The Evolution of Revolution

By Bobby Whittenberg-James

Men (sic) make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.” – Ironically yours, Karl Marx

Proudhon was the first to call himself an anarchist, advocating a mix of socialism and capitalism called “mutualism.” Bakunin’s collectivist anarchism critiqued mutualism. Kropotkin’s anarchist communism critiqued collectivist anarchism. Are we really to believe that this is the apex of anarchist thought? Do we really want to adhere dogmatically to theories concocted over a century prior to neo-liberal globalization? Do we ignore everything that has happened since then and refuse to learn from it? If we are truly seeking anarchy, of course the answer is no.

We want an anarchy that is relevant in combating the existing economic and social order. We recognize that neo-liberal globalization has vastly changed economic and social relations from the time of the founders of what came to be known as social anarchism and we choose to adapt our resistance and our tactics as a result. This is not to say that proponents of social anarchism or market anarchism aren’t “real” anarchists (as those sectarian factions and others tend to say about anarchists who don’t bear their particular anarcho-prefix) but that those theories and ideologies and dogmas are not anarchistic and do not result in anarchy. Because of this, we, all anarchists, autonomists, and other anti-authoritarians, should continue to critique anarchist theory and practice to wrest anarchy from the hands of socialists or capitalists seeking to co-opt anarchist rhetoric and aesthetics to wage counter revolution and seize control.

We pay respect to anarchists of the past of all stripes and creeds, and seek to learn from their discoveries, successes, and failures. We also pay respect to past and present day stateless egalitarian hunter gatherer societies and look to them for inspiration as well, knowing that white men from the mid 19th century didn’t have all the answers.

Looking to the past, present, and future we strike what we don’t like or what does work and we keep the good stuff and create something that works for us in the here and now. Those who speak of revolution as some lofty dream, or future event to be hoped for, a single moment in the future, already wage counter revolution.

The Quantitative Fallacy

Contrary to and in spite of popular opinion, it only takes as many people to accomplish a particular task or goal as are needed to perform all the functions and manage the logistics necessary. It does not require a particular percentage of the population or even popular support. We do not need the permission of the masses, a party, or an individual before taking direct action. Autonomous individuals, affinity groups, bands, or tribes are not subject to the authority of democratic control. What gives those who advocate inaction and thus embrace the status quo default authority? This creates a vanguard of the most timid, hesitant, passive, and comfortable or those who cling to bourgeois society the tightest. If a particular person or group chooses not to act, that is on their conscience, but it does not give them the authority to restrict you in our fight for anarchy.

This is not to suggest that we act with reckless abandon and that we never consult with others before taking action, but to assert that when we decide to act, we are the final authority in regards to that decision. Not any organization, not the community, not any particular identity group, nor political faction, but only the individuals involved are qualified to decide if they will act or not and how. This is your revolution. Defy the authority of the majority! Spite the marxist and anarcho-authoritarian counter revolution! Eat of the forbidden fruit of direct action! You are accountable to no one in the fight for your own autonomy. You are your own ultimate authority. No one can hold you back in your fight, our fight… for anarchy. Those who would try to keep you in your chains serve the current order.

Mass Movements

I have often heard, as an argument against direct action that we need to be focused on “building mass movements.” The focus on numbers before results presupposes that we need the approval of a particular number, or percentage of people to move forward in our fight. Presupposed also is that actions and results are antithetical to gaining support. It also presupposes a lot of waiting, which smacks of marxist determinism. Waiting around is okay for those who wish to cling to bourgeois society in whole or in part, but does not work as well for those condemned to die under capitalist and socialist regimes while the onanistic “movement builders” wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… for “the” (THEIR!) revolution… like a christian waits for the rapture… that will never come… The case for mass movements as a monopoly on resistance presents a false dichotomy, that we can either talk about and propagate our ideas or act to put them into practice. Change is made and victories are won through actions, not through rhetoric, newspaper sales, pontification, theory, or self congratulatory posturing.


