The Uses Of Urgency During Crisis

Estelle Ellison
10 min readNov 16, 2023

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Israel’s current ethnic cleansing of Palestine is a staggering escalation of horrors unleashed upon Palestinians for the past 75 years. The collusion between imperialist states and settler-colonial projects is flagrant and unapologetic. The nauseating degree of genocidal violence Palestinians are being subject to is, in part, an indictment of anarchists and leftists worldwide who are currently unable to help stop this occupation and the project of settler-colonialism at large. At the same time, anarchists and leftists outside of Palestine may yet find instructive inspiration from Palestinian militants who fight to liberate themselves from israel’s settler-colonialism.

In response to this destruction of Palestine, we who want freedom for Palestinians feel compelled to reach for the tools we are most familiar with. Some of these tools, such as police friendly marches and empty gestures, reinforce the power of imperialist and settler states alike. Some of us are more familiar with helping to sabotage and erode the machinations of white supremacist normalcy. We are familiar with disruptive protests, property destruction, acts of sabotage, organizing financial aid, and maintaining channels of news and communication that exist outside of the thrall of zionist and imperial publications alike. Rather than understanding solidarity to mean attack, most interpret solidarity to mean visibly asking oppressive states to have a conscience and force an end to israel’s ethnic cleansing campaign. This is the strategy of reformism.

It is important that we question why reformist solidarity asks are so modest in scope, centering around the issues of visibility and perhaps also the mobilization of economic support. It may be that these simple asks are the most likely to travel internationally and through layers of censorship. It could be that these asks are the most viable forms of action that can be taken today, regardless of their true immediate impact on Palestinian lives. Any serious answer must be informed by an honest assessment of both our actual material conditions and the decisions leftists have made within those conditions. Such an assessment would reveal the key reasons why these reformist calls for international solidarity with Palestine are primarily focused on visibility and not a mobilization of the means to physically stop this genocide.

As anarchists and leftists in america, we presently lack the means of abolishing states. Under these circumstances, seeking to understand why this is the case may come across as simply sitting on our hands engaging in armchair theoretical inquiries. The ongoing reality of this ethnic cleansing demands urgent responses, so why would roundtable discussions be the answer? Urgently responding seems to require us to reach for the methods of resistance we are most familiar with, regardless of whether these methods support or imperil the obstacles to Palestinian liberation. This sentiment embodies a narrow view of what urgency asks of us in this moment. This is not to say that discussions are a means and an end unto themselves in this context. Rather, it is to say that urgency shouldn’t bypass the full breadth of our liberatory goals. Urgency can and must be viewed in the context of what does and does not make liberation possible.

We are a product of our historical and material conditions. This fact in many ways determines the amount of mutual aid we are capable of exchanging, the scale of disruption we can cause, and the extent to which we can provide any material solidarity internationally. Within these parameters set by the state, we decide how we conduct ourselves politically. Our decisions about this work determine whether we will become capable of more ambitious actions over time or whether we will burnout for one reason or another. Some choose to do the work of the state by limiting the scope of possibility during political actions, demoralizing participants to the point of frustrated exhaustion. Others discuss what is possible within their own crews and take action as they see fit, completely separate from the state’s criteria that peaceful marches insist on embracing.

The material conditions associated with acute crises may spur more people to act than would do so in the absence of such crises, and the fact that conditions in america do not resemble conditions in Palestine would explain why there are not more americans acting in support of freedom for Palestinians. But, an influx of people into a movement during times of crisis or great struggle merely constitutes an increase in people participating in work that anarchists and other leftists conceive to be “liberatory” at that present historical moment. The increased capacity that comes with increased numbers during crises is nearly always temporary because american anarchists and leftists both have not resolved their own internal contradictions, ideological limitations, and reactionary tendencies. Because the political landscape in america is what it is, any mass influx of participants would do little to change the overall efficacy of our liberatory work.

