actions and ideas. The purpose of this group was to push the youth revolt and counter-culture in a more revolutionary direction: “turn straight people into freeks, and freeks into revolutionaries”. Some of their projects were quite interesting.

He describes the first Yippie action as a satirical “smoke in” in Cloverdale to protest the arrest of a youth in the area for giving two joints to a judge, followed by another satirical “levitate the police station” action in Vancouver where they later took over an anti-Vietnam war march and gave new life to an otherwise funeral-like procession.

On May 8th 1970, the Yippies, along-side the Vancouver Liberation Front(a marxist hippie group), organized a sit-in at the Hudson’s Bay store downtown to protest a policy in their cafeteria of not serving “longhairs”. After disrupting business for a while, they fled the building when a police assault seemed eminent and took off running and dancing down Georgia to the US Consulate. The Kent State Massacre (2) had recently happened in Ohio. Since the US Consulate was locked, they busted their way in, trashed the place, and captured the flag, flagpole and US Seal. After coming back out into the street, they burned the flag and marched back along Georgia to Granville. An undercover cop who tried to arrest someone was knocked to the ground and kicked a few times, and later a bank window got smashed before a few people were arrested and the demonstrators headed to the police station for jail solidarity.

The next day (!), came the invasion of Blaine, Washington, also organized by the Yippies and VLF. The action was in response to the US invasion of Cambodia. Around 600 people gathered at the Peace Arch border crossing and overwhelmed the border guards who, at that time, were not equipped to deal with a situation like that. They swiftly marched down into Blaine and took over Main Street, ripping down a flag and smashing a few shops, also beating up local Nazis and rednecks who came to confront them. Upon coming back across the border a few dispersed and some of those who stuck around smashed some brand new cars on a train as it came into Canada from the States.


As Larry explains, the Yippies in Vancouver were not philosophically pacifist, but neither violent, nor non-violent. They had the concept of “a diversity of tactics” without having to implement it bureaucratically into their organizing or even state it explicitly. At one of their demonstrations you could have angry working-class counter-culturals ready to break shit, as well as stereotypical bubble-blowing, peace-sign throwing hippies and it wasn’t much of a conflict. A very different scene from today, when you look at the G20 anti-summit protests of 2010 for example, where there was a very formal diversity of tactics stated, but it was totally ignored by everyone from trade union bureaucrats, to environmentalists, to lefty social-democrats who denounced the riots, demanding that the police arrest rioters, and delegitimized them as agent provocateurs.

In July 1970, the Yippies organized a “be out” at Oakalla prison. After gathering at a park nearby and dancing to a rock band, the crowd of 300 people marched over and tore down some of the fence surrounding it. After invading the prison grounds for a while they were eventually pushed out by a riot squad. The action was done largely as a response to the repression of the counter-culture as a number of their people were locked inside, usually as a result of crazy anti-pot laws. Around the same time there was rioting and street fighting at English Bay, as a response to police who were harassing and arresting long hairs who frequented the public beach. Police eventually left the hippies there alone permanently, after realizing they couldn’t break their spirit.

Later that summer, in August, 13 people were arrested at Wreck Beach for “indecent exposure”. The counter-culture unanimously called for a mass “nude in” at the beach. The Yippies were involved of course. So many people came, as to completely pack the large beach. The pigs couldn’t do anything, and as a result of this action as well as the lessons the police learned at English Bay that summer, they left everyone alone (at beaches anyway). As you might have guessed, we have the hippies to thank for the continued existence of Wreck Beach as clothing-optional. But you probably weren’t aware of the fight it took to keep it that way!

A number of Yippies were involved in housing homeless youth, of which there were many. The repressive culture of the sixties, and the reaction to that coming from the counter-culture, was giving way to a massive influx of youth running away from abusive homes and other horrible situations, as they saw a possibility for more freedom. As well, there were draft-dodgers from the United States who needed housing. The social issues and “illegal” nature (massively over-emphasized as it was at the time) of some of the population brought heat down on a Hostel some from the counter-culture, including some Yippies, were running at Jericho Beach. On October 16th 1970, 200 cops and an Army squad, came to evict the youth who had barricaded themselves in the building. After being driven out, the youth blocked 4th Avenue in response. The pigs declared this an unlawful assembly and moved in, brutalizing them, even clubbing a cat and dog, belonging to the youth, to death. Using rocks and bottles, and with Yippies and VLF’ers helping however they could, a running street battle ensued as the youth were driven west to the University of British Columbia. The youth immediately moved into the Student Union Building. Right-wing elements on campus wanted to drive them from this building as well, but the youth were moved into an abandoned church in East Van before things got crazy there as well.

“The October Crisis” happened that same month, with the War Measures Act being implemented for the entire country, not just Quebec, as a response to the FLQ. In spite of the harsh penalties for such an action, Yippies and others organized a demonstration downtown. There was luckily no repression in that event.

In the 1970 Vancouver civic election, one of the Yippies, a woman who went by the name Zaria, ran for Mayor. While personally, I might not be into using such tactics, her effort was a far cry from other efforts I have seen by self-described anarchists and radicals in Vancouver civic elections since. This was by no means an attempt to moralize with the radical minority and incorporate them into the system via a social-democratic demand. Zaria’s platform included a promise to appeal the law of gravity so everyone could be high, and much of her platform was a promotion of anarchist politics to a wider audience, not with the actual intention of becoming head of a state structure or even pressuring those who would actually win. She called for self-organization of workplaces, an end to “polluting industries”, the gradual elimination of cars, the abolition of the police and courts, and a return of all Hudson’s Bay lands to natives. She even managed to get 848 votes in spite of the fact that the counter-culture vote was split by two other candidates running.


In January 1971, the BC Federation of Labour organized a demonstration in front of the BC legislature in Victoria. Buses brought people from the ferry. Yippies and VLF’ers who came for the demonstration stormed the legislature, shutting it down and causing a ruckus.

Although not included in Larry’s account, there was also a contingent of Yippies at Vancouver City College. It managed to gain control of most of student council and the editorial collective of the student newspaper. In 1971, two of it’s members were expelled from political activity on campus with the charge that, all they were doing, was “tearing the institution apart”.

On August 7th 1971, some Yippies organized a “smoke-in”, in Gastown, as a response to the heavy repression of hippies in the area. Some of the other Yippies decided not to take part in the action, which they thought was suicidal. Unfortunately, this turned out to be all too true as the Yippies and others were unable to organize an effective defense tactic for the demonstration (barricades, lots of projectiles, escape routes etc). There was indeed a great deal of repression as the police attacked and arrested 79 people, many of whom were brutalized with night sticks. The demonstration is to this day the most well known action of Vancouver Yippie. The political crisis caused by the insane brutality of the police, did however, manage to bring down the long-time rabidly anti-hippy Mayor, Tom Cambell. The Gastown Smoke-In unfortunately went down in history as a moment from which the victimized liberal citizens of Vancouver were able to eventually convince Father State of his abusive behaviour. Weed smoking, now more or less legalized in the city, is seen as a victory of appeals to the better judgement of power. We will never know of the possibilities, of what might have came, if grassroots autonomous self-defense had been successful, or even put up a better fight, in response to the brutality inherent to the state.

Earlier that same year, on May 29th, the Yippies and their supporters moved into and occupied a piece of land at the entrance to Stanley Park. The Mayor and developers had planned to build a large Four Season’s Hotel there. The occupation became known as “All Season’s Park”. With the initial occupation, 9 people were arrested for “willful damage” as a fence needed to be knocked down to get onto the site. With a great deal of local support, the occupation continued with shacks built to house a permanent presence. It wasn’t until April 21st 1972 that the last 20 occupiers were evicted. Thanks to the occupation, the city was unable to go ahead with the development. The area is now a city park.

Larry states that Yippie began to run out of steam at this time, and seemingly never fully recovered as a group. In the winter of 1971, some of it’s members went into a more introspective phase. During this period the anarchists of Yippie began to hone their theoretical understandings of anarchism, and started getting into the works of anarchist writers such as Murray Bookchin. Thanks to this period of reflection, some of this core went on the create the long standing anarchist publication “Open Road”, which had international success, and served as a precursor to Crimethinc’s “Rolling Thunder”, today probably the best anarchist magazine in North America.