An organization is its own entity. It is something entirely separate from the wills and desires of its individual members. They are governed by its precepts, its policies, its bylaws. They are held to its standards, procedures, and protocols, not to mention the clerical work and maintaining of the organization, internal resolutions, voting on logos, doing recruiting campaigns, disciplining members, enforcing adherence to the organizations ethos, points of unity, constitutions, message, and so on ad infinitum. As such organizations rob people of their autonomy and make them slaves to another master. Members do not act of their own agency in struggle but as agents of the organization that rules them, with guidelines, and restrictions. Because of this it stands to reason that at any given moment, an organization is an inaccurate representation of the collective wills and desires of the individual members.

Lets say you and a group of friends are coming together to plan a trip for all of you. You come together on an ad hoc basis to determine the needs and desires of each person and then the group engaging in collective brainstorming and decision making. This is anarchy. It does not require there to be a committee or council for leisure activities. Your group does not need to come up with a name, a logo, points of unity and pass internal resolutions, and elect delegates to go up the the next level of the federations hierarchy to convey this decision for approval by a higher council. You associate voluntarily on your own terms and come up with a means of collective decision making that works for all the people involved. If we have any view of a future society, it is more inspired by egalitarian hunter gatherer tribes and bands than the euro-centric western industrial societies proposed by marxist and the authoritarian anarchists on the left.

There May Be Organizations of Anarchists, But There Are No Anarchist Organizations

When seeking the best strategies for waging anarchist revolution, we do ourselves a true disservice to ignore glaring problems. The anarcho-leftist tradition advocates a series of councils, unions, soviets federated at various arbitrary levels, a structure that very easily lends itself to being taking over by authoritarians.

For example, the CNT’s hierarchy consistent of (not including intermediary bodies) Section -Syndicate – Local federation of syndicates – Comercial Federation – Regional Confederation -National confederation. This very much reminds me of the structure of the Marine Corps. We had a Fire Team – Squad – Platoon – Company – Battalion – Regiment – Division – Marine Corps – Department of the Navy – Department of Defense – US Government. How easily such a set up lends itself to a chain of command. It’s a ready made pyramid of authority. As Bob Black (thanks also to Bob for the CNT hierarchy) explained in Anarchy After Leftism:

Thus in Spain the 30,000 faistas quickly came to control one million cenetistas whom they led into policies- such as entering the government- to which the FAI militants should have been even more fiercely opposed than the rank-and-file CNT unionists. In a crisis-which might be of their own creation-the leadership generally consults ‘personalistic’ interests and maintenance requirements of the organization, in that order; only then if ever, their announced ideology; not the will of the membership (although the leaders will invoke it if it happens to coincide with their policies and, for that matter, even if it doesn’t). This has happened too often to be an accident.”

In the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks seized control of the soviets and easily made them organs of the the socialist state as well. The authoritarian anarchist structure simply cries out for a tyrant to seize the helm. The marxists, of course, encourage and support this, knowing that the unwitting anarchists are building the institutions they wish to use to enslave the underclass.

Without autonomy there is no anarchy. Power delegated is power abdicated. In authoritarian anarchism, each individual remains subjugated to the authority of the larger body. Certainly we realize that there is a need for collective decision making, but it is not necessary or desirable for that collective decision making to be delegated, federated, centralized, and institutionalized. How easily delegation becomes representation become authority and, oh look, a ready made power structure! This is where we look to the hunter gatherer egalitarians for a better picture of what an anarchist society could look like.


Chattel slavery abolitionists and slaves engaged in insurrection were not seeking to create democratic, slaved managed plantations. They sought to abolish the identity of “slave” and the condition of slavery itself. They did not wait until they had a majority vote of the local population to rise up. They did not seek to build ostentatious, self serving slave unions or a slave federation. They rose up in revolt against slavery. In our fight to abolish wage slavery we must do the same.

Workerism II: Enter Neo-Liberal Globalization

Neo-liberalism was a revolution itself within capitalism. Regardless of the efforts of marxists and anarcho-leftists to pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t change social and economic relations, it absolutely does. The marxist or the anarcho-leftist can’t be bothered by addressing the economic and social conditions that exist now. That would make it harder to continue to fetishize past failed revolutions, irrelevant slogans, and anachronistic rhetoric and dogma.

