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Has there ever been an anarchist analysis of street gangs?

+1 vote
It seems remarkable to me that street gangs have managed to become a relatively powerful force in certain cities.

Of course, they tend to be kind of a re-creation of capitalism and hierarchical political structures on a micro level, but those aren't the features I'm particularly interested in.

What I find interesting is the idea of people who've been excluded from the benefits of capitalist society deciding to band together for their own self-interest, regardless of legality, and seemingly with the ability to include a large, semi-autonomous membership.

And then there are the more [sociological? psychological?] considerations - the ability of gangs to create a sense of identity, community, and solidarity. Obviously those are things that people need, and are perhaps occasionally lacking in other identities - in my own experience, I always derived these things from cultural and political identities like "punk" and "anarchist", respectively, but at some point discovered that other punks and anarchists didn't necessarily have my back any more than a random person on the street.

I feel like maybe RAAN (Red & Anarchist Action Network) may have picked up on some of these concepts, but that's the only encounter I've had with anarchist thoughts on the subject.

I guess my question could be expanded to include some things like:

Are there potential benefits to. . .  "constructing an identity" for people to belong to? (This sounds academic as fuck, but that's the best way I could think to put that.)

Are there potential benefits in the "image" of a street gang? The strong emphasis on solidarity and being able to kick ass if needed?

Could such an organizational structure be used effectively with certain tactics?

To pull up an example that people might be familiar with, "The Team" was/is a supposed group of wage slaves, identifiable only by a particular pin worn on their work clothes, who propagated an underground gift economy of goods smuggled and stolen from their employers. Loose organizational structure united by a common goal and identity, unquestioning solidarity toward other members based on recognizing their secret means of identification - kinda gang-like.

(I'm sure there are a lot more things to take into consideration but this is dragging way the fuck on already, so I'm gonna cut this off here.)
asked Aug 13, 2011 by anonymous
Is this Nachie speaking? It sounds like it is…

"Street gangs" is not a real reference point. Please explain what you are referring to, preferably with actual experiences of your own. (A tip of the hat to a propaganda essay that made the rounds on anarchist media websites doesn't count. That's not any realer than "Warriors".)

Are we talking something like Mara Salvatrucha, or something else? (Fuck MS and any of their counterparts… for the record. Gives me the creeps just thinking about what would happen to me if I said that in a place where they existed.)
This post has been deleted to make way for more reasonable posts on the same subject. I am trying to think of a title for a new post on the subject because I have a lot more than 8000 characters to say about it. I have been obsessing with this subject over the past 10 years, it seems the people here at anarchy101 are the only people who don't worship cops or gang members. Everywhere else I have been 90% of people think the cops can do no wrong, and those are the people that think that all gang members are losers/ idiots (these are middle-class morons who have never met a single gang member), versus the 10% of society who thinks that their neighborhood "set"can do no wrong. Apparently there are only five people in all of society who disagree with these two positions, and all five of those people are gathered on this post.

Every other so-called anarchist I've ever met falls into the 10%. I'd like to type more examples but I really don't have enough room here but this subject is extremely under discussed. Outside of this post, the only people criticizing gang culture are cop lovers and military worshipers, I suppose we are the only people in the world to criticize gang culture FROM the counterculture. Or maybe I just haven't found the right group of people yet.
i have no idea who these people are who are telling you that if people are jumping you, you must be rich.
that is some craziness, and would drive me nuts too.
I'm going to type a more readable and coherent comment since after 10 years I have finally found a place where I can have a reasonable discussion on this matter. Basically there is the other 90% of society that worships cops and 10% of society that worships gang members but I guess worship is an exaggeration and so I shouldn't say that. It's more like they just see them as heroes and as neighborhood protectors and it goes to the point where they will make excuses for anything bad that is done saying that their lives are super rough the 10% of society that always sides with gang members uses pretty much the same methods as the 90% of society that always sides with police.

Nobody actually comes out and says "gang violence is primarily a problem which effects the wealthy" because that would sound dumb. It is more of an implication made.  There were two completely different groups involved, there were the skater kids who looked up to the strength and the struggle of the thug mentality, but this probably only applied to South Euclid Ohio in 2002 if you were a teenager I guess, but some of those white kids from the suburbs got together with some black kids from the ghetto who really were in a gang and they all jumped me together. I was told by the skater kids or whatever that I should respect the gang members because they were protecting the neighborhood.

