Economic disaster: creating anarchy out of recession

A recession or even a depression does not mean the end of the economy as such, anymore than the death of a president means the end of presidency. The boom/bust cycle is integral to capitalism and that cycle will continue regardless of whether or not there are people calling for an end to capitalism. The only question for anarchists is how to best take advantage of this inevitability.

The US economy is slowing down considerably right now and everyone’s talking about it. Whether or not it will officially go into “recession” is a subject of debate, but it certainly seems more likely today than it did a year ago.

We must look for the ways to make the most of the opportunities created by the periodic cycles of capitalism. Concretely, this means that an economic downturn should be scoured for opportunities to create anarchy, build networks of solidarity, and put forth an analysis of the forces that are mutilating peoples’ lives. To put it succinctly: direct action, mutual aid, and communication.

Economic downturns create new material realities as capitalism becomes temporarily incapable of providing for segments of the population that were previously integrated into the system. Finding ways to meet material needs for ourselves and those around us with an eye towards expanding relationships of mutual aid beyond the confines of temporary economic hardship can become a large-scale challenge for anarchists during a recession. I emphasize the word “ourselves” because an economic downturn would not just affect other people in other places but would also create real hardships for many radicals, even those at the extreme margins of the capitalist economy. This challenge can be in a myriad of ways, depending on how far the economy falls.

Take, for example, organized theft, as happens in a bread riot. Theft can serve as a means of meeting material needs, it can target specific corporations for damage, and it can illustrate the absurdity of abundance in the face of unmet needs. That’s just one example; direct action does not have to meet an immediate material need to be effective, nor do tactics for economic survivalism need to take the form of illegal direct action. The point is to respond to changing circumstances by applying our creativity and analysis to a situation created largely outside of our control.

Are the opportunities for action presented by economic downturn themselves different than at other times, or just their effects? I’d say both. There is a point when differences in degree become differences in kind. Certainly organized theft is appropriate in both boom times and bust, but the meaning of the action changes with the context thus changing the action itself. Every action has multiple aspects, which can be reduced to intent, perception, and effect. The effect of organized theft may remain similar (goods are stolen, although the exact effect of this can vary dramatically), but the intent can change entirely (meeting the needs of others rather than ourselves, for example) and so can the perception, depending on how the action is percieved (most of which is beyond the immediate control of the actors). So in a way, yes the impact has changed more than the act itself, but the act itself and the reasons for it can be completely different.

It’s important to remember that a recession, or any other historical event for that matter, has no inherent meaning. A recession could be an opportunity to turn away from the status quo, but it could just as easily (and usually does) lead to a greater reliance on the system that produces it. The ‘problem’ is blamed variously on incompetent politicians, greedy bankers, or clueless bureaucrats, which leads to the assumption that with better people in charge, such problems would not occur. To veer into the theoretical, the contradictions in history do not create themselves; they are made by people and if we want them to become critical we must make them so by our own actions.

Since I want to encourage everyone to take advantage of whatever unique opportunities are presented by recession, I offer the following broad questions to ask one’s self when thinking about organized responses to a recession, or during the planning of an action. What exactly is the outcome you desire? Does the action you’re planning rely on local information i.e. something that is known because of a unique position)? Will the context allow it to achieve its maximum impact? Are you making an effort to shape the perception of the action as much as is reasonably possible? If you answered ‘no’ to any of these question, tweak your plan and start from the top until you answer ‘yes’ to all of them. If you do that, by necessity, you will come up with a unique plan.

Lobsterbeard contributes to the Center for Strategic Anarchy, (, a site of anarchist analysis of contemporary events.