Alongside the familiar threats of state repression and snitches, the careerism of self-appointed activist leaders represents another insidious form of counterinsurgency that must be opposed by revolutionary anarchists. Activists from the art world, academia, and non-profits often position themselves to profit, both financially and in social capital, from their association with radical movements. They turn protest into performance art, a substance-free “insurgent aesthetic” and ensure that their names and faces are prominently displayed next to whatever spectacle they are promoting. In the pursuit of clout, these activist grifters will sell out the movements they claim to represent.
Whether intentionally or not, careerists perform a nefarious role in counterinsurgency, as their reformist tendencies allow radical movements to be easily co-opted until they become indistinguishable from liberalism. Due to their career ambitions, these activists’ politics are, by definition, reformist, as any revolutionary change would endanger the comfortable lifestyle they are striving to maintain. They defang words like “anarchism,” “revolution,” “abolition,” and “decolonization,” removing them from any historical context and association with militancy, particularly armed struggle. Instead of respectfully learning from people who are facing oppression, these careerists instruct people to protest in the “correct way” to fit the image they are carefully crafting. Inevitably, they channel energy that could be directed against the state and capitalism back into electoral politics. Moreover, their self-centered values reflect those of mainstream US society, which encourages selfish individualism. It is particularly disgusting how quickly these activist leaders condemn any serious action taken against the white supremacist foundation of American society, as they view militant action that goes beyond petty vandalism as a threat to their precious careers in the art world and academia.
Anarchists in the US and beyond should be uncompromising in rejecting corporate media and all reformist institutions, including non-profits, museums and universities. The clout-chasing careerists that dominate the US activist landscape should be viewed as another aspect of counterinsurgency that can only derail revolutionary organizing.
Rather than allowing careerists to derail the movement, revolutionary anarchists can demonstrate that a true alternative to the existing system is both possible and worth fighting for by positioning themselves in solidarity with struggles of oppressed people and developing relationships of trust and respect with comrades behind bars and all those struggling for dignity and freedom. This also means fighting alongside people who are rebelling against harassment by pigs, enslavement in the prison system, and placement in concentration camps. Strategic attacks can provide cover for those who are facing the brunt of the white supremacist terror of prison, police, and ICE. Like the Zapatistas, we can develop and expand autonomous zones by viewing the struggle as a long-term commitment and maintaining an unconditional opposition to the value system of oppressors. We can follow in the footsteps of insurgents who risked death and imprisonment, aiming bullets and explosives at the enemy until the United States and all it represents is burned to the ground.