Neo-liberalism brought with it the might of the multinational corporation (limited liability, of course) and the ability to divide the world into production and consumption zones. The third world has become the entire world’s industrial proletariat. Many workers in most westernized nations are sales people in retail stores, wait staff at restaurants, operators and telemarketers at call centers, government workers such as postal clerks, teachers, local government staff, and military personnel. More and more workers are unskilled and temporary labor. Many western economies are post industrial service economies. The economic conditions simply do not exist in most western post industrial nations for a unified working class movement. The marxist and the anarcho-leftist have no response to that, retreating to vague talking points and outdated sloganeering about how only the “workers” (a term that can mean whatever the marxist or marxarchist means at the time. In some contexts they may actually mean only the industrial proletariat while at other times they may mean everyone who is not part of the big bourgeoisie or the peasantry if it’s convenient) can “lead” (again this term takes on definitions of convenience depending on the audience) “the” (THEIR) revolution.

Neo-liberalism has created a highly divided working class, most of whom, by design, do not identify as workers or see that as a unifying concept. A combination of the reformatting of the work place, society as a whole, and lots of propaganda and revamped jargon (workers are not “workers” they are “partners” or “associates” who are not merely workers, but climbers on the latter to success) has created a dynamic in which most workers don’t identify strongly, particularly not militantly, as the working class, but with aspirations of someday being in charge or “getting to the top.”

In addition to breaking up the industrial proletariat, neo-liberalism has broken up production itself as well. Different parts are made in separate locations far across the globe and assembled in yet another location. Even for most industrial workers, the relationship between the worker and production has changed vastly.

Workerism III: The proletariate as ruling class

If a revolution is led by a particular class (as is advocated by some anarcho-leftists), it only makes sense that the revolutionary class is the new ruling class. In the same way that the bourgeois revolutions did not liberate any class but the bourgeoisie, a proletarian revolution would free only the proletariat. The proletariat would become the new ruling elite in the same way as the bourgeoisie. This will subjugate the whole of society to yet another marxist tyranny.

Our revolution must transcend class. We must shed our identities as slaves and embrace ourselves as reciprocative autonomous humans.

As anarchists we do not believe that we can use the state to destroy the state, economics to destroy economics, wage slavery to abolish wage slavery, or class to abolish class. Those who do end up degenerating into marxist doublethink and workerist sycophancy, fetishizing their slavery. Rather than embracing class as a revolutionary means leading again to inevitable failure, we seek to destroy class as a revolutionary end.

Workerism IV: Opening the Door to Authority

The marxists and authoritarian anarchists have a vested interest in convincing workers to cling to their mode of oppression. The worker fetish includes an ethic of self subjugation, where rather than seeking to overthrow their means of oppression, they are indoctrinated to embrace it, and to continue that subjugation to the authority of councils, federations, etc… What difference does it make to the worker if they slave for 1 master or 1,000? Someone already embracing their mode of oppression makes a willing and useful sycophant for those opportunist marxists and authoritarian anarchists who would exploit the worker to consolidate their own power as they have done in the past and will continue to do as long as there are willing sheep lining up for the slaughter.


Civilization is a way of life based around the growth of cities and the social relations that arise as a result. Cities are defined as concentrations of people so dense as to exceed the carrying capacity of their land base, requiring the expropriation of the means of survival from an external land base. In other words, civilization as a way of life based on continuous expansion, on a finite planet. As cities grow, they are required to search out further and further, they will push the anarchist hunter gatherers off of their land base to rape it and exploit is, just as the industrialists have done and continue to do. The Industrialist cares for nothing but their own luxury, privilege, and their power to dominate the planet and all life on it. They obfuscate reality to paint a picture that there is one history, one narrative, that of western civilization and industrialism and its victory of all animals, human and non-human alike, and the planet.

Search as you may, you’ll never find a civilization that has been sustainable. To advocate for the continuation of a way of life that destroys the planet and will inevitably end with a crash of production on a planet that is already exceeding carrying capacity is nothing sort of genocidal and ecocidal. We have no patience for the capitalists, marxists, and authoritarian anarchists who would destroy us and our planet. Their theories and rhetoric should be met with, at the very least, the full portion of our rage and contempt and anything else we can muster as they have marked us and our planet for execution.


