I’ve been meaning to write an article on Insurrectionalism for a while now. At first, this branch of anarchism appealed to me, for its maximalism, urgency and tinges of ultra-leftism. But having read this convincing critique recently by José Antonio Gutiérrez D., I’m having to reconsider.

Insurrectionalism is an anarchist tendency that was at first articulated in Italy but has since been taken up in other areas of the globe, especially Greece. It prioritises action over organisation or propaganda, attack over “movement-building”, critiques mass organisations and rejects historical determinism, among other things.

I think Jose makes an especially important contribution by pointing out how insurrectionalism is in many ways a desperate response to a low ebb in social struggle, where militant movements are non-existent and yet great injustice is being wrecked. Coming out of eras of high class struggle or seeing and consuming images of militancy, yet being trapped in an era of seeming apathy of many people, insurrectionalism, he argues, is a quite natural response.

But that doesn’t mean its tactical, and quite opposed to insurrectionalism, Jose counsels that, indeed, there are times to wait, to quietly build or revert to defensive operations. I agree largely with this. What I think was important that insurrectionalism offered in this regard was that we simply cannot know the outcomes of struggles and we should try to push each to its fullest extent. At the same time, there is a difference between pushing a struggle to its extreme and engaging in loner-type extreme actions in a superficial attempt to emulate times of high class struggle.

I think I agree with much of Jose’s points, but I think he certainly missed the critique of mass organisation offered by insurrectionalism. Insurrectionalists like to point to tendencies in mass organisations towards bureaucracy, permanence (outliving the original goal), self-preservation (serving the existence of the organisation over its intended goal), to attempt to synthesise, and thus reduce, all struggles within a single organisation, and critically a separation between organisers and members.

I think Stuart Christie’s critique of the FAI and CNT in We, the Anarchists! was a brilliant example of these exact tendencies of mass organisation in action and their role in betraying the Spanish revolution.

Jose is right that insurrectionalism is in many ways a fetishisation of a tactic without reference to contemporary political and social realities, but I think the critique of mass organisation should be at the fore in any revolutionary strategy.

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