These Stoner kids wearing echo and South Pole are NOT the same thing as the social justice majors, who also have quite a few rosie things to say about gang members because of their  "respect for the struggles of..." but it apparently doesn't have the hyper masculinity around it, or the so they say it doesn't. It seems that the upper middle-class social justice warriors have found a way to hyper masculinate "black men and boys who are forced to join gangs" above all other low income people, by lionizing them and their struggles, while simultaneously pretending to have no concept of what masculinity is.

Social justice warriors don't directly say anything on low income issues because they believe that is white people it is not in their place to do so, they don't seem to realize that some low income people are white, when I type to them they seem to type to me as if I am a middle-class person who is merely visiting the neighborhood that I have lived in for years, or perhaps they might believe that I'm a wealthy landlord who lives here. They don't seem to realize that I'm just some dude from the ghetto on welfare, people seem to laugh at me when I say that and then they go on about how I'm not from Austria because the word ghetto is supposed to be something with Jews in Austria. I'm just using the words that I heard on TV when I was a kid in the 90s but it seems like everybody just wants to debate words with me, except when people are screaming in my face about not respecting cops or gang members enough. It's not something that people do that often but it is something that occasionally entire rooms full of people have done to me. It takes a very particular environment and cultural surrounding to get that effect.

It's people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson who speak of black women who are victims of crime as if they are in cahoots with middle-class white society, in rare cases where black men attack black women (not extremely rare but rarer then white racists would think), I mean rare as in both parties just happen to be black, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson will defends the man from being discriminated against in a court of law, but will not do the same for the woman.

Pretty much everybody who questions the police is part of the 10% of society that...

I hope no one is offended by me cutting out here but I think you get my point. my comment is about to run way over 8000 characters I believe I need start a new thread on this topic somewhere because I pretty much have to write a book on misguided white liberals here realizing gang members above low income people who are not in gangs, not realizing that said people are indeed low income.

It's not a direct thing, most of these white liberals don't really spend that much time thinking about gangs and it really is a very minor detail in their ideology, most of which I agree with. But it's a very small detail the drives me insane because I cannot get them to see eye to eye with me on the subject, I just want to be able to see gang members as human beings, it's annoying enough with middle-class conservatives saying that all gang members are idiots or losers which isn't true, it's even more annoying when everybody else keeps getting angry at my anger with being a low income person who's family has been the repeated victims of robbery and being jumped. When I say family it is actually just me and my single mom who is in her 50s.

Once I'm able to type at full length on this subject my ramblings will be more coherent.
We all benefit from hearing experiences we may never experience ourselves.  i'm grateful you shared yours.
Thoughtful critique of our own blind spots are always beneficial (though not always welcomed by some.)  Dot is right in encouraging you to write another.  (Gelderloos has written some very good critiques, though on different subjects, and i'm working through Wolfi Lanstreicher now; i look forward to adding yours to the reading list.)
i'm glad to have you here, but again encourage you to write something and post it some place that is more about long form declaratory essays... as this format is (obviously) not conducive to it.
zinelibrary, theanarchistlibrary, anarchistnews, are only some of the places that are available online.
as for whether there's an audience, one of the many things that writing does is allow you to find other people who agree with you (as well as plenty who don't), and also to help people who haven't thought about it figure out what they think (in other words, writing things also *creates* an audience).
zine power! ;)
I type something about wanting to kill cops and gang members. Whenever I try to type anything less extreme no one is interested and no one types back to me. Here is the general gist of what most "anarchists"will reply back to me...