Decentralized networks of resistance are nearly impossible to defeat because as fast as one cell is captured or destroyed, three more can pop up somewhere else. The defeat and/or capture of one cell, or even a group of cells does not bring down the others. Once the nucleus of an organization is neutralized, the organization is neutralized, whether the organization is destroyed or co-opted, or the leadership cozies up to the establishment. This can’t occur in cell based network that practices proper security measures. For example, destroying Hussein’s regime and the Iraqi state were relatively easy for the US and coalition invaders to oust in contrast to defeating the Iraqi popular resistance. As of this writing (December 2010) the US is still facing resistance and will continue to until every last troop is gone. You can crush a state, a party, organization, but you can not crush a decentralized network of cells and affinity groups. The IRA successfully wreaked havoc on the British Empire for decades in 4 person assault teams. The US is in year 10, the longest campaign ever, fighting a decentralized force in Afghanistan and losing, as did the last empire to try to subdue the popular resistance… the socialist USSR.

Decentralized associations are much harder to co-opt or commandeer. With virtually no power structure, there is very little to take over, and very little if any coercive power one could wield if they did. Decentralization also reduces the impact of poor decision making, defeats, and corruption, whereas such things can be endgame for centralized entities. We have to understand that any form of centralization or federation becomes authoritarian in that individuals and smaller bodies are subjugated and subservient to larger bodies and provide ready made power structures. Knowing this, we advocate radical decentralization, the full abolition of centralization in favor of ad hoc voluntary association and mutual aid.

“Individual” Is Not a Bad Word!

When I was in the Marines, those in authority would use the word “individual” as a pejorative. Anytime one acting in their own interests, even if that action benefited their peers, they were accused of trying to “fuck everyone else” or thinking they were “better than everyone else.” They might be jeered at with “Semper I, fuck the other guy, huh?” (a play on the Marine Motto: Semper Fi or Semper Fidelis, meaning always faithful.) The “need of the Corps” in every way trumped the needs of the Marine. I remember being made to get out of an armored vehicle to look in holes for bombs because it made more economic sense to lose a Marine than an amphibious assault vehicle, or walking in front of HMMWV’s (humvees/hummers) because it was more economically feasible for a Marine to set off a mine than a HMMWV.

And so it is with capitalism as with fascism and socialism. Each individual does not exist for themselves, but as a replaceable part of a machine. With capitalism or fascism you fight for the nation state and for business. With socialism, you fight for the party or “the revolution” (sic). There is always an external cause or organization to which each person is subservient. The position they fill may be important to the function of the organization, but each individual is of no consequence and no concern to it or its leadership. The individuality of each person must be suppressed in sacrifice to the organization, party, cause, state. etc. As such, they are denied their autonomy and by that their humanity. They cease to be autonomous, complex, living, breathing human beings and become socialists, communists, fascists, marines, soldiers, police, social security numbers, statics, identity groups, consumers, and eventually corpses… buried beneath beneath the hammer and sickle or the dollar sign.

Individualism vs. Collectivism: A False Dichotomy

This is another false dichotomy. As anarchy applies to everyday people, everyday situations, and everyday lives, it must account for both the individual and the collectivity without either imposing authority upon the other.

Collectivism Leads to Authoritarianism

Collectivism renders the individual a tool in service to the a headless authority with nowhere to direct the rage and indignation they feel as a result of their slavery. Under the boot heel of collectivism, society, “the masses” are pitted against each individual. This creates a socialism dynamic whereas each individual relates socially to each other individual as adversaries in competition with one another for sway over public opinion and public policy. As all people feel themselves pitted against the whole of society and each individual in it, brutal struggles for control of popular opinion and public policy emerge. If society is the adversary the master to be overthrown, then it only follows that society must be conquered and subdued. Since everyone else is part of the adversary, then who better to control the whole of society than you? Thus we breed the desire for social control out of individual desperation.

Collectivism also offers a ready made collectivity over which to take control, used to adhering to centralized decision making. All that is missing is to put a head on the beast, and no doubt there will be no shortage of opportunists waiting to usurp the position.

