The War Is (Also) In Our Heads
AntiNote: This article appeared as a part of a series at Lower Class Magazine over recent months featuring various perspectives within the debate over militancy and nonviolence which erupted on the German radical left in the wake of the G20 resistance in July 2017, and is part two of these particular authors’ contribution. In the first, they propose a framework for more effective militant praxis in the streets. Here they seek to expand the definition of the term militancy. As they put it: “We want to detach ourselves from narratives that reduce militancy to a performance of social counter-force, or, as the bourgeois lexicon would have it, chaos and violence. What follows is about the principles and vision of something we call the militant character.”
For an Ethics of Resistance
The current debate around militancy, in our opinion, too often focuses on physical action. This isn’t bad in and of itself; we do, as a movement, need to stop automatically discussing everything primarily on the meta level. But what happens too often is that militaristic logic gains entry to our thought processes. It’s all about the adversary and the right tactics; social-revolutionary questions fall by the wayside rather quickly.
We believe that we have to stop discussing self-defense only on the physical level. We are of the opinion that political struggle should supersede military struggle (though we are aware that street militancy is itself genuinely political). What we’re trying to say is that we regard it as necessary to place our political principles ahead of the concrete necessities of militant conflict.
We are aware that we are in a privileged position and that it is incredibly difficult to draw on these kinds of principles under immediate conflictual circumstances. Since this issue has only just begun to be openly discussed again, however, we feel it is important for us to address this point with clarity from the outset.
To us, overcoming militaristic logic means that we conduct debates about means and ends, that we conduct them collectively—as a movement—and that we do not negate or gloss over the finer distinctions among forms of action. We propose turning once again towards the broader society (rather than facing only inward within the radical scene), in order to produce more lively debates around selecting opponents and whether or how the actions of others should be mediated—debates which seek not merely to prove one position right but rather to assess and describe actual conditions in Germany, and which find the lines along which militant actions and attitudes can achieve space and acceptance.
We regard it as necessary that forms of action be chosen in a strategic and circumspect way, whether we’re talking about blocking the construction of luxury developments; building alternative education projects; sabotaging infrastructure; going on strike; creating meeting spaces, non-commercial storefronts, or infoshops; organizing a street party; developing a subversive theater piece; preparing free meals; or anything else.
Legitimate targets are not, in our opinion, random or indiscriminate. For example, a legitimate target is not “society” but rather any element actively trying to attack the population’s impulse towards self-organization. Thinking and acting militantly means finding concrete responses to concrete problems—responses that draw clear lines and convey a radically different kind of life yet at the same time are able to be discussed and developed with other people. Strategies and tactics must be refreshed; we can’t just repeat things that were once effective simply out of principle. It’s about effective measures, not a dogmatic program.
What we need is an ethics of resistance, because this seems to us to be the most sensible preventative against militaristic thinking. In our opinion, this ethics should be based on several principles: 1. Anti-militarism. 2. Internationalism. 3. Social-revolutionary and anti-statist orientation. 4. Women’s liberation as a central aspect. 5. Lived collectivity.
Overcoming the bourgeois story, telling our own
There is an issue of the most basic sort which has had strands through many past revolutions and which movements like the PKK as well as friends from the Spanish civil war describe even to this day: absent a fundamental transformation of mentality and without the destruction of hegemonic forms of thought, any revolution is doomed to fail.
The question of what constitutes a militant character is already one that comes up regularly—just too often in the form of some sort of performance review. It frequently gets reduced to the particulars of “the fight in the streets” or the production of provocative texts, or longing comparisons are made to struggles of previous urban guerrillas.
We propose that honest, critical reflection into one’s own self as well as one’s relationships should form the central basis for a more general militancy. We hope it is clear we’re not talking about an individualized, neoliberal self-optimization, but rather the understanding that personal transformation is a revolutionary step.
So let’s try to make this militant character more intelligible.
We understand militancy as the ability to defend oneself not just physically but mentally against hegemonic ideology, as well as the ability to make alternative ways of living conceivable and practicable.