Anarchism, Counter-Culture, Social Conditions, Then and Now

Larry goes on to describe his own theoretical development, as well as the context for the fall of the counter-culture. In reading the book I found it interesting to hear about Larry’s ideas on anarchism, as an example of other anarchists of his generation, and to think of where things have gone today.

For one, sympathy for, and an uncomfortable relationship to social democracy, appear to be as much of a problem among that generation of anarchists as for this one. It would appear that Canada, the United States, and the UK are the only countries in the world where anarchists are so often willing to engage with social-democratic campaigns and groups. Maybe it has something to do with British colonialism, I’m not sure. But while Larry is highly critical in his book of attempts by some anarchists to enter and influence elements within the NDP, there is still a lot of sympathy throughout the book for people like Tommy Douglas, and implications of “good” and “bad” capitalist politicians.

In keeping with the times, Larry’s group of anarchists was beginning to place the health of the earth in higher importance than industrial development. Larry’s theoretical avenue to this, came through the social ecology of Murray Bookchin’s writings. Modern day eco-anarchist perspectives in North America come from a range of thought: from Judi Bari style, activist oriented, green syndicalism, to John Zerzan style primitivism, to the influences of interacting with traditionalist indigenous perspectives, through indigenous solidarity, to insurrectionary anarchist critiques of progress and the domesticating effects of mass society.

Interesting presently, is that the Kurdish militias associated with the formerly Marxist-Leninist PKK are practically implementing Democratic Confederalism and other Bookchinist ideas. In the wake of the collapse of the Syrian Government, the Kurds have set up autonomous regions in the north of the country, as an offensive/defensive tactic of revolutionary liberation and to stop the spread of ISIS/Daesh. They are even trying to spread these regions into Turkey. As the anarchist author Paul Z Simon’s has recently pointed out, it is interesting even more that they are moving forward, and with some success, on the principles outlined by Bookchin in “Post-Scarcity Anarchism”, in a context where there was never an industrial base. Bookchin’s ideas, when he wrote them, were intended for a highly technological post-industrial society. Comrades in that struggle have been known to make disparaging remarks of Karl Marx, and often refer to their struggle as one of putting a stop to the project of Western Civilization and doing things totally differently. Putting an end to civilization from the place of it’s beginning: the middle east. Such is the beauty of anarchy, and anarchist ideas, never to be treated as ideology, and perfect for all take or leave what we want.

Larry’s relationship to class struggle was also very interesting to read about. In spite of coming from a more workerist and federated perspective on anarchism, he pulls no punches in criticizing the pacifying and recuperative aspects of labour organizations such as the BC Federation of Labour. Not a romanticizer of the working-class, and perhaps informed by his relationship to counter-culture, he never loses his rebel spirit in hoping to “relate”. I wish I could say the same for many of the “class struggle” anarchists I meet these days.

At a few points in the book, there seems to be some misinterpretations of the insurrectionary positions of many modern anarchists. Larry doesn’t say anything about insurrectionary anarchism specifically. But I can’t guess he could be referring to anyone else when looking at statements such as this one, when he talks about the riots at English Bay in the summer of ’70:

“The riots also illuminated something I believed then and still believe now – that it is unnecessary for the revolutionary minority to advocate or practice violence. Workers and youth do not need to be told how to act. They know all about violence, it is part and parcel of their lives. When the time is right, and this has been shown over and over in history, Lenin even mentioning it, the masses are more militant than the ideological minority.”

For one, this statement is problematic in that it fails to recognize that insurrectionary anarchists see themselves as part of the mass, just with specific ideas about revolution. When we participate in whatever manner, violent or otherwise, it is because we wish to resist the specialization inherent to activist, theoretical, or militaristic paths. We also recognize that “it is in acting, that one learns to act”. If “the masses” are going on a path of revolutionary violence, we want to learn and develop with them. While workers, youth, and other groups don’t need to be told how to act violently, due to their experiences, would it not follow then that we don’t need to practice or advocate any other liberating or rebellious act? What would be the point of outreach, counter-information, re-skilling, intervening in social struggle or finding other ways of relating to each other, if we did not feel that it might help to remind people of these possibilities?

At another point in the book, he speaks of the “long-faced prunes” that militants can turn into. I feel this is a fairly valid criticism when looking at certain moments within a black bloc. Something that I too can get pretty frustrated by. Perhaps myself, and others of my generation would not have always fit in with the carnivalesque atmosphere of Yippie demonstrations of the 1970’s. But I have also experienced some of my most intense moments of joy in situations of liberating violence.

I also think some of this differing here comes down to context. Many who have a critique of pacifism are well aware of how history has been rewritten. We know well that Martin Luther King Jr and other non-violent activists were not the only face of the black liberation struggle, that much of it’s successes can in fact be attributed to the violent proletarian actions of Robert F Williams, the Black Panthers, and nameless rioters in cities throughout the US. Seemingly, less of us are aware of the proletarian elements within the counter-culture. We are subjected only to new-wave interpretations of the hippies as bubbly pacifists, who’s idealism only went as far as liberal reformism and incorporation into mainstream society. Larry’s book does an excellent job of dispelling these myths. He describes how incest, bullying and other abuse drew large numbers of poor and working-class youth into the counter-culture, often with a great deal of social problems. This context of having such a large working-class participation in social movements is much harder to fathom today.

One incident that is not covered in “No Regrets” which highlights this differing in context to me is the Rolling Stones Riot at the Pacific Colosseum in 1972. Two local gangs in allegiance, The Clark Park Gang based at the south end of Commercial Drive, and the Marxist oriented Youngbloods from another area close by, according to police and media of the time, conspired to get other youth to help them storm the venue so they could get in for free. In the melee, numerous police were injured, including one by a railroad spike shot from a homemade cannon, and molotov cocktails were tossed at their cars. While it is not clear what level of sensationalism is required to make the incident such an issue of gang involvement, it still says a lot about the context and what kind of violence the working-class youth of those days were able to engage in.


Looking around at my peers, some of whom have been sucked into modern day organizations like the United Nations, Red Scorpions, and other more independent formations, the drug war looms large over everything. The quantity of gangs, now no longer based out of parks and neighborhoods, but more through networks and distribution phone lines, is far lower. But the quality of horizontal violence, people shooting and killing each other (often over these phone lines), home invasions etc, is much more extreme. Like in the United States, neoliberalism has created the context where public spaces are more privatized, limiting our interactions, producing a more thorough snitch culture around neighborhoods, and has no doubt provided the drugs and guns that make involvement in an illegal organization one of money making and petty status, rather than one in which rebellion be can more easily produced. We live in a time when angry youth are intimately acquainted with horizontal violence, but have little avenue for the liberating violence of class war. In such a context, is it not useful for revolutionaries to send reminders that there are better targets for rage?

SUN0611 Gangstas

June 11, 2008 United Nations group photo 


Also important for understanding this difference in context is the composition and cultural context of local social movements nowadays. We also live in a time when dancing, singing, smoking weed and being hip or alternative are a fundamental quality of the present capitalist nightmare. Back in the 70’s, singing was illegal in bars, drinking illegal restaurants, and smoking weed had heavy consequences. Further back in the 60’s dancing in whatever way you wanted was frowned upon, in no small part, due to puritanism and racism. When the Yippies and others inserted these cultural changes into their demonstrations it was a much needed break from all that came before, and was even a direct challenge to the politics of legitimacy. While today there are still some who choose to march around in circles and chant absurdly in front of buildings, there are many who engage in legitimacy politics who use the image of being hip and having fun as part of their demonstrations, and it all blends in to the dull hum of normality. I for one, would never want to go back to a form of protest that looks like a funeral procession, and have organized many demonstrations where I hoped it’s participants would act silly and have fun, but I still think it is important to recognize how much further we have to go nowadays to break ourselves out of this reality.

In “No Regrets”, Larry goes into a fair amount of detail about the social context that gave rise to the counter culture. The extreme repression it met and the counter power of networks and resources that came to be as it grew. The counter-culture developed a high level of autonomy within capitalism that we can only dream about in Vancouver today. Having heard about some of this in other places in the world, and seeing the politicizing effects that it had, through my parents, I have always wondered, what the hell happened?

