After Ori Feibush’s house was vandalized in late July, conversations sparked again in Philly about whether the attack constituted violence whether it was justified. Feibush – the widely-hated founder of OCF Realty, who for many years has been shamelessly spearheading the gentrification of Point Breeze – has few defenders, which presents the opportunity for one of the better dialogues communicating why targeted property destruction might be happening and why it might be effective.
The conversation about this latest OCF vandalism – in which most people commenting online reacted positively to the news – was heartening. It suggested that something has qualitatively changed in how people are understanding property destruction and why it makes sense. In the long battle over this topic in this country, which from my vantage point has been raging since Occupy Wall Street, perhaps we have finally gained some ground.
But if we’re gaining ground in one battle, it’s probably because we’re quietly losing in another, more important one. If we’re finally winning the conversation about property destruction, maybe it’s partly because it is no longer relevant.
Before the Trump era – especially during the Clinton and Bush years, when the world seemed to have reached a global consensus that capitalism and the nation state were awesome – property destruction was especially dangerous to power in that it disturbed the social peace, serving as a reminder that things were not in fact awesome at all. As Trump took hold of the state, grassroots white supremacists also gained power, and anti-authoritarian struggles became focused on countering their presence in the streets. This has made discussions of physical violence relevant again for the first time in decades. Yet give the opportunities this has presented for us to put forth various ideas about violence, it seems like we’ve accomplished disappointingly little regarding this important topic.
Instead, we’ve arguably lost some ground by ceding the conversation to “self-defense” justifications of physical violence and by discussing violence almost exclusively with regard to people whom internet leftists like to call “Actual Nazis.” It is not a radical discussion to think punching a nazi is okay, and it is not a victory that after much internet discussion we’ve gotten many people to take up this non-radical position. While conversations about why and how we’re fighting white supremacists are important, the exclusive focus on discussing violence against grassroots racists is conveniently derailing us from talking about what kind of violence might be necessary and appropriate against the people who are actually in power.
Today power is in a state of crisis that I have not seen in my lifetime. Global capitalism is in search of a lifeline it may not find; the climate is already spiraling out of human control, with genocidal consequences. We have a president who is unprecedentedly unpopular with at least half of the population, which in turn reflects the increasing polarization of the country between left and right as capitalism and the state increasingly fail us all. As things become more extreme, this means we and other people who lean anti-authoritarian will be up against racist militias, who are often military-trained and organized to respond to crisis scenarios. Right now it’s hard to imagine our side winning such fights, and we need to talk about how to do more to move towards not being immediately crushed by white supremacists in a crisis or collapse scenario.
And what about the kind of violence, death, and destruction that will likely happen in the course of liberation? It seems like many people genuinely think that radical electoral politics will gradually move us closer to revolutionary transformation. Others – maybe some of the same people – believe that mass social movements will develop to such an extent that physical violence will be negligible in the revolution they will eventually produce. These outcomes seem highly unlikely, if only because the state seems willing to do almost anything rather than lose power. But those of us who want to get rid of the state – and all kinds of power over others – rarely discuss, whether ethically or practically, how we imagine dealing with the kind of violence that will be necessary for an insurrection or revolution to spread or succeed.
It is especially rare that this conversation leaves the realm of ethics and enters into practicalities. Anarchist attempts to take up physical violence against power have a long history, including in this country – from assassinating presidents to shooting up corporate bosses. What can we learn from the strategies and tactics of the past? And what about other people who get caught up in the crossfire of insurrectionary violence? Avoiding such conversations in order to appeal to liberals and leftists isn’t doing us any favors – it just adds to the impression that many of us do not really want to deal with the problems involved with enacting violence.
As anti-authoritarians, we often get stuck in dialogues with other that keep us stuck in limited, reactive mode – for example, all the conversations in which we are asked to defend our vast and unrealistic critiques of the system. How can we be more intentional about what we want to be talking about and what ideas do we want to be spreading? Let’s not be afraid to challenge the questions themselves and change the terms of the conversation – which like everything else are convenient for power.
Let’s also consider what we’re capable of and what we can each contribute to stopping this system of power – or at least parts of it – before its genocidal effects make these hypothetical questions about violence posed to anarchists completely irrelevant. Some of us may focus on attack; some of us might focus on developing skills and infrastructure that will keep each other safer and healthier as attack succeeds and/or the system we’re fighting deteriorates. Let’s point our skills and passion towards liberation.
Responses to any of the questions or ideas brought up in this opinion piece are welcome! Write to anathemaphl(at)riseup(dot)net
Found at Anarchists Worldwide
(From Anathema Volume IV Issue V, September 2019)