We operate on the assumption that hegemonic discourse and its radiating material effects are central pillars securing the current structures’ continued domination. What does that mean in real terms? Within different discourses—for example that of the anarchist movement as opposed to that of the state—there are different interpretations of reality, different ways of knowing. The state tries to impose its interpretation of things, its way of knowing—and often succeeds, as a result of certain infrastructure at its disposal. This is how those who call themselves “revolutionaries” become “masked delinquents and terrorists.”
That is a familiar example, but the narratives contained within respective discourses also function on much more complex levels, in that they are not only perceived by but indeed shape individuals. This force is at work when welfare recipients are compelled to “optimize themselves”—their problems are individualized, and though they are exasperated with the lie of the American Dream, they might denounce other unemployed people at the job center as lazy. This force is at work when society accepts the narrative that we need police because we would be unable to solve our problems without fighting and killing each other if they weren’t around. This is the force building up the lie that cameras bring us security.
But many even within our movements frequently believe (or did at first) things the bourgeois story tells them: the airline hijacking by the Revolutionary Cells in Entebbe was an antisemitic terrorist attack; the Red Army Faction was a purely Stalinist and sexist outfit; there has never really been a significant rebellion against capital and the state in Germany. Sometimes these narratives aid in legitimizing one’s own failure of spirit.
Even worse than that, though: we also reproduce learned sexist attitudes and behaviors. We ignore the same attitudes and behaviors in ourselves that we so eagerly criticize in others.
The militant character must be able to defend itself against the imposition of the hegemonic discourse and the activities that go along with it. It must be able to comprehend how this abhorrent way of knowing emerged, what its implications are, and that it drives all of these narratives. At the same time, the militant character has to be able to set something against them, it has to counter the lies.
Having this deeper theory of discourse might be useful for us, as long as its radicality isn’t watered down with post-modern gibberish. Also, we acknowledge there are many other ways to shake the foundations of the dominant order. We can’t list them all here—we are probably not even familiar with most of them—but we desire a wider and more public debate about them without the constant, hammering “I am right!”
The goal must be to collectively develop the capacities that it will take to upend all the factors that form the basis of domination. On a basic level, this means militants must be able to talk to other people. That can be as classic as going door-to-door, or actually talking to the people who come to our events—these simple things are steps towards casting off our fear of this world. So yes, this will require grappling with and overcoming fears. It requires courage, the ability to tolerate and withstand unpleasant things, and above all: belief in the necessity of revolution.
Briefly put: the militant character is able to defend itself and others against the incursions of the state on as many levels as possible, and is able to present itself confidently and believe in its own strength and capacity for action.
Developing a militant character requires tough critique and self-criticism, on a basis of solidary tenderness. Let’s make a break with rote knowledge, with the ingrained image we have of ourselves, with our own sexism, with our own isolation, with our own narcissism, with our own exclusionary behaviors, whatever they are. Let’s kill the bourgeois within ourselves!
From individual to collective self-defense
If we look at where the state and the government are at their weakest, it is mostly in those places where people have organized themselves. Next to personal self-inquiry and development, collective self-organization is the most effective self-defense.
Within collective organizational processes, two factors come together which are both necessary for the development of militant character. First, individuals as well as the collective are transformed in these processes. Second, people begin, in the best case, to build honest relationships to one another that do not rely on any capitalist or other negative interests, and they notice that they are capable subjects even without the presence and supervision of the state.
These self-organization processes are distinguished by the emergence of comradely relationships—friendships strengthened by shared struggle and shared lives, relationships that succeed in overcoming internal lines of division.
We wish to see in the coming years a massive convergence of militants. Militants who confidently step out and talk to people, and who withdraw to reflect and converse. Militants who have the integrity to clearly and openly admit their mistakes, and who confidently and belligerently stand by their actions. Militants who throw stones and who educate themselves in theory. Militants who attempt to break with their own thought patterns and who overcome domination by starting with themselves.
The future belongs to those who do not lose sight of the goal: social revolution.
Translated by Antidote