"cops and gang members are totally different classes of people.
cops perpetuate a system of oppression. most cops delibrately abuse the system to commit violence, and those that dont commit violence acts just by upholding the lat (ejecting families from homes, arresting drug users/homeless ppl etc).
gang members are victims of systems of oppression and are trying to survive it. gangs are built out of communities of poor people, almost entirely black people and POC. the internal politics are fucked up and there is violence but there are also gang members who work against that violence and try to help young people in their community understand the world and stuff. gangs exist partially because of police and entirely because of the system that creates the police.

gang members jump people for a lot of reasons but if someone is white/very white passing and/or doesnt look poor as shit in their neighborhood, they are either trying to make money how they can and/or enacting violence upward in the structure. also individual people are shitty. some people will just be overly violent because they are aggressive because their lives fucking suck.
it's totally different from the aggression police develop because they have power over others and enjoy/want/have to suppress people.

and i assure you most white people think gangs aren't 'cool' they think theyre dangerous and awful and they stereotype the shit out of them. there's shit wrong with gangs but unless you are a poor black person growing up in that environment that isn't your place to critique. ultimately gangs are defensive communities of an oppressed people, police are the oppressors. (kill cops, work with/respect gangs [depending on whether or not they support other violence like rape])"

How does this asshole know that my life doesn't "fucking suck"? I could tell her that it does. I've listened to 20 years of this crap. There really is a difference between police and gangs, it is true that most low income gang members have more encouragement toward their violent ways. But that still doesn't make it okay to take that oppression out on low income people who are forced to live in that neighborhood.

There are a lot of people it seems to see things this way. 10% of society sees things this way as I said above, the other 90% are too busy worshiping the police and military.
Is this a direct quote from a forum somewhere? The speaker seems fixated on a mental cartoon of black=oppressed (=good, somehow?) and police=oppressors. I'm guessing this essentialization is caused by a combination of not having direct experience and intellectual lazyness, as well as being surrounded by similarly lazy and clueless people. Try chipping away at the cartoon by backing up everything you say with examples from your life, and insisting that she do the same. Point out that gangs are mini states (yes they are partly defensive in nature; so are all states, so what?) , and often worse than the one we have now. Back this up.

Then again, this is a person who directly claimed that you, the victim of oppression, aren't allowed to object because of the color of your skin. They should be forcibly ejected like the authoritarian racist they are.

6 Answers

+3 votes
from what i know the closest thing that i have known about related reflections and practices to what you are refering to is the european individualist anarchist practice known as "illegalism" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilegalism).

The most famous practitioners of ilegalism were the notorious Bonnot Gang (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnot_Gang) who went on a bank robbery spree around all France. Illegalists adhered to what they called (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individual_reclamation) Individual reclamation which is about justifying stealing on personal dissobedience reasons of "spooks" in the Max Stirner sense like private proterty and markets.

Some illegalists went beyonf personal rebelion against the system and could also give to anarchist collectives and trade unions. Another tendency that appeared strongly in Spain, Argentina and Italy known as "expropriative anarchism" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expropriative_anarchism) justified robbery in order to finance revolutionary activities and included at some points notorious anarchists such as Buenaventura Durruti and Severino Di Giovanni. In contemporary insurrectionary anarchist circles in Italy and Greece Illegalism and Expropriative anarchism has been widely practiced and in Spain there is the well known case of Lucio Urtubia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucio_Urtubia) who forged currency and developed a wider illegalist operation alongside other people in order to finance anarchist and revolutionary activities.

Similar reasons and traits of these two things are definitely present in contemporary "apolitical" street gangs. Some gangs appear in part for collective self defense in a territory and end up becoming huge corporations for profit (the mara salvatrucha is an example of this). A lot could be developed on these lines i think.
answered Aug 15, 2011 by iconoclast (3,380 points)
there is a piece by aufheben on the LA riots that gets into this a bit.

edited to change from "answer" to comment. just links aren't useful as answers, and this isn't even a link.
aufheben are not anarchists.
not trying to be pedantic, just sayin'.
Our influences included the Italian autonomia movement of 1969-77, the situationists, and others who took Marx's work as a basic starting point and used it to develop the communist project beyond the anti-proletarian dogmatisms of Leninism (in all its varieties) and to reflect the current state of the class struggle. We also recognized the moment of truth in versions of class struggle anarchism, the German and Italian lefts and other tendencies.
i.e. close enough for me...
I define government as a group of people that hold the monopoly on force and violence in a given area. Violence+territory=government. therefore, gangs fit just perfectly in that definition and deserve the same treatment the police do.

edited to make a comment.
+2 votes
I would suggest various writings associated with Bash Back!, a now-defunct queer anarchist tendency that some identified as a gang, or as composed of many gangs.