It appears that there were always capitalist elements within the counter-culture, and a lot of people who remained vague about their politics. When capitalists learned that meeting this social force with brutal repression was only making matters worse, it changed it’s face, and incorporated parts of the counter-culture into it’s markets, and turned it into a sub-culture that it could buy and sell to. It appears this process was fairly rapid through the mid 70’s, and Larry describes how the early punk culture was very much a reaction to this trend.

When looking around the world today we can see that elements of the hippy counter-culture are still there in rebellious social movements around the world, and punk produces a high level of anarchist action in places like Mexico, Chile, and Indonesia. But locally, it is a very different story. Many qualities of the 70’s counter-culture, weed smoking, organic food, alternative styles, and differing relationships to sexuality are part of the most cutting edges of social capitalism. The hipster subcultures of today continually regurgitate more and more aesthetics, even such hilarious ones as “norm-core”, and place them out to be consumed and removed from context. Even traditionally rebellious sub-cultures such as punk and hip-hop are becoming almost indistinguishable from hipsterism. Especially with punk, we see that even the socially conscious tendency is recuperated into civil-society, and selfie-taking narcissism. At worst, political vagueness in punk, creates an environment where nazis can cross over and fascist symbolism is treated as just another interesting thing to look at in the mosaic of imagery. This is a very large problem in the metal scene, with the addition of neo-folk, where nazi bands such as “Death in June” are given a free pass as something harmless and ironic.

Looking Back to See Forward

One thing that came to mind when writing this article is the progression of time and context. It is kind of mind-blowing to think that at present, we are just as distant in time from the counter-cultures and the insurrectionary situations of the 60’s and 70’s, as the comrades in those days were to the 20’s and 30’s. We can also see some parallels from each time period to the next. Both the anarchist revolutionaries in Spain and the immigrant anarchists, such as the Galleanists (3), in the United States were isolated for repression, deportation, internment, and execution. And looking specifically at the North American context, the labour movement was swiftly ushered into capitalism, many labour unions having been openly white-supremacist for a while, and it is often acknowledged that it was the power of the now legalized labour movement that got Franklin Roosevelt elected. By the time the 60’s came around, labour movements may still have had a small amount of militancy. But with Keynesian economics, the continuing existence of white supremacy, greater domination of the third world, and a still very repressive overall culture, a different force was needed to rise up against capitalism. This came with the youth rebellions of the 60’s and 70’s.


Sacco and Vanzetti

Of course this youth rebellion was happening globally, and across a lot of the baby boomer generation. In North America there was a significant rebellion manifesting in the Black and Red Power movements, the American Indian Movement, a multitude of latino organizations, and even a Hillbilly identity organization in Chicago. It’s manifestations in Vancouver, although having a higher presence of anarchists than in many other places (Marxist-Leninist-Maoism being the more common flavour of the day), were rather tame by comparison, with armed stand-offs, heavy rioting, and the formations of urban guerrilla groups being common in other places. As well, due to the white-supremacist nature of the welfare state, and exclusion from it of black, indigenous, latino, asian, and poor-white communities. Groups from these communities organized their own social programs to meet their needs. For many of these radical groups, there was a militant style of dress and a change in hair styles, that mirrored what the hippies were doing on a personal level to lose their identification with the system. For native rebels, this change in “look” took the form of growing their hair out and reclaiming aspects of their traditional cultures that had been repressed out of them.

The working class elements of the hippy counter-culture faced a high level of repression on many a day, getting attacked and beaten by cops and vigilantes in public spaces for looking different. The hippy student radicals as well, were learning the brutality that comes a long with challenging the system. But in neither case did they meet the level of genocidal violence that radicals from more categorically oppressed groups were facing. Many being framed, jailed and assassinated.

Today, we can see that in the same manner as with the labour movement, the counter-cultures and anti-colonial, anti-impirialist revolts were dealt with by isolating the radicals for repression, and removing the sea they swam in, by incorporating elements of these struggles into the system. Not only did it commodify hippy counter-culture, but it learned that slogans like “black is beautiful”, for example, could be marketed to, while still keeping white-supremacy central to beauty standards and mass media. University positions were offered to many of the present and former radicals too. As well, with the social-programs, mutual aid, and networking going on within categorically oppressed communities and even in the hippy counter-culture, the non-profit industrial complex was created to combat the tendency toward self-organization that was being developed. Today, one can wear whatever style or look they want, and get a job at a nonprofit industry, and everything continues as normal, back in the late 60’s and early 70’s this type of activity (without non-profits, or alternative capitalism existing) could have gotten you beaten, thrown in jail, or killed.

Of course the world we live in is just as much a nightmare as ever before, perhaps better in some small ways, but continually worse in most others. If workplace, and exclusively class oriented organizing was heavily blunted by the late 60’s, due to changes in social conditions, can we not say the same of subculture now? As conditions degrade, and the traditional battlefronts of social struggles in the 20th century become more recuperated and even a part of reactionary organizing, what can anarchist and other radicals inject themselves into now, that will push the boundaries of rebellion?

While we can never predict with any accuracy the next major cause of social upheaval, we know that radicals of the past injected themselves into labour organizing as well as counter-culture long before they socially exploded. We can certainly search around our present day social environment to get glimpse of what we must do, so as to ensure that fascists and other reactionary elements do not begin to dominate social upheavals, and we can instead turn them in the direction of liberation.

We can see in the United States, that organizing against the insanely murderous police has been quite successful. But we must always be in search of a more revolutionary practice that takes a more broad-based assault against the structures of domination. In addition to the police: borders, citizenship and the expansion of prisons and mass surveillance are ever-expanding problems, which we can take on as a more complete practice, and which might stop us from backing off when one simple demand gets met.

Of course there is the ever-present institution of white-supremacy, and indeed whiteness itself, which must be fought. Look back and you’ll see that power was always willing to give into certain demands, through the logic of rights, as long as it pitted one portion of the exploited against another to help them in their project of domination. Citizenship will become more powerful in this role as the years go on, but whiteness is still as strong as ever. Anarchists must always be clear and resolute that it is revolt we are concerned with, and not mere privileges, and that we have a conscious project to break away from the identities with which the ruling class ties our interests to theirs. This is as important as ever now, as new forms of fascism become more powerful by the day.

As more space and land is taken up by capitalism, and already taken space is subjected to a higher level of control, our ability to take space and land, and change our relationships to them will be of great importance. This will allow us to practice communal ways of living as well as make our relationships to the food we grow or harvest on the land something that cannot be commodified. In addition, through our differing relationships to land and ecosystems, we can build links with indigenous rebels with the same idea, and we can show others that there is an alternative to a genocidal and ecocidal economy. This land, space and the communities that develop will need to take a defensive/offensive approach to the authorities who come to remove them, otherwise they risk becoming just another subcultural lifestyle.

We can always sit and lament our being born in the present context. Waiting for a mass uprising to join in. But I would argue that it is imperative that we take the knowledge of struggles of the past to learn of their successes and failures, and to put these lessons into brand new initiatives, that change with the changing context. “No Regrets” is an important contribution towards this end, and I am happy that Larry has provided it.


No Regrets in published by Black Cat Press based out of Edmonton, AB

1 – Yippie, Youth International Party

2 – A large and militant anti-war movement existed on the campus of Kent State University, in Ohio, in the late 1960’s. After many militant demonstrations that had some property destruction, including the burning of the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Building) on campus, the National Guard was called in, and a demonstration was called for May 4th, 1970. The national guard came to disperse the demonstration which was by now illegal, people responded to shots of tear gas with volleys of rocks, shouting “pigs off campus”. After about a half hour roving battle with the National Guard, the soldiers began firing on the demonstrators, 4 students were killed and 9 were injured by gunfire. See “Ohio” by Neil Young.

3 – Anarchists, primarily in the eastern United States, who acted and gathered with an interest in the writings and speeches of Italian immigrant anarchist Luigi Galleani.

