Militancy is revered on the left. Whether insurrectionary violence or mass militancy of social movements, the form and level of militancy serves as a marker of the relative power and progressive nature of a movement. Insurrectionists fetishize either mere acts alone (independently of who does them, groups or individuals) or fetishize violent acts as signs of collective will. Some social movement organizers take militancy to indicate a progressive or revolutionary nature of a movement. Looking at militancy and militant acts alone however is bound to be distorting and lead us down garden paths. A militant event occurs in a social context and through a social process, and these facts bare on the meaning of militancy as a historical phenomenon.
Militancy is generally targeted for a few reasons. One is the outcome. A militant event can have a number of effects. Some analyze these events based on these effects. Spreading radicalism, disrupting power, beating back reactionary forces, etc., these can be taken to indicate the importance or problem with various actions. This is one axis for understanding militancy. Another is the act itself. Work stoppages, illegal strikes, organized violence against capital or the state, anti-police measures, etc., can be viewed as having inherent political content that is thought to either illuminates or stimulates some underlying radical consciousness. Additionally who participates, organizes, and is involved in the act is also seen as important. These factors are those most emphasized, but in fact the crucial element that helps us make sense of militancy, its relevance, and direction, is another thing all together. Continue reading