If you take a good look at that body of work, you'll find a lot of debate and thought about the questions of identity, image, and organizational structure that you mentioned.

All of those questions are brought up in this: http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/10500
Also see: http://sketchythoughts.blogspot.com/2010/09/reflections-on-demise-of-bash-back.html

Not BB!, but also see Modesto Anarcho on forming crews.

Similar ideas have actually been circulating in anarchist writing in the past few years, I just can't think of other titles.

edit: I just realized that Call by the Invisible Committee talks about gang-style organization as well.
answered Nov 7, 2011 by anok (19,530 points)
edited Dec 13, 2011 by anok
+1 vote
a gang is just a union that isn't legitimized by the state.  Anarchists tend to have a lot of analysis and criticism of unions and most of it should be applicable to street gangs as well.
answered Nov 14, 2011 by Taigarun (1,890 points)
Once again I'm editing here as my rage has simmered down a lot since finding the four five or six of you here on the web. The problem is finding a demand, most of us low income people don't really have a desire to change anything. I don't know why we have to be so brainwashed by rural and inner-city culture, but there seems to be no demand.

I love your idea Dot, we just need to find a demand somehow. There's only three groups of people who really care about the subject at all, and those three are as following:

1. People who are from gang culture who might be interested in the actual politics, such as who runs what now etc., You won't see anyone actually questioning the culture though.

2. Upper middle-class white liberals who consider it racist to criticize gang culture, but who will say something about "young black men and boys forced to join gangs", these people will speak of the struggles of gang members, and I guess everything runs along fine as long as you're not a low income white person who comes from a gang run neighborhood. If you fail to mention that the gang members your complaining about are white, prepare to get your head bitten off by these idiotic social justice warriors. These people side with "gang members" in very subtle ways and you will never hear them actually say "I hate everyone who isn't a gang member". You just hear a whole lot about the struggles of people forced to join gangs, and you never hear about the struggles of people jumped by gangs.

Gangs aren't really a big issue with upper middle-class white liberals. It's not something they talk about very often. Of course, social justice warriors can scream pretty loud about things they only spent two minutes of their life discussing or learning about, and anything related to gangs is one of these issues.

3. The only people criticizing gang culture other than us five or so people, are Christian conservatives including a lot of black male Democratic voting Christian conservatives. Either way the message is the same, rather than spreading a message against aggression and egocentrism, the message is anti-sex pro-police and full of crap. because middle-class white liberals consider it racist to affect inner-city culture in any way shape or form, if you are born low income in this country you will never be able to access liberal society in any way shape or form, you will spend your entire life pinned between gang culture and Christian conservatism offered as the only two cultural outlets.

The surprising thing is that there seems to be no demand for liberalism in the inner-city or rural areas. Most people think that we already are liberal, that's because most people are stupid enough to think that being liberal has something to do with voting Democratic. Perhaps we can write an article about the disenfranchisement of low income people, from the LA riots to today. How male privilege is used and patriarchy upheld by neoliberals through black nationalist and anti-socialists tendencies.

Now they're calling socialists racists and attacking "beta males". The black nationalists and capitalist feminists at Berkeley and in Portland will stop at nothing to uphold the status quo while pretending to give a flying fuck about "people of color". given that very few black men are rapists, it seems strange to me that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would put so much energy and attention into defending the few black men who are, specifically seeking out the most Haynie us cases, often in which the victims are black women.

However, most people usually assume that the victims are white, due to the attention that neoliberal black nationalists give to the black male perpetrators. Once again, as always with neoliberals, nothing is set out right. Instead, things are suggested.

With gangs, liberals and conservatives both have an image in their head, of a middle-class white person walking into the wrong neighborhood in getting jumped. I would literally kill to get this image out of people's heads, it is a tool to demasculate low income people who are not in gangs by comparing us with posh middle-class society, rather than portraying gang violence victims and survivors as rugged and masculine lower-class men and strong women. At best we are portrayed as quaint middle-class rednecks who may have held a wrench once or twice, but we are still not hyper masculinated to the point that gang members are by neoliberal America.

Oh yeah and did I mention that most of us are black? Choke on that one middle-class liberal white race obsessed America.