Resignation is Death: responding to the negation of anarchy

PDF: Resignation is Death

It also poses the question: where will the revolutionary energy for the West come from? We hardly understand our own situation, pressed into pragmatic decisions based on a complex system of dependencies. Maybe this is the lesson we have to learn for ourselves: what is the truth of our common situation that we have to understand to begin? This is the same reason why no other army right now can push back the IS forces in Syria. In defending Kobanê, the YPG/YPJ based their defense on this same consciousness. Nobody could believe that they would free their city; it goes beyond rationalism. It’s more about faith in yourself and belief in your revolutionary energy, which evolves out of your desire to live. That is the thing that has been nearly beaten out of you if you’ve been raised in Western capitalism.

Another friend added that if you really want to create a new society based in non-oppressive relationships, you’re trying to build something that doesn’t exist yet. It forms part of a new world, another world. How could you possibly understand it rationally from your point of view today? It’s not in the books. You need to get crazy to overcome the status quo; you need to be convinced by your fantasy and your desire. That’s your problem in Europe, he concluded: you forgot how to do that.” – Crimethinc, From Germany to Bakur


Under the present conditions in anglo North American capitalist society I feel surrounded by a pronounced sense of resignation. As has been said many times before, those of us who seek an end to the dominant social order have been passed on a long history of loss. The post WWII eras are heavily affected by anti-communist rhetoric, and a strong identification with our roles in the consumer/producer economy. This history has set the stage for a general lack of solidarity between people, a lack of any attempt at critical thought or any practice which might break the death grip of domination.

In the general population, this resignation is at least as old as industrial capitalism itself. There is, however, something all together different, a type of resignation that is founded in cynicism, that is in my estimation, especially louder and more widespread than at any time in recent history. In my daily life that is outside of anarchist or radical circles, the cynical resignation I come across most often, is that of right-wing conspiracy theories. In this manner of viewing the world it’s all way too crazy to get up off your ass, educate yourself and begin to deal with the problems that affect you directly, or to challenge the structures of domination through any kind of act of rebellion, and it sure as hell is seen as impossible to attack.

Within the context of social movements there are a few types of resignation that are not so new, of course you have the activists with revolutionary sympathies who are still petitioning, charity or non-profit organizing, and doing the “good work” in lieu of revolutionary possibilities. But as time goes on, I am starting to notice that the agency and practice associated with this tendency is becoming ever more non-existent. Not only is one forbidden from acting out their own desires against the dominant social order, but they are forbidden from thinking for themselves or even seeing themselves, their agency and desires, as in any way important. Those who claim they want change in the world are becoming more and more resigned, to sit back and shut up, with every passing day. When sparks of rebellion (such as in Ferguson) do occur, the most passive forms of resistance are often idealized, and the more destructive acts are only legitimized through privilege politics: “rioting is the voice of the unheard” …until that voice is given a legitimate (community) channel. Sometimes both the right and the left find common cause in their cynicism, believing the same conspiracy theories about how the oppressed cannot possibly take action for themselves. Anything that looks like self-organized direct action is seen as the work of police to justify their brutality.

In the associated social scenes of the left (DIY queer punk for example), there is a tendency to disengage all together. Generations of leftists before them used to idealize and romanticize guerrillas and popular uprisings in other parts of the world while working towards statist and reformist ends locally. This newer generation of leftists chooses to “step back” in favour of their local idealized oppressed taking action. Their practice of “not taking space” limits the liberatory space of all, since no one is ever pushing or challenging boundaries. Those who are opposing the structures of domination as an immediate means of survival (indigenous rebels for example), are often limited within the framework of democratic rights and legalistic political maneuvering, at least partially, by the guilt and comfort driven resignation that plagues these social scenes.

For a number of years now, and from a completely different angle entirely, there has been a tendency towards resignation being put forward by people of a nihilist persuasion, primarily from the west coast of the United States. The trend has been annoying to watch on the internet and read about through some of it’s established writing and publication projects, but hadn’t much of an effect in my local circles, acquaintances and friendships until more recently. What privilege politicians and right-wing conspiracy theorists lack in admitted self-importance and critical thought, this tendency vastly eclipses with a form of cynical resignation based in purely academic activity, with an over-inflated sense of self-importance placed in their ideas alone. Any attempt to put ideas into practice which doesn’t fall into the militaristic logic of spectacular attacks on infrastructure, is passed off as activism, especially if it seeks to communicate with impure and non-nihilist others.

I hadn’t found it necessary to critique this tendency until I started running into the problem locally. The same people who chose disengagement from revolutionary activities with the cop-out of “manarchism” who like to distribute zines like “why she doesn’t give a fuck about your insurrection” now have queer nihilism as their basis for disengagement. Crust punks now have nihilist patches to add to a litany of other meaningless symbols. Comrades I meet who are totally fed up with identity politics and community organizers, but who have not even tried other routes of attack and engagement, are beginning to see a passive nihilism based in intellectual posturing as the only alternative to leftist garbage.

It may be that many of these people would never have chosen a practice that breaks away from the existent, it’s defenders, and it’s false critics, no matter what was available to them. But I am not convinced that cynical resignation or an arrogant hatred of all others who have not developed critiques of the left (although many have this somewhat implicitly) will bring us any closer to even glimmers of autonomy, from which a lived anarchy can be more thoroughly practiced, and in fact limits our capability to produce it in our daily lives. It may be that revolution (in a planetary moment) is not, nor ever has, nor will ever be possible, but that should not stop us from carrying out our desires, whether in the form of attack or in the development of and attempts to spread, ideas and rebellious social relationships. This is the only way that revolution could ever be possible, and since we can never know for certain whether or not this is impossible, we should avoid cutting ourselves off from this possibility, no matter what the circumstances.

Insurrectionary anarchists in North America have chosen not to respond to this nihilist resignation by way of written critique. I know for myself I have hoped to present my critiques through different active experiments, but perhaps we haven’t been taking seriously the disastrous effects that the internet is having on communication, and people’s imaginations. I present this piece as someone who sees the left as something that is fundamentally recuperative, and also quickly dying; as someone who despises the project of civilization, and also loves the site of social conflict. Generally, as someone who deeply values and finds great meaning in lived experiences of conflict, and freedom with others. And especially as someone who wishes to point out that there are social ways of conceiving struggle that could leave the left in the dust it deserves, if we can just begin to experiment with them.

Nihilism Outside of Anglo North America

There is, of course, a very active nihilist current that operates outside of anglo North America. Numerous informal cells are waging attacks against domination on an international scale. Of course attack itself is not inherently nihilist or anarchist, neither is signing off communiques for attacks as that of a coherent group or faction. Historically, the Galleanists, The Friends of Durruti, and many others have taken up this practice from an anarchist perspective. In the post WWII era we have seen such experiments as the Angry Brigade in the UK. Speaking specifically of the Angry Brigade their actions included a wide range of targets and purposes. Many of their actions were what has become a staple of insurrectionary attacks, that of responses to repression of anarchists. Some of their attacks were directed into ongoing social tensions of the time. Others were attacks against the spectacle itself, such as one on the “Miss World” competition, and a few against consumer society. When these attacks acted as critiques of society they were not directed necessarily at alienated individuals from within society but more at the functions and institutions of society that help to prevent self-organized revolt.

In recent years this practice of experimenting with attack and communication has gone in a very different direction. This trend appears to have began partially with the Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI) in Italy. At the beginning, members of these cells were part of social struggles via their participation in local anarchist scenes and spaces. When they waged attacks it was not out of a stated disdain for others but as an attempt to expand the range of anarchist activity and solidarity to rebels (often incarcerated) anarchist and not. Nihilism was not the declared basis for involvement in these actions, and they were seen as another experiment on a long list of other activities. The publication Escalation(2006), which documents the positions of members in these earlier formations states as it’s purpose:

“We present these papers together here in order to provoke the debate, and to get the non-violence/violence issue over and done with, out of the way, and to provide an understanding of insurrectionary anarchist practice and theory. We call for greater auto-organized activity, at whatever level, as long as the conflict is permanent, so that all of our energies can be focused on the matter at hand. The total destruction of the market and hierarchy.

