readings for 6.6

we agreed to read the dark mountain manifesto, which is here.

and lew also suggested a piece that i was not sure was online, but here it is, some critical thoughts on endnotes (probably not from an anarchist? haven’t read it yet), so for those of us ready to move on to new things… here’s this. perhaps the next study group can be a duet of the two pieces in turn?

The Bleak Left – On Endnotes

Endnotes 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the 20th Century, 2008.
Endnotes 2: Misery and the Value Form, 2010.
Endnotes 3: Gender, Race, Class and Other Misfortunes, 2013.
Endnotes 4: Unity in Separation, 2015.
IT’S NO SECRET that the collapse of international communism from 1989 to 1991 forced many Marxists into defensive positions. What’s less well understood is why so many others took the opportunity to abjure some of Marxism’s most hallowed principles. Perry Anderson, in a surprisingly admiring review-essay on Francis Fukuyama from 1992, concluded by soberly assessing what remained of socialism. At the center of socialist politics, he wrote, had always been the idea that a new order of things would be created by a militant working class, “whose self-organization prefigured the principles of the society to come.” But in the real world, this group had “declined in size and cohesion.” It wasn’t that it had simply moved from the developed West to the East; even at a global level, he noted, “its relative size as a proportion of humanity is steadily shrinking.” The upshot was that one of the fundamental tenets of Marxism was wrong. The future offered an increasingly smaller, disorganized working class, incapable of carrying out its historic role.
In 1992, calling oneself a “socialist” was an anachronism. Today it is a label with which millions of Americans identify. A self-described “democratic socialist” came agonizingly close to winning the Democratic Party primaries in 2016. And the premise that Anderson felt we should abandon has been nonchalantly reassumed. Articles in Jacobin, the most popular socialist publication to appear in the United States in decades, routinely conclude with a reaffirmation of the place of the working class at the center of socialist politics.
But lost in the heady rush of leftist revival is the still-nagging problem of agency. The fortunes of the organized working class have never been more dire. In the advanced capitalist core, unions have recovered some prestige but not even a fraction of their midcentury power, while the historical European parties of the Socialist International continue their slow collapse. In the Global South, the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) and South Africa’s ANC–Communist–trade union alliance, rare bright spots after 1989, are losing credibility after decades of accommodation to private economic prerogatives. There are, in absolute terms, more industrial workers than ever, and probably as much industrial conflict. But there is no sense that as the working class becomes larger, it is becoming more unified. The end of the end of history has not seen the resumption of the forward march of labor.
In fact, Marxists have been worried about workers for a long time. After 1917, workers tried to take power in Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Spain; their defeat led to fascism. Beginning with Antonio Gramsci, Marxists outside the Soviet Union tried to understand what went wrong. As fascism and armed resistance gave way to social democracy and a moderated capitalism, some radicals consigned the working class to history altogether. It was harder, though, to discard the idea that someone, somehow, would bring socialism to the world. Peasants, national-liberation movements, students, and the incarcerated all provided substitutes. With the emergence of movements like environmentalism and gay liberation after the 1960s, many decided that the whole idea of a revolutionary subject was misguided. Why not recognize a plurality of movements, emerging unpredictably and united not by objective interest but by creative alliances? Today, even as discussions of economic inequality abound, this pluralism remains common sense in activist circles.
But this solution has not satisfied everyone. In 2008, a slim journal published by an anonymous collective began to circulate within the thinning ranks of the revolutionary left. Its cover was solid green except for the journal’s name, Endnotes, in white, and a subtitle, “Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century,” in black. The text was produced by a discussion group formed in Brighton, UK, in 2005 with origins in long-running debates in the German and French ultraleft. (Over time the group broadened to include participants in California.) Authorship wasn’t really secret; you could find bylined references scattered across CVs and footnotes. But collective authorship was key to the distinctive voice, something like the crossfire of an unusually well-prepared reading group recollected in tranquility. The essays run on, sometimes more than ten thousand words, to simulate the modulations of conversation. Disciplinary specializations sit side by side, with notes on Kant and Schelling following graphs of employment patterns in UK manufacturing. The style is by turns earnest (“The communisation of social relations among seven billion people will take time”), bleak (“There is always someone more abject than you”), and droll (“Proletarians do not have to see anyone they do not like, except at work”). It is a journal whose scope, rigor, and utter lack of piety make it one of the consistently challenging left-wing periodicals of our time. In 2014, Anderson himself called it one of the “most impressive publications to emerge in the Bush-Obama era.”
Endnotes emerged from narrow Marxist debates, but in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, the journal supplemented theory with exhaustive analysis of social movements. For the editors, our current age of riots and occupations demands that we confront again the unfashionable question of the revolutionary subject. The editorial collective describes itself as “communist”; its members want the abolition of capitalism, which because of its powerful self-reinforcing tendencies can only be overcome by a coherent social force. But what group of people has enough in common to imagine itself as a social force and also has the strategic leverage to change the world? Unlike many socialists, the editors of Endnotes do not reflexively answer, “The working class.” They ask the question in order to show that this cannot possibly be the answer.
THE FIRST ISSUE OF ENDNOTES contained a translation, with commentary, of a debate between the militant Gilles Dauvé and the French editorial collective Théorie Communiste. Dauvé and TC began publishing in the 1970s, lonely inheritors of the tradition of anti-Bolshevik (or ultraleftist) communism that ran from Karl Korsch to the Situationist International. They argued that the European left — whether social democratic, Leninist, or anarcho-syndicalist — aspired to “take over the same world and manage it in a new way,” whether through government ownership, the dictatorship of the proletariat, or workers’ councils. Real communism (the abolition of “exchange, money, commodities, the existence of separate enterprises, the state and — most fundamentally — wage labour and the working class itself”) was imagined, if at all, as something waiting far in the future.
Dauvé and TC reject the idea that communism could be instated “after the revolution.” Instead, the revolution itself would take place through the establishment of communist social relations — a process they called “communization.” Communization is an elusive concept, but it seems to define a politics in which the tactics themselves establish alternatives to capitalism. Think of the difference between a socialist party winning an election in a capitalist country and a crowd of rioters passing out food they looted from a warehouse. In the first case, the socialists cannot help but assume responsibility for running the economy they inherit while they assemble an alternative economy piecemeal. In the second, the riot itself embodies an alternative form of distributing wealth. The communizing current, always tiny, enjoyed a moment of prominence when its slogans (“Occupy everything, demand nothing”) were emblazoned on public universities in California during protests against a rise in tuition in 2009. They reappeared during Occupy Wall Street in 2011.
Radicals always accuse one another of being insufficiently radical. But there is a deeper argument between Dauvé and Théorie Communiste. For Dauvé, associated with a journal called Invariance, communism is an eternal idea, “an ever-present (if at times submerged) possibility,” latent in all workers’ movements. As the left surged in 1917, 1936, and 1968, the promised land came into view, but because of betrayals, hesitation, and tactical errors, no one ever got there. In TC’s view, endorsed by Endnotes, these failures were unavoidable. Different historical situations call for different kinds of struggle. There is no point in criticizing earlier movements for being bad communists, because the idea of communization