These dynamics can be understood as products of both our material conditions and the ways that american leftists conceive of liberatory work itself. Be it the implicit reformist politics of symbolic protests or militant actions, these historical moments often compel people to act without consideration of the repression that follows nor the burnout that results from endless marches, high intensity actions, and open confrontations with the state. Cadre-led marches and actions make minimal effort to disguise their recruitment-driven motivations. Similarly, some insurrectionary anarchists flirt with opportunism, waiting for the cover of mass revolt to attack, in their minds bypassing the need for planning and consideration of what follows. This is contrasted with small crews of anarchists and leftists who are acting now, creating their own practices of security and political after-care instead of waiting for circumstances that supposedly make such planning less necessary. The inability and oftentimes refusal to make longer term preparations before open antagonisms with the state in the name of “bravery” only ensures that insurrectionary actions will merely be flashes in the pan. The number of obstacles to liberation that can be targeted do not increase or decrease according to however many people want a better world. The number of obstacles fluctuate according to how many we remove and how many the state successfully constructs.

Opportunistic anarchists and leftists mistakenly believe that insurrectionary actions spontaneously appear only when the “correct” material conditions exist. The notion that oppressed people or “the masses” only possess the capacity for insurrectionary actions during acute struggle is a faulty one. In western imperialist states especially, anarchists and leftists have a tendency to vastly overestimate the importance of whatever kind of solidarity they can summon. This contradicts the fact that the fate of Palestine has always and currently lies in the hands of Palestinians. To this end, only acts of solidarity that aid Palestinians in liberating themselves are truly meaningful.

Without concrete advances and breakthroughs in the way we relate to and work with each other, the current obstacles we face will multiply in proportion to whatever influx of people we see in movement spaces during crises such as israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The issues we face within small scale formations will always be reflected in these formations’ actions against the state. Likewise, commonplace issues in large-scale formations will also be reflected when those formations increase in size. That means the same divisions of labor. The same reactionary tendencies. The same causes of burnout. All multiplied and proportionately present within whatever the size of any movement or formation claiming anti-colonial intent.

If speeches and marches are merely microcosms of reformist politics, so too are Bloc formations microcosms of our conceptions of anarchist struggle. Liberatory goals we hold as anarchists must be viewed as linked, constituting a complete horizon that we are traveling towards. They are not individual battles that can be fought and won in isolation from each other, often at the expense of other political fronts that need fighting. All of our political formations must be evaluated according to both the context of our greatest goals and our most practical steps.

Given that international solidarity with Palestine has not yet proven itself capable of helping end this occupation, there is value in considering what would represent the greatest degree of support we would provide if we had the means. In america, this would necessarily mean the dissolution of american imperialism, greatly reducing israel’s and other settler-colonial projects’ ability to enact such brazen acts of expansion. Removing american imperialism from the geopolitical stage would be the greatest possible degree of support to Palestinians (any seized means of production notwithstanding).

As it stands, this option is very obviously not currently available to us. And it is for this reason that many are choosing not to split their attention between the urgent needs of besieged Palestinians facing ethnic cleansing and the myriad shortcomings of american leftists. However; we might better serve our liberatory aspirations by viewing the urgency of the war on Palestine as an urgent prompt for us to squarely face the reality of american leftist movements beset with unresolved issues and shortcomings.

As much as the present situation calls for us to do what we can to disrupt the state and create meaningful leverage for demands that go beyond pacifist calls for a mere ceasefire, we are also called to do our own house cleaning in service of actualizing all our liberatory goals and aspirations. In acknowledging that the degree of support and solidarity we are currently capable of is not ideal for Palestinians, we make it our duty to make greater support possible. In this way, we have a responsibility to learn the vulnerabilities of our enemies and also grasp the needs of oppressed people at home in the imperial core. Ending our own subjection to the american imperialist state is our best case option for providing material support to Palestinians who fight to survive and liberate themselves from under the thumb of zionism significantly bolstered by american imperialism.

