Oct 1, 2022
Content Warning: Colonialism, Racism
As younger leftists, often just entering a more fervent and deliberate anti-capitalism/anti-colonialism etc, it’s important to learn from those who have both theoretical and practical experience so we can more effectively combat those forces. That’s why I decided to interview Anarcho Communist Anonymous Belligerent (ACAB). ACAB is a gender nihilist and anarchist who’s participated in all sorts of direct action in the PNW, including most recently the building of an earthship. Having identified as an anarchist in one form or another since the age of 12, they have plenty of valuable experience and advice about political action.
Summerisle: Jumping right in, since as a college publication we have a younger staff and readership, I was wondering: when were you first introduced to anarchism?
Anarcho-Communist Anonymous Belligerent: My introduction to anarchism was kind of multi-pronged. I was reading a book on Liberation Theology as a precocious 12 year old which cited Noam Chomsky, and the footnote or endnote had an extended quote of his about American intervention in Latin America. I looked him up online and later at my local public library and found essays and articles and books, and he name drops people like Rudolf Rocker and Emma Goldman. I read them and was instantly hooked, and then when just a few years later the WTO protests happened in Seattle, I was following along on indymedia live and in the wake of it. That probably solidified what had been a more abstract anarchism for me. But at the same time, my parents (who were left-liberal/social democrat types not anarchists) had this accidentally anarchist way of raising their kids. We were involved in all household decisions my parents deemed impacting us, which to give an example included when they were deciding whether to buy a new BBQ to replace the old junker that had finally broken down or get a chainsaw to help with cutting wood. They were going to get both, but one was more expensive than the other and it would impact family finances and things they would be able to pay for for us, as we always fluctuated between a working class and lower middle class family in terms of income. So even things most parents would just decide without input from their kids, my parents were conscious of including us in and giving us a sense of agency and autonomy and mutual respect. So those things, I would say, combined to make me a pretty natural anarchist.
SI: Oh, so you weren’t even a teen yet. How did that sort of solidified anarchism grow and evolve as you grew up?
ACAB: Aside from reading voraciously in political science and political philosophy, I also involved myself in as much activism and action as I could. Everything from union actions, especially teacher’s strikes and things like that I was always participating in as a student, to protests and marches and things like that. Hadn’t yet learned lessons on what was effective versus useless action, what things could hamper effective action or anything about security culture, but by the time the international 2003 Iraq War protests were being planned I was somewhat more aware of these things. I’d say that where I really began to address the ways in which my own politics were still shot through with streaks of liberalism (as so many anti-capitalists, anarchists and socialists and communists alike, have going on whether they want to acknowledge it or not) was probably in the wake of those protests, in particular I remember a sort of broad left coalition meeting ahead of the protests in the nearest major city to where I was living that a fellow anarchist and punk childhood friend and I attended. Degenerated into passive aggressive sniping between anarchists and Marxists and other nonsense and we wound up walking out of it and just doing our own thing in the streets when the protest actually happened. Was also around that time I was shocked into harsh realizations of my own subjectivity as a settler and colonizer, and the ways in which my anti-capitalist politic was re-inscribing settler-colonial entitlement over economic and political activity on unceded, occupied territory in my settler anti-capitalist imaginary of possible futures. So I’d have been around mid-to-late teens then, and I count myself lucky to have learned those things that early.
SI: Do you think that cooperation between anarchists and Marxists and socialists is possible and/or effective? I know there’s a lot of (inane) online discourse between the three but I don’t know how much that spills out into modern-day activism.
ACAB: I think it really depends on the people involved, honestly! I’ve lived in a few places in my life, and it’s interesting how there is always a big, public division between anarchists and Marxists when some of the most solid crews I ran with for direct action had both without any friction. It might be that the personalities required for doing clandestine shit under cover of night are more goal-oriented and focused on working smoothly as a unit to minimize risks of anyone involved seeing consequences whereas the more public scenes attract…other kinds of personalities lol
SI: I’m also curious, what do you think are some of the most pervasive/toxic streaks of liberalism that find their way into anti-capitalism?