On the other hand, extreme individualism can lead to social darwinism and propertarianism, and thus authoritarianism and exploitation. We must embrace a mutual egoism, a reciprocative individualism in which all one grants to one’s self in the way of freedom and autonomy they grant to others as well. This is after all, a voluntary society that we seek, ergo, it must be voluntary down to each individual.

If each individual is subjugated to “the masses,” the whole of society, this can not be anarchy, for there is in fact, yet another archy for each individual to conquer, that of the collective over the individual.

Insurrection vs. Class Struggle: Another False Dichotomy

The insurrection and the class struggle can coexist in an unabashed symphony of rebellion. There is no need for the collectivity to try to impose its authority on an individual or affinity group. Autonomous counter attacks should be celebrated and rallied around, serving as inspiration for others, a call to battle, providing a social rupture, bringing the insurrection bursting to the surface in an orgasm of dissent and anarchy, serving as a counterpoint to the dull, lifeless, anachronistic passivity of “organizing” (ie, bringing as many as possible under centralized collective control and authority.)

Collective Authority

Social relations are not like keys on a piano. The human voice can sing notes found between the keys. There are an infinite number of ways or handling or organizing or not organizing human interactions and social relations. With that in mind, I am positing that left anarchism as an ideology, does not bring about the most liberated, anti-authoritarian way of living. It falls somewhere between the current dominant order and anarchy, a space between the keys.

Left anarchism only seeks to destroy individual authority. It does not abolish collective or institutional authority. There are no dictators or kings or presidents, but it is still a social-contractarian society in which each individual must give up their liberty and submit to the authority of the whole of society.

Unlike in truly anarchistic hunter gatherer societies, an anarcho-leftist society would create a dynamic in which “society” or “the masses” become an entity unto itself to which each individual is subservient. Anarcho-leftism would free society of rulers, but would not free people from authority, and as such it is not anti-authoritarian. Of course, it also presents a ready made power structure just waiting to be taken over by socialists or capitalists.

A Nihilist Revolution

When we say “revolution” we are not talking about a leninist coup or a single party dictatorship. We are not talking about a social democratic party being swept into power through bourgeois elections, but a social rupture. Our revolution is not a single, mythical moment like the christian rapture or the leftist “revolution.” We constantly wage anarchy from insurrections to interpersonal interactions to rioting to love making, a never ending fight for anarchy. We do not seek a new government and economic system to improve upon civilization. Unlike the marxist or anarcho-leftist, we do not seek to reform these institutions to serve the interests of a particular class but to destroy them wholesale to benefit humanity, non-human life, our land bases, and our planet. In this way we are nihilists; we say “it all must go.”

If we are to be successful, we as anarchists MUST shed our sycophancy and its resulting allegiance to the political left or political right and sever all ties with political enemies and hostile ideologies. If we are to wage anarchy, we must wage anarchy and not degenerate into the rehashed capitalism or socialism with “anarcho-” prefix shoddily affixed.

We are also nihilists in our rejection of dogmatic optimism and of the sanctity and authority of popular opinion. At some point we have to simply face the fact that no amount of consciousness raising, discussion or debate is going to convince everyone to fight for anarchy. There will even be people that openly fight against it, even those who call themselves anarchists. This is unavoidable. But we are insurgents, not missionaries. It is not our job to recruit or “convert” everyone or anyone at all. We desire anarchy and so we fight for it, whether we are up against five people or 5 billion. The number of people fighting with us is also irrelevant. We fight for anarchy regardless of whether we are five people or 5 billion. Anarchy has nothing to compromise. Revolution is not up for debate. This is not a vote or an election. This is social and ecological war. Strike a blow, but make sure you don’t ask for permission.


Guerrilla News contributor Bobby Whittenberg-James is an Iraq war veteran turned Post-Left Eco-Anarchist. He offers a unique veteran’s perspective combined with an anarchist critique. He can be found online at his blog, Veter(A)narchy!


One Response to “The Evolution of Revolution”

  1. Thought provoking. I’m going to have to re-examine my life a bit.

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