Friday, March 21, 2008

Mass Action and Autonomous Action

Urban Guerilla

Demonstrating Resistance:

Mass Action and Autonomous Action
in the Election Year

An analysis of the successes and failures
of recent militant demonstrations

Talking Tactics:
The Mass Action Model versus the Autonomous Action Model

In the past six years, the North American anarchist movement has gone through all the stages of a turbulent love affair with mass actions, including messy breakups and attempted reconciliations. In the process, some anarchists have taken up with other approaches to demonstration activism—including, most notably, an emphasis on more autonomous, decentralized actions. In this review of the past year’s demonstrations, we’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches, and analyze how these have played out in the streets.

In considering how to evaluate both mass and autonomous actions, we should begin by establishing what it is fair to expect of them. Most anarchists thoughtlessly describe them as direct action, but, technically speaking, demonstrations—even confrontational, militant ones, in which police are forced out of neighborhoods, corporate property is set afire, and bureaucratic summits are shut down—are not direct action. Making love, growing or stealing food, providing free child care—these are concrete actions that directly accomplish their goals. Militant demonstration tactics, on the other hand, may qualify as direct action to the extent to which they circumvent liberal or police control to make a point or create an atmosphere outside the dictates of the powers that be, but most anarchists who participate in them would argue that their primary purpose is to bring closer the abolition of the hierarchies and institutions against which they are staged, and viewed in this light they are generally more symbolic than direct.


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