ACAB: Electoralism is often a big one in people who self-identify in the “it’s in my social media bio” way with a variety of anti-capitalism or another, and not just younger naïve folks either. It used to blow my mind how often I’d encounter someone who was an elder to me in the anarchist scene who would advocate lesser evil electoralism but it no longer does. I think it’s largely untrue, the conservative adage about how you conservatize as you age, but you do sometimes see these weird ways in which as an anti-capitalist ages they start drifting into left-liberalism in some areas while having this patchwork of genuine anti-capitalist stances in there too, and I’ve ceased being surprised by it. I think that there are ways that people view how the economy works, or how politics works or what the solutions are that can be more liberal than genuinely anti-capitalist. Stances on pacifism and non-violence are a common origin point for some of these misunderstandings in my experience, and I find myself constantly recommending Peter Gelderloos and Paulo Freire to people, or reframing their arguments to people, to try and purge them of this gateway drug to liberalism. I think, for what it’s worth, that it is ultimately a good thing that our impulse tends to be violence-averse and seeking other solutions, but we are highly unlikely to have the luxury of avoiding violence if we want the world to look meaningfully different in good directions from the one we were born into and live in. That aversion to violence is what drives a lot of otherwise sensible anti-capitalists into just allowing their radical energies to be redirected into controllable and even net negative things like lesser evil electoralism and blinders on bad analyses of capitalist economics or the politics in capitalist countries.
SI: Continuing to mine the above response, I want to know: what do you consider effective vs useless direct action?
ACAB: I think direct action, generally speaking, is usually pretty effective. I think useless action is precisely the stuff that is not direct. We don’t often think about why we call it “direct action”, but so much of our “political action” is mediated and not direct. Voting, letter writing and phone calls and emails (and forbid the thought social media posts) to elected representatives and mainstream media, submitting marching routes and protest details to cops and city hall and doing a polite little show under glass for the powerful to chuckle at and, at best, trot out a politician badly acting contrition and assuring that “your voices have been heard” and “change is necessary” to mollify people, that kinda shit. What those kinds of things can be good for is meeting other similarly frustrated people and networking, I don’t knock people attending non-violent liberal protests! I still do it, it’s a good place to meet folks who think like you but maybe don’t have the political education (who does in capitalist education systems lmao) or even just other fellow jaded anti-capitalists showing up for the same reason you are (or the ones with some liberalism left in ’em that’d still be worth making connections with). But none of that mediated, or indirect, action is effective or useful. Infinitely ignorable by the powerful. The way power acts is just not impacted by those things, much as they might put on little puppet shows of it being impacted for our benefit now and again. Now, if you look at some working class cultures like France, they almost take it far enough. National strikes happen way easier there, and they include direct action tactics like occupying resource extraction/first and second order processing workplaces and the blocking of logistics whether road or rail or at airports or docks or what have you. But with that boot on the throat of capital, they always pull back when tepid demands are met. If they’d only press the boot harder for a few more months…
SI: If you’ll allow me to pivot for a bit and lay bare the process of pitching this interview, part of said pitch was mentioning the earthship project you were working on, and how you or a friend, I can’t remember which, offhandedly described it as an “accidental queer anarchist commune”. Do you think this description is accurate?
ACAB: Ha! Yeah, a local gay man came out from a nearby and almost as remote rural community to excitedly ask us if we were a queer commune and it wasn’t like an intention or anything but a lot of us who are planning to live there are one or two of the letters in LGBT and politically we are almost all anarchists so…it kind of is? We hadn’t thought of it that way until he asked us, as we didn’t like set out to form a commune it was just resources coming together among friends over time until we could get something started.
SI: For the readers, can you explain the thought process that you and your friends have behind building an earthship?