The struggle for Black liberation as well as freedom for Palestinians both benefit from actions which imperil the state. It is because of this that a militant solidarity between the groups would be beneficial if it were something we could actualize at scale. To succeed in that endeavor, we would need anti-Black tendencies addressed and denounced alongside the denunciation of imperialist states and settler-colonial projects. Likewise, Black anarchists living in america need to address obstacles to building up protracted sustainable liberatory militant networks, such as ableist acquiescence to eugenicist normalcy when Black people are disproportionately affected by and die from covid. Ending both ableism and white supremacist capitalist patriarchy means ending anti-Blackness and, for this very reason, it is important that we engage in struggle without settling for ableist or gendered divisions of labor. Insurrectionary actions that are decoupled from guards against these divisions of labor will never result in impactful militant action.

In accepting that anarchists and leftists are presently unable to help stop israel’s ethnic cleansing or end american imperialism, we seek to comprehend why that is and understand what our next steps must be. How to imperil the state? At home and abroad, the forces of fascist imperialism appear to be extremely confident of their ability to act and wage war with impunity. This is a function of a number of factors we’ve seen play out in recent years. These factors include but are not limited to: the mobilization of fascist forces, the rollback of liberal reforms, a wholly inadequate pandemic response, and a stubborn refusal from leftists to address decades-long issues in anarchist and leftist movement organizing. Fascism is emboldened when we fail to acknowledge the sheer volume of americans and systemic structures that contribute to us imperialism and israel’s settler-colonialism. Acknowledging just how much ground fascism has gained is a non-negotiable prerequisite for burying it in our lifetimes.

There are also the material conditions that make life in america fundamentally different from those present in Palestine. American imperialism supplies americans with a bounty of bribes that are intended to encourage cooperation with as well as passivity and sympathy for fascists, apologism for imperialist actions, and behaviors aligning with respectability politics. Even anarchists and leftists who may view themselves as immune to this coercion often unwittingly act as stewards of oppressive systems. These economic conditions are the dangled carrot, blissfully pursued by americans desperate for a return to capitalist normalcy. It cannot be understated that the mass of people who willfully participated in this fascist coercion has severe implications about the influence our present material conditions have on both our capacity for and conceptualization of anti-imperialist action. This also plays a significant role in producing the slide towards fascism we are observing at home and abroad.

There is bargaining happening between imperialist states and their subjects, and those who are most able to secure resources and privileges are the most prone to adopting reactionary tendencies. israel exemplifies this to a great extreme as its military and settlers act in concert to advance their ethnic cleansing campaign. In this way, subjection to the state does limit the potency of our liberatory actions. However, this is not evidence that we must act with flagrant disregard for repression and the taxing nature of insurrectionary actions. It is, rather, a reality we must squarely acknowledge and confront collectively in collaboration between all who are targeted by the arsenals of violence commanded by imperialist and settler-colonial states.

Acting with the intention to act again as needed embraces our ability to learn from our strategies, refining or discarding them as needed. This attitude is compatible with insurrectionary anarchism because it keeps militant action on the table by engaging in care-informed work, making such actions reliably available to us through fluctuations in our material conditions. It is by these means that smaller crews of anarchists and leftists are able to make good on promises to disrupt the state and threaten the foundations of a bloodsoaked normalcy. They assess what they have, what their capacity is, what can be done around them, and they then act. But, there is still room for more collaboration, more coordination, and more militant networks of care.

As anarchists who are opposed islamophobia, anti semitism, imperialism, and genocide, Palestine solidarity means laying the blame squarely on the states we are subjected to. Instead of liberal pacifist asks for reform of the state, our goal is to bring the machinations of the state to a halt. The extent to which we are not able to make good on this goal is the extent to which we need to urgently engage with our own respective comrades and networks. So long as direct struggle with the state remains out of reach of the collective capacity belonging to those of us who live in the margins, we will continue to see both a middle-class character to solidarity demonstrations and incarceration for those who act against the state without sufficient prior planning and support. In moving away from reactionary divisions of labor, we must move towards frequent intentional collaboration between able-bodied anarchists who can more easily engage in bloc tactics and disabled anarchists who use other tactics that are also in direct antagonism with the state. As Black anarchists, actualizing and securing militant care networks is the kind of bravery that brings forth the ability to reach our most ambitious liberatory goals. Urgency is not a shortcut around this step, it is the impetus to take this step and treat it with the seriousness and care it deserves.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)