Once again I got into a long rant here maybe I'll take all I posted here and put it into something coherent but it will take some time and maybe I might even need some help doing so. To be honest I think I did spend a lot of time just ranting about wanting to kill gang members and maybe that is why I got such crappy responses, but to be fair I think that sometimes I was being reasonable, either way maybe I'll just keep trying, at least now I have hope because I found the five people here who seem to be the only five in the world who are willing to try to form a rational opinion on this subject.

Forgive me for some of the strange spelling errors, I use speech recognition software and it takes forever to correct things.
hi cleveland_1988. sorry to hear things have been so hard for you.
can you make this post a comment instead of an answer? (just hit edit, and there's a box where you can click "make a comment".)
as for the point of your post, knee-jerk responses are definitely frustrating, and the romance that some people feel towards "community" (in this case symbolized by gangs) blinds them to the more complicated realities. (add to that, that people often distance themselves from victim/survivors because of discomfort with bad things happening to people, ie they want to make it something that you can fix, rather than recognizing it as something larger...)
perhaps writing your more well-rounded perspective into a zine would allow you to both challenge people's ideas, and express your feelings?
just a thought.
+1 vote
here is one anarchist's analysis of street gangs, based on my own experience with them back in my youth (when gangs were admittedly a bit different than the heavily armed, sign-flashers i see these days). albeit a very brief - and not very deep - one.

street gangs tend to be hyper-authoritarian, oppressive, anti-freedom, anti-individual, very into enforced rules and controlling behavior, with delusions of grandeur and a huge cult of personality.

when i was a youth and very friendly with 2 gangs in my neighborhood, i did not see any of that as a problem. but maybe i did have some visceral aversion to it; maybe that is why i never became a formal member (even though i did get the tattoo they all had - though i got mine quite a bit smaller than everyone else). hedging, i guess. :-)
answered Jun 7, 2014 by funkyanarchy (10,180 points)
+1 vote
Jacques Camatte wrote this specifically about leninist parties, but the use of the terms "rackets" and "gangs" is still applicable.


From this point [that is, under capitalism], a social fabric forms based on the competition of rival "organizations" (rackets).

Once within the gang (or any type of business) the individual is tied to it by all the psychological dependencies of capitalist society.

The desire to belong to a gang comes from the wish to be identified with a group that embodies a certain degree of prestige, theoretical prestige for intellectuals and organizational prestige for so-called practical men...  Prestige and exclusion are the signs of competition in all its forms; and so also among these gangs, which must vaunt their originality, their prestige, in order to attract notice. This is why the cult of the organization and the glorification of the peculiarities of the gang develop.

In practice, anonymity – understood simply as anti-individualism - means unbridled exploitation of the gang members to the profit of the direction clique, which gains prestige from everything the gang produces... What maintains an apparent unity in the bosom of the gang is the threat of exclusion. Those who do not respect the norms are rejected with calumny; and even if they quit, the effect is the same. This threat also serves as psychological blackmail for those who remain. This same process appears in different ways in different types of gangs.

In the youth gang, the individual is beaten up or killed. Here, where we find revolt in its raw form, delinquency; the lone individual is weak, lacks protection, and so is forced to join a gang.
answered Jun 7, 2014 by lawrence (18,030 points)
0 votes
anonymous and/or Nachie, I know what you're thinkin/feelin on this. I'm a social/egalitarian/buddhist/anarchist. What you're thinkin, and I've always had this idea in the back of my mind, it'd be like a motorcycle gang. Like one percenters only we don't want to be gangsters/criminals that live free but make the world a worse place. Ideally I would love to have a group of people (who i might refer to as my "family" or my "inner circle", lol:) believe in and think important the same shit i do. do what u like but do no evil. I'll never be mean or rude or talk shit to somebody. But if u do it to me I may feel like saying "dude.. u know why that shit is no good? It makes the world a worse place for us both, as well as everyone else, for a much longer period of time." Now i'm just waiting (almost hoping, lol) for this dude to say some shit that will get me high as fuck on one of the best and cheapest fucking drugs available.. adrenaline. lol.  I'll probably add more shit later but I have ADD like u can't imagine. I hope i do because i didn't even explain how i think/feel your idea/concept to be practical, righteous, productive and effective.
answered Aug 14, 2014 by jamesrichter123 (120 points)