ACAB: It’s a bunch of different desires and thinking going into it, I’d say! Like any good anarchist project, we’re all coming to it from different places and adding our distinctness to it. I think that one could argue some shared things in there are trying to live in a way that is more ecologically sustainable, trying to escape as many of the strictures and miseries of life under capitalism as we possibly can, to learn and practice and develop more practical and life-sustaining and joy-creating skills and talents. We are trying to make as many connections as we can in the local community and make ourselves available for helping folks out with things, and it seems to have worked as the strapping young anarchists new to the area is who a local called to help her with a pair of cougars on her land rather than any of the neighbours she’d known for longer! We also have plans to reach out to the local indigenous nations whose shared territory that land is (won’t do a land acknowledgement here since I’m trying to remain anonymous here lol) so that we can discuss paying into their nations and/or legal funds at least what we are compelled on penalty of land seizure to pay in property taxes to a settler-colonial state whose authority we don’t recognize, and to get their opinion on projects we want to do like a permaculture food forest that tries to get indigenous plants and fungus cultivated and spread over the piece of land we’re on, maybe pay someone to come out and consult and give advice. So, I don’t know, the long and short of it is that we’re trying to re-orient ourselves and live more in accordance with how we want to live. Can’t do it 100%, but where can you while capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy and racism, cisheteropatriarchy and transphobia/homophobia/misogyny, ableism, fatphobia, etc, etc still have such totalizing impacts over most of this planet? Gotta do the best we can.
SI: Yeah, I was wondering how your earthship project gelled with decolonialism
ACAB: I think, as settlers and colonizers, we have an obligation when we actually own the land (well, the bank often actually owns the land but you know, like not renting and paying a landlord but having a mortgage or having paid off a mortgage on something) to make concrete gestures that go beyond lip service to the communities whose land we exist on. In areas where those peoples have been completely wiped out by our genocide, I think the closest communities to you that still do exist are the obvious choice. I was friends with an anarchist who lived on what was once Beothuk territory and he expressed confusion about who he would get in touch with when I was talking about this very thing with him, and I remember expressing incredulity he couldn’t think of any indigenous peoples nearby or how he’d look that up with an entire internet at his fingertips. The ways in which neighbouring peoples are so often deeply interconnected in a borderless and unbounded way, not just in the past but presently, means that there is a deep amount of intergenerational trauma for survivors of genocide no matter where they are obviously but there is a special kind of pain and trauma from surviving while a people you had always traded with, intermarried with, had relations and cousins among their people…is wiped out to the last. Kind of an aside, I guess, but my point I think is that the people who know best how to take steps down a path of decolonization are going to be the people who belong to the territory you are on since time immemorial. It’s easy enough (if you can get past self-flagellating settler guilt) to get in touch and express a desire to materially contribute and get to know their struggles and joys, to contribute what you can as a guest on the land like the first settlers were and be a good guest on the land unlike those first settlers who violated every precept of being a good guest by either indigenous or European standards of what a good guest is.
SI: Finally, if there’s one big thing you want readers to take away from this segment, both leftists of all kind and left-liberals and social democrats and such who might be interested in radicalizing further and learning more about anticapitalism/anticolonialism, what would you want it to be?
ACAB: Try things! Give yourself space to fuck up, do things wrong. That’s how you learn! Practice makes perfect, and nobody is perfect without any practice at all. If you want to get good at direct action, start small! I’m sure there’s locks on dumpsters with perfectly good food in them that you could squirt superglue into so they have to take bolt cutters to them, over and over until they stop replacing them. Low impact stuff that lets you exercise all the skills that go into more serious direct action (casing a location for camera coverage, planning a midnight excursion, executing it, getting back home discretely, etc) without any real risk if you fuck up or get caught doing it. Stuff you can do solo, though obviously everything is more fun with friends. Just try stuff! Do it! Start small, then scale up as you can get more people interested in practicing skills with you. Learning to pick locks with friends is super fun, even if you’re just doing it on a lockpicking kit you bought in one of your bedrooms together. Flex those muscles so you can apply yourself later. And, for the love of fuck, keep friendship and high trust relationships as a more important barometer than what ideological label someone expresses to you. There’s a great Foucault interview called “Friendship as a Form of Life” or something like that, which spawned a zine I’m sure you can find in a search engine with more than just that interview in it that’s really worth checking out, and I think about it a lot when I think about all the friendships that have led to successful direct action in my life. Including aboveground stuff like assembling and passing out kits to unhoused folks in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic with essentials and masks and food! Don’t just think you gotta smash shit in paranoid secrecy, there’s LOTS to try…but go out and try it! With friends! Make friends who wanna do it! It’s the stuff that different worlds are made of.