The Nature of Militancy

By One Toronto Member, One KW Member

It is a truism common among Western anarchists, and the revolutionary left more generally, that militancy is in short supply these days. This sentiment is often expressed in a rather offhanded way, as a lazy excuse to rationalize decades of working-class defeats, or else through fiery polemics denouncing the cautious reformism exhibited by trade unions, “progressives”, liberals and social democrats. Far too infrequently is an honest attempt made to clarify precisely what we mean by the term militancy—or better yet, how we can help qualitatively develop this characteristic within movements struggling for social and economic justice. Instead, militancy is often presented uncritically, as though it were some sort of esoteric derivative of political ideology, a synonym for violent tactics, or even as a tactic unto itself—a vital and yet somehow unattainable sine qua non of radical change.

In this article we will attempt to clear up some of this confusion by providing a working definition of the term militancy, and an answer to the related question of what it means to be a militant. We will then move on to explore the contentious ‘diversity of tactics’ debate that emerged within the anti-globalization movement, and continues to this day—a disagreement rooted in the heterogeneous political composition of the movement’s participants, and two opposing, yet ultimately liberal conceptions of violence. Finally, we will offer a brief study of past movements that have exhibited a high level of militancy and political cohesion, with an eye to distilling common characteristics that could potentially aid in the development of a contemporary North American movement able to effectively wage war on the forces of neoliberal capitalism currently embodied under the rubric of austerity.[...] read more