The time for talking is over, the time for actions is here…”

Around the same time as the anti-police insurrection that took place in Greece in December 2008, a different beginning for this tendency was taking place. The Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (CCF) developing out of the youth culture in the city centres of Athens and Thessaloniki, began waging spectacular attacks. And since this time, nihlism and cynicism towards revolutionary activity (unless it is coming from nihilists) has become the dominant philosophy for taking these kinds of actions. All around the world now, actions claimed under the banner of FAI/IRF and CCF are being framed as the only real anarchist activity, with websites like acting as a sort of ideological platform for actions and statements taken out of their social contexts. As has been pointed out by comrades in Barcelona (1) this tendency has a number of problems associated with it (even from an insurrectionary perspective), due to its romanticization, and the arrogance of the statements it’s cells make, cuts itself off from critique and further development.

In “A Conversation Between Anarchists: Conspiracy of Cells of Fire & Mexican Anarchists” (2) the CCF imprisoned cell illustrate this problem very well. In the interview they make a claim that they, the CCF, are the only rightful carriers of an anarchist struggle given that they are the only anarchist prisoners who carry on their struggle inside of the prison walls. They claim, for example, that after an escape attempt by their members, that other anarchists “did absolutely nothing” when jailers were taking their comrades back to prison. This would seem a fair assessment of the incoherence of some anarchists when faced with repression, the problem is that they leave out some important information. In January 2014, when individualist anarchist prisoner Giannis Naxakis publicly criticized the behavior of some of the CCF imprisoned cell, for behaving in a manner not different from other prison gangs; for apologizing to the guards for the “immature” behaviour of himself and others to prison guards and administration, they ganged up on him and beat him with stakes, leaving him with broken bones. The public CCF statement justifying the beating, is written in a tone no different than you would expect from any Stalinist guerrilla, describing his critiques as slander, delegitimizing him as an anarchist who isn’t following the correct line that the CCF was laying out (3). Their line in relation to the beating would vastly differ from the position they declare later, in the interview with the Mexican comrades, that a fundamental basis for an anarchist conception of society would be constant change “anarchists who don’t want to be in it and will carry out a struggle to reach something different, unknown territories never explored, territories of more freedom….new deniers of the existent”. Their general tone is instead that of a “with us or against us” attitude. They act as if non-nihilist anarchists have not been carrying out the same struggle for a long time. For example, the Greek prison revolts of 2007 were sparked by the beating of anarchist bank robber Giannis Dimitrakis. Is it not unreasonable that the divisions the CCF have intentionally forged between imprisoned “anarchists of action” might have created the context for the silence they describe from the other anarchist prisoners? Or perhaps that they are over-embellishing the silence of these other prisoners?

It should be taken into consideration that we are talking about the psychology of those who are facing extreme repression at the hands of the greek state as well as a high level of disdain from the broader leftist anarchist tradition in greece. The fact that the state is presently charging many anarchists arrested for clandestine attacks and bank robberies as members of the CCF, regardless of their actual identification with the label, as well as the star power they are receiving internationally can’t help but contribute to the paranoia the imprisoned cell may feel. Of course these comrades didn’t help themselves with this from the beginning by forming a quantitative informal anarchist organization, an identification with a label, a tally of attacks, an evaluation of pricier targets, etc. Rather they do not treat informal organization as qualitative, a tool to be used in the struggle for anarchy, a means of fluid organization and resisting representation. For example, is it any better to have the CCF describing the do’s and don’t’s of real anarchists, legitimizing or delegitimizing the activities of other anarchists based on their own doctrine than it is from a card carrying Anarchist Federation member?

I don’t intend on placing these actions and positions on everyone who makes the CCF/FAI/IRF their project around the world. I am merely pointing out the pitfalls of creating “us and them” complexes, that cut out, or ignore any possibilities for struggle that do not necessarily fall into either the “real anarchist” camp, or the leftist camp. I have faith that the informal anarchist possibility is stronger and more flexible than such a rhetorical position.

There are certainly some in the anglo north american context who treat the CCF/FAI/IRF as a stand-in for their own struggle against the existent. They have the romantic tales of warriors abroad that hold similar positions to them as previous generations of revolutionaries had Che Guevara in their time. I also know that there are many who are simply inspired by the attack for all its potential. I can relate to this, but I feel we might be setting a trap for ourselves if we can’t separate the attack, informality, and a break from the left, from a purist and ‘holier than thou’ attitude. This attitude, it’s disdain for others who don’t practice informality and specific forms of attack, which often comes from a nihilist perspective, also exists here in north america.

Looking into the Mexican context we can see a certain digression taking place. The Autonomous Cells for Immediate Revolution – Praxedis G Guerrero (CARI-PGG) were one of the more interesting examples of the new anarchist guerrilla tactic who carried out a number of bombings in 2011 and did not place themselves “above” social movements and insurrections whether as vanguardist guides or as purist arrogant snobs. It is unclear why they disbanded. Individuals Tending Towards Savagery (ITS), who also started claiming attacks in 2011, and who’s focus of attacks against progress and technology are perhaps the only interesting thing about them, are unfortunately a shining example of the purist militaristic logic that has been applied to an avowedly anti-social position. One that at least some nihilists in the anglo north american context, who seek whatever seems the most “badass” thing to be “into”, as an understandable but wholly uninspiring reaction to the morality of pacifists and grassroots politicians within social struggles here, are uncritically cheerleading and apathetically holding up as a sacred cow. Ironically, people are seemingly technologically alienated – glued to the very technology that ITS is trying to attack, passively consuming the spectacle of these attacks, and so lost in the anti-social positions they then consume, that they cannot break themselves out of their social isolation, and turn their rage into revolt.

“Let’s destroy the spectacle of representation and I’ll be the first to break the microphone!” – Jean Weir, Armed Struggle and the Revolutionary Movement

To Begin and End With a No:

Nihilism in english speaking North America

An awareness of how the whole society is structured to facilitate social control has directed the insurrectionalists in Barcelona with a more nihilist character to define all of society as the enemy and, in so doing, assuring their own self-isolation. There are those nihilists who define “society” as “institutionalized society.” It seems to us little more than a word game to be able to utter slogans as extreme, appalling, and cocky as “we want to destroy society.” Because of the etymology of the word “society,” the historical non-universality of the massified institutions and forms that are what the nihilists really want to destroy, and the lack of another term to signify a human collectivity bound somehow by distinct types of communication, it seems much more sensible to reclaim the term “society” as something neutral that can be hierarchical and institutionalized or not. To signify that which the nihilists want to destroy just as much as we do, the terms “nation,” “citizenry,” “the public,” “social classes,” “mass society,” or “society of the spectacle” could be used.” – Another Critique of Insurrectionalism, Anonymous

Anglo North America’s versions of nihilist anarchism differ greatly from what one finds elsewhere in that they function primarily as an intellectual endeavor. As I stated earlier, critical thinking is becoming very lacking these days, the left and the associated social scenes of the left don’t exhibit a great deal more capacity for this than the rest of society. On the left, there are strict programs and ideological lines to follow, when one takes action, it is expected to be with a martyristic attitude, generally cut off from any theoretical development. As a consequence, anarchists who wish to break from the leftist stranglehold on social struggle have been very committed to developing their theoretical capacities. This is certainly a good thing. Thinking about what one is doing is very important so that one can find the fluidity necessary to change with the circumstances, as well as to avoid following blindly. Though, there is a problem I see developing in that anarchists are now taking another reactionary approach to intellectualism. Unlike the anti-intellectualism one finds across most of western society, this other trend in modern anarchism is developing a disdain for practice, and most notably a practice relating to social struggle, choosing instead to wall themselves up in intellectualism.

The justification for this is commonly an antisocial position. The broad spectrum of individuals that we see trapped in this cage we call “society” are beginning to fill the opposing side of another “us and them” complex. This arrogance is certainly imported from the CCF and others abroad. I myself, until very recently, also spoke of a war on society in such a sloppy manner. But I think we all need to reconsider the way in which we use the term “social” and by extension “society”. As well, if such a sloppy terminology is a fundamental position for many nihilists, they may have a great deal more to reconsider.

The journal Baedan, and it’s 2012 publication The Anti-Social Turn (4) is perhaps the hallmark North-American nihilist articulation of this problematic relationship to society. It’s fundamental premise is a break down of Lee Edelman’s book No Future, and proposes a queer nihlist anarchist expansion of the subjects contained in the book. While The Anti-Social Turn makes an effort to propose a practice of attack, and a rejection of activism as a result of their analysis, the conclusions they draw would seem to leave little possibility for experimentation, and thereby leave one with nothing other than a non-academic intellectualism, in place of an anarchist theory one develops through practice.

One proposal in the Anti-Social Turn is “pure negativity” from an anarchist perspective. This is put forward from the experience of queerness. This society, in trying to create subordinate intergenerational human productive machines, has historically attempted to repress and kill off queerness and any deviation from the project of capitalist progress and development. In modern times in North America, queerness is quickly being incorporated into the structure of capitalism. Those who hold the most conservative positions in upholding capitalist family values have reacted to this, trying to identify it as a threat. The response that No Future and by extension The Anti-Social Turn has to this is to reject the recuperative aspects of queer subcultures, and queer capitalism by taking ownership of the perceived threat that queerness may have to the social order. This is certainly understandable since this society has, and should have, nothing to offer us. But this perspective, upon further examination, takes us to a dead end which is most clearly identified when extended to an anarchist relationship to social struggle against the structures of domination.

The Anti-Social Turn identifies a number of anarchist projects (Food Not Bombs etc) that it sees as fundamentally recuperable. It also identifies the problematic positive positions that many leftist anarchists take in response to the charges of negativity from anarchist actions against domination. The problem is that it creates a number false distinctions in these challenges to the anarchist milieu. The problem with positive anarchist projects of self-organization is not simply that they propose an alternative to domination, but that they are often separated from a relationship of social conflict. A community garden can very easily be incorporated into the project of gentrification, but it is an altogether different project when it takes a conflictual approach to legality, property and civil society. The problem with anarchist proposals of direct democracy and social justice, isn’t simply that these are alternatives, but that they are alternatives that try to make us legitimate to civil society. Our positive projects are vital in proposing and practicing a manner of living that breaks from the structures of domination, meeting our individual-collective needs and desires; driving wedges between the identity of the rebel who desires another life, and that of the productive white person or citizen who wants to make society more caring and fine-tuned.

In the critique of a positive anarchist possibility, The Anti-Social Turn would appear to leave us with nothing other than hopeless attack. Of course in pointing out the recuperative problems of many anarchist projects, from co-operative businesses to independent media to social spaces, they conveniently leave out the recuperative problems one finds too, in attack. In the more high profile examples of attack we have seen here in so-called “Canada”, from the 2010 anti-olympics convergence, to the Toronto G20, to the 2012 student strike in Montreal, it is clear that attack is just as vulnerable to being labelled militant reformism, as any other project is to its own recuperation. Of course, nihilists might immediately counter that this is due to the context of these actions occurring within broad-based social movements; but I think the problem lies in their conflation of communication with representation. While attack for it’s own sake is highly valuable, it is vital that when anarchists attack, we must find whatever avenues possible to make our attacks communicative to other individuals and groups who might seek a break from participation in this society, to avoid the trap of being represented by liberal and leftist proposals.

While the nihilists would have us attack until caught, and hunger strike until death, all for our own sake, I would propose instead that we seek to spread subversive relationships of conflict at whatever level, for the personal joy we may get out of seeing domination lose it’s grip across every social terrain. It is also helpful to point out that like repression, recuperation can always be a consequence of our actions. These are the two favored responses that power has towards rebellion. Since the nihilists would not have us stop the attack for fear of repression, does it make any sense that we stop experimenting with any other self-organized activity, simply because power will always respond?

This is also leaving out the problem of passive consumption of internet communiques, and the spectacularized images that flash across anarchist media projects like submedia. Whether from the active or passive perspectives, these mediated forms of communication can influence and change the ways we relate to the world in a manner the can fall out of our own control. We must not allow the terms of revolt, or our relationships to be set by anyone other than ourselves. This would require an active and experimental approach that if we are serious enough that we want anarchy in our lives, we would not shy away from.

In the book Attentat, another North American nihilist publication, insurrectionary anarchism is taken on as just another form of activism, by the simplistic criteria that acts are carried out, therefore it is activism. In the piece Professional Anarchy and Theoretical Disarmament (coming out of Spain)(5), Miguel Amoros criticizes Alfredo Bonanno’s influence on insurrectionary anarchism. The article lays out Bonanno’s theoretical development through the rise and fall of the revolutionary social movements in Italy in the seventies and into the period after. The article points out like many others, the failure of insurrectionary anarchism to respond more effectively to repression, but fails quite miserably in its assumption that anarchist initiatives are failures because no revolution has occurred. One wonders what would have become of the anarchist movement in Italy had no break been made from the suffocating control of anarcho-syndicalism and an industrialist logic based purely in the identity of the worker. Amoros, coming from a more staunchly materialist perspective, also finds no value in the individualist nature of autonomous self-organization, and cannot grasp the concept that the mass is made up of individuals and therefore the individual is central to revolutionary activity. Given that anarchists are individuals with specific ideas about revolution we can then begin to act, personally and collectively, from the place of these desires, with the understanding that the rest of the exploited might develop their own ideas through acts of rebellion. Being unwilling to consider the needs of the individual who may be able to consider more than their role in the economy, Amoros writes this off as “vanguardism”.

This is all very strange however, considering that the editors of Attentat are nihilists and don’t appear to share the same critiques as Amoros from a theoretical perspective. In Insurrectionary Anarchism as Activism, the piece in which they lay out their reasons for including the Amoros article, the only worth the nihilists can find in insurrectionary acts, is exactly the opposite: individual satisfaction. As said earlier, they claim insurrectionary anarchism to be essentially “activist” and their positions on action to be a form of morality. I can’t speak for other anarchists influenced by insurrectionary anarchism but I know for myself that I do not push it forward as ideology. Many of the insurrectionaries I have met have a wide variety of influences, contexts that they apply their lessons to, and projects that they engage in, hardly the sign of a rigid and inflexible ideology.

From the fact that they actually have no affinity at all with Amoros, but publish his critique as if they find something profound in it at all, to the fact that they provide no definition of activism or leftism – except perhaps to suggest that “the left in a peculiar form”, implies anyone who takes an active opposition to the state and capitalism. And finally that in response to their charges of activism, that they make no attempt to articulate what they actually intend to get out of “waiting” instead. From my perspective, their charges amount to little more than name calling. Perhaps most crudely of all, their name calling is articulated in their suggestion that North American insurrectionaries all came out of a culture of DIY skill-shares and bike fixing. To what extent this might be at all true (though quite rare in my experience), we can apply much of what Bonanno developed in Italy to our varying contexts. Much of the same principles of number padding, public education instead of action, and disdain for self-organization and autonomous action can be applied to the DIY queer and non-profit milieu that dominate grassroots social struggles here.

If the nihilists see insurrectionary anarchists as “closest to them” but direct their “critiques” in such a disingenuous manner, one wonders what their actual intent is. I can’t help but assume that they are merely looking for others to have a conversation with, and wish that others who hate the left would stop making so much goddamn noise. For all their attempts to distance themselves from contemporary anarchist institutions such as AK Press and projects like the Institute for Anarchist Studies, I don’t see much difference in effect. I find it trivial at best that their intellectualizing is extending outside of the university, and the history of social struggle. I find their proposals (or lack thereof) to be no less civilizing or pacifying. Just as anarchy is not direct democracy, militant reformism, or the self-management of my exploitation, it certainly is no philosophy class either.

If I am ever found melting back into the fabric of white-supremacist, misogynist, class society through inaction; if I am ever stepping away from the practice of attack due to the realities of isolation and repression; if I am doubtful that a mass uprising of the participating controlled and exploited is ever possible, I never want it to be through pretensions of reaching a higher theoretical plane, calling itself anarchism.

I hope that other anarchists out there can continue to keep in mind that there is a vast array of possibilities for mutual aid, autonomy, and freedom which include neither the activist with it’s head cut off, the liberal with it’s sustainable gardening project, the victimized first-world-third-worldist, nor the stuffy intellectual or the arrogant hipster. The secret is to really begin.

On “Strugglismo”

In Laughing at the Futility of it All (6), a recent interview with Hostis journal, Aragorn, one of the more noted anarchist nihilist writers in North America, articulates some of his often more deliberately confusing positions. The interview covers a wide range of subjects, from second wave anarchism, to nihilism, to Aragorn’s publication projects, and humor. One subject I’d like to deal with here, is the label “strugglismo”, with which he paints anarchists who intervene in social struggles. Aragorn starts off this point by likening anarchists who desire to participate in social conflict to grumpy Murray Bookchins who see all anarchist projects outside of the workplace or civil society as “lifestyle anarchism” (7). He then goes on to claim that his label is more applicable to anarchists in the Bay Area where he lives, and that he doesn’t have the “skill set” to judge a wide variety of situations, but then immediately changes his tune by giving examples outside of the Bay Area.

To put this a different way, the Strugglismo perspective is looking for other people’s struggles to intervene in, much the same way as alphabet soup communists of front organizations (many of which have seduced anarchists). Their strategy is borrowed from the Italian insurrectionary anarchist movement, but it is quite different. Let’s see if you can tell the difference. Around 2009, the Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Puget Sound area began to throw events such as banner and flyer drops around the issue of police violence against the local population. While in the early 2000s (as early as 1995 by some estimates), locals around the Italian town of Val Susa began to sabotage and protest the building of a high speed rail line in the town. Insurrectionary Anarchists came to participate in No-TAV. This distinction, between intervention by parachute versus by political desire, is a core anarchist question (and concern). The unfair characterization of Strugglismo points to the characteristics it shares with activists of the NGO, anti-globalization, and “ally not accomplice “ variety. Again, this is not about an individual but an approach.

That said, I think that anarchists should be involved in unsexy, difficult, and slow infrastructure work. This seems to have fallen out of popularity due to its lack of social rewards (for many, it is a lot more fun to go drinking after the riot than to do Food Not Bombs). But so-called activists doing prisoner support, food infrastructure, collective housing, etc. continue to have my respect and attention.”

His counter position of “parachute” vs “political desire” is laughable here. Anarchists in Italy move (even geographically) to other contexts and struggles which could be considered just as much “not theirs” as could be the case for American anarchists fighting against the police as a murderous institution of domination. The anarchists in the Puget Sound (2009 – 2012) not only did banner drops and flyering as a response to police killings (8), they engaged in small acts of property destruction, they organized autonomous assemblies to strategize and co-ordinate with other anarchists on how to intervene, and they participated in street demonstrations in a manner that broke the situation out of the control of leftists who tried to manage them. It is interesting that he leaves out the trajectory that the anti-police struggles in the Pacific Northwest took after 2009 since this would take away from the narrative of futility of anarchist action that he usually likes to throw at situations in North America.

Further still, Aragorn goes on to praise anarchist infrastructure as a worthwhile substitute for anarchist interventions in social struggles, that might be tainted by the baggage of authoritarian communism that has historically been so strong in North America. Interesting as well, that he doesn’t write off anarchist action altogether, for him only the most spectacular forms of sabotage are worthwhile. I ask though, what is infrastructure or attack, if it is not linked in some way to a struggle, a tension, or a trajectory?

Here in Vancouver, some of us started an anarchist social space at the end of 2013. Unlike another anarchist social space a couple years earlier, it has received little support from the broader radical milieu. Part of the problem has been gentrification: the inability of many to stay in the city for long periods of time, and to take time away from the grind for discussion. Another part of the problem is the subcultures and identity politics that much of the guilty milieu has retreated into. There are a few collective houses around which espouse anti-authoritarian politics, but are unable to take ownership of any kind of political desire and extend these words into anything meaningful, beyond perhaps a “safe” space from the horrible world we are surrounded by or a hip scene that reproduces its own passivity in much that same way as any group of friends out there without queer or anti-oppression politics. The biggest difference of all between this social space and the previous one is that there are very few struggles which anarchists are currently engaged in with very much effect. At the time that the other anarchist space was operating, the struggle against the Olympics in Vancouver made many people excited about anarchist ideas and direct action. At present there is a vicious cycle of behind-the-back shit-talk, and confusion about anarchist ideas stemming from an inability it put them into practice. The infrastructure is there, but has very little purpose.

Starting back in the seventies in “Canada”, a struggle for the rights of prisoners started out of hunger strikes by prisoners in Southern Ontario. Since then, an organization representing rights for prisoners called “Prison Justice” has been active in Vancouver. Through the eighties and nineties, anarchists were involved in this organization locally. These efforts had very little linkage to a broader anarchist struggle (or even a broader prisoner’s struggle), and there had very seldom been any anarchist prisoners other than the prisoners of Direct Action in that time period. The organization is now more or less a non-profit society focused only on providing much needed resources to prisoners locally, holding annual vigil events on Prison Justice Day, and is mostly too scared of losing its privileges inside the prison system to connect these efforts to a social movement or struggle in the streets. Newer generations of anarchists have had a great deal of trouble trying to make meaningful contact with organizers from this group, and have at times met outright hostility. Amélie Trudeau and Fallon Rouiller-Poisson, two Montreal comrades who were imprisoned in Mexico recently, highlighted this problem very well when they distanced themselves from an event (organized by another prison oriented organization) held in solidarity with them and other “political prisoners” that they saw prison reformism and support for “political prisoners” as fundamentally a project of recuperation when not linked to a broader struggle, in any form, against the structures of domination (9). Of course, Aragorn isn’t referring so much to these organizations, but more to the Anarchist Black Cross, it shouldn’t be hard to see however that such efforts can also become recuperating, as in only focussed on rights and resources, if the anarchist space was not engaged in continual conflict and subversion on the outside or the inside.

In the late spring of 2014, a house of anarchists and indigenous rebels was raided by the Vancouver police. The raid was in response to a number of arsons, window smashings and anarchist graffiti, including the infamous and viral “No Pipelines” tag around East Vancouver that year, that had taken place in the city over the previous two years. Some of these attacks had taken place in the context of anti-gentrification tensions, and others in solidarity with prisoners internationally. Aside from the “No Pipelines” tags, these actions were not tied effectively to anarchist projects of counter-information or street demonstrations, and often lacked meaningful relationships with the struggles they intended to support. The communication for these actions took the form of “anarchistnews” posts that only communicated with disconnected anarchist individuals on the internet. After the raid it was very hard to take an offensive response to the raid, whether the comrades were involved in the actions or not, given that the attacks and communication of the attacks were not part of broader anarchist tensions and meaningful interventions into social struggles. The overall context not only made some comrades more vulnerable to repression, but even made a response which could have turned the raid into a more uncontrollable situation totally impossible.

Stepping away from specific examples about infrastructure, I’d like to give another example about attack and interventions into social struggles that I think highlights the headspace of some of Aragorn’s critiques. When I was in Montreal in May of 2012, there was a strong anti-authoritarian tension in the streets as a result of repression of the student strike that was going on at the time. There were nightly illegal demonstrations of thousands, which often had a very small minority that fought the police and attacked property. Aragorn, who was in Montreal for the anarchist book fair, was interviewed for a local independent radio station (10). The interview was focused primarily on anti-civ and indigenous perspectives on anarchism. Hid did at one point however, turn his attention to the conflicts that were happening in the streets at the time, only to point out how “effective” the police were at controlling demonstrations. This was a rather absurd position to take considering that it was such a small number of people (including anarchists) who were taking a combative approach in the streets. If the police were effective, it was more because of the passive approach that 99% of the people at the demonstrations were taking, not because of the futility of such actions in themselves, or because of the unbearable power they had. Aragorn was more than happy to discourage the entire social tension in the streets and those carrying out attacks, more or less promoting a kind of nihilist counter-insurgency in the face of the possibility of expansive revolt. Those who might have been fed up with the leftist manipulation of the masses, taking advice from such an argument, would have felt the best way to engage such a critique would not be to practice self-organized revolt, but instead to order books from LBC and maybe join an online discussion forum.

In my estimation, Aragorn and other North American nihilists, focus more on futility and fruitlessness in struggle, not because they are concerned with the recuperation that can come from social struggles, but more because they are seeking affirmation and a larger network of study partners. Aragorn’s publishing projects, including Little Black Cart, are exciting at times because of the broader range of thought that they allow rather than what one might often get out of AK Press or PM Press. Theory, like infrastructure, is highly valuable to a social struggle. The activist martyrs who eschew theory in relation to practice certainly hold a paternalistic viewpoint that suggests we cannot educate ourselves, as part of our liberation. But like theory and infrastructure, action and communication are vital to give the former two meaning, and to ensure that they actually have an effect in the real world.

So Strugglisti, struggle on! And never forget to think and build, as you act, so that you do not struggle in vain! And to those throughout North America, who are smothered under the weight of the left and identity politics, do not let pretensions of theoretical sophistication civilize or pacify your rebel spirit nor strangle your abilities to find accomplices in the fight for liberation!

The Value of Vision

In conclusion, I think it might be necessary to go back to The Anti-Social Turn for a second. I think the reason it finds such resonance among young anarchists, especially those radicalized in the post-occupy period is the fact that it addresses the lack of a future that many across society are beginning to recognize. The current context of capitalist exploitation is one in which all possible dreams for autonomy from it are crushed. The welfare state is in severe decline and it is unlikely it will ever bounce back. Recuperation is becoming more and more effective while offering less and less all the time. Due to environmental catastrophe and social crises, capitalism is having to quickly change. In this context, a complete cynicism about the future is an obvious response, and as anarchists, we should certainly welcome a lack of identification with the future of capitalism.

The Anti-Social Turn proposes an equally narrow minded relationship to the concept of the future as it does to society, however. In tying together Lee Edelman’s critique of capitalist control over the future via the interests of the capitalist family unit (signified by the child) and hostility to queerness, with Silvia Frederici’s point about how an attack on women’s bodily autonomy was essential for the future of capitalism (in Caliban and the Witch), the authors of The Anti-Social Turn do their best to limit revolutionary possibilities for the future, and by extension, the present. The repression of queer sexuality, the commons, and women’s autonomy over their bodies, a conflict of the future of early capitalism with the interests of the peasant who had “no care for the future”, should not signify to us that the future itself is inherently capitalist; but that the medieval european peasants cared little for the future of the economy (what else could the future mean for capitalism?) since their own present entailed the seeds of their liberatory desire. Do we imagine for one second that these peasants experienced no joy in raising their children in such a present. Those of us in the modern context of near total domination should not take this history lesson as a pure rejection of the future, but instead as a lesson in the pasts which have existed without domination, even in it’s shadow, and the possible futures. Is it so impossible to imagine a future or past in which there are no white people, and queer genders and sexualities are as mundane as heterosexuality? These are the possibilities we cut ourselves off from when we surrender our perceptions of time to capitalism, and imprison ourselves in our obsessions with negation, when we cut ourselves off from a projectual approach which seeks out accomplices, which we can then begin to practice in both positive and negative ways.

The social struggles of the Middle Ages must also be remembered because they wrote a new chapter in the history of liberation. At their best, they called for an egalitarian social order based upon the sharing of wealth and the refusal of hierarchies and authoritarian rule. These were to remain utopias. Instead of the heavenly kingdom whose advent was prophesied in the preaching of the heretics and millenarian movements, what issued from the demise of feudalism were disease, war, famine, and death – the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, as represented in Albrecht Durer’s famous print – true harbingers of the new capitalist era. Nevertheless, the attempts that the medieval proletariat made to “turn the world upside down” must be reckoned with; for despite their defeat, they put the feudal system into crisis and, in their time, they were “genuinely revolutionary,” as they could not have succeeded without “a radical reshaping of the social order” (Hilton, 1973: 223-4). Reading the “transition” from the viewpoint of the anti-feudal struggle of the Middle Ages also helps us to reconstruct the social dynamics that lay in the background of the English Enclosures and the conquest of the Americas, and above all unearth some of the reasons why in the 16th and 17th centuries the extermination of the “witches,” and the extension of state control over every aspect of reproduction, became the cornerstones of primitive accumulation.” – Sylvia Frederici, Caliban and the Witch (11)

I remember when I first read Caliban and the Witch how this realization jumped out at me. How excited I felt that opposition to domination was not simply a matter of western progressivism or something that came explicitly out of the enlightenment. It is interesting how the authors of Baedan miss this point: that the freedom loving desires of the european peasants of that era were not simply a negation of the future, but existed in the context of a fight for a liberated one. It is funny how so many nihilists are quick to write off revolution as a goal, and point out how marxism and anarchism alike are a continuation of the pleas for liberation that often came through a Christian framework before. But they miss a very encouraging lesson from this; that the desire for a complete change in the world towards a liberating form of life is a common response to the misery of domination. And from the Ghost Dance, to the Peublo Revolts, to the Maji Maji Rebellion (12) we have numerous examples that might tell us that this millenarian tendency is not merely something that comes from a Western context of the Christianized. An exciting possibility that anarchism, not only as negation, but as a positive proposition could be relevant in an infinite variety of ways.

As conditions degrade and the world continues to unravel, the millenarian tendency in human beings who are stuck under the boot of domination is bound to resurge in response. The question is, are we going to let Christian fascists and others who might want to continue the horror of hierarchy be the only ones who attempt to provide an alternative? (13)

Of course, I am not pointing out this millenarian tendency or possibility with the intention to craft a kind of anarchist liberation theology in place of the nihilist trend. Instead I want to argue that anarchists can take strength in our vision, and put that vision into practice. As in the case of millenarian movements across the globe, and any struggle for radical social transformation, vision is utterly indispensable to a project of immediate revolt.

Anarchy requires strength, vision, knowledge and care as much as it does rage and destruction. It requires that we do not fall into the despair that so many others have. It requires that we practice social revolt in the face of social control. That we do not allow technology and the dumbing down of society to strain our relationships, and our capacity to dream. At the very least, it requires that we are not practicing the counter-insurgency of Alex Jones and all the others who say that our revolt is impossible, and there can never be consequences to our actions.

In our attempts to honour the negation inherent to the anarchist tradition let us ensure that we are not negating anarchy too.

Resignation is death.

Revolt is life.

The anarchist project demands more.

“OUR TASK as anarchists, our main preoccupation and greatest desire, is to see the social revolution come about: a terrible upheaval of men and institutions which finally succeeds in putting an end to exploitation and establishing a reign of justice.

For we anarchists the revolution is our guide, our constant point of reference, no matter what we are doing or what problem we are concerned with. The anarchy we want will not be possible without the painful revolutionary break. If we want to avoid turning this into no more that a dream we must struggle to destroy the State and exploiters through revolution.” – Alfredo Bonanno, Why Insurrection


  1. “An Anarchist Response to the Nihilists”,“Another Critique of Insurrectionalism”,
  4. “Baedan”,
  6. “Laughing at the Futility of it all”,
  7. “Anarchy After Leftism”,
  8. “Burning the Bridges They are Building”,
  9. “open Letter from Amelie and Fallon”,
  10. “Indigenous, Indigenism, and anarchism: Interview with Aragorn!” ,
  12. – In 1890, The Ghost Dance was a new religious movement incorporated into numerous Native American belief systems. According to the teachings of the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka (renamed Jack Wilson), proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with spirits of the dead, bring the spirits of the dead to fight on their behalf, make the white colonists leave, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to native peoples throughout the region.– The Pueblo revolt of 1680 was an uprising of most of the Pueblo people against the spanish colonizers, in present day New Mexico.

    – The Maji Maji Rebellion, was an armed insurgency against German colonial rule in modern-day Tanzania. The war was triggered by a German policy designed to force the indigenous population to grow cotton for export, and lasted from 1905 to 1907. The insurgents turned to magic to drive out the German colonizers and used it as a unifying force in the rebellion. A spirit medium named Kinjikitile Ngwale claimed to be possessed by a snake spirit called Hongo. Ngwale began calling himself Bokero and developed a belief that the people of “German East Africa” had been called upon to eliminate the Germans. German anthropologists recorded that he gave his followers war medicine that would turn German bullets into water. This “war medicine” was in fact water (maji in Kiswahili) mixed with castor oil and millet seeds. Empowered with this new liquid, Bokero’s followers began the Rebellion.

    (13) An earlier version of this essay was responded to on The Brilliant Podcast ( by Aragorn and his co-host. It was a rushed version, unedited, and perhaps didn’t explain the purpose for the last section of the essay very well. In spite of their responses, I still think the original arguments stand up as this essay is a response to the effects the nihilist tendency is having in my own circles, and not so much an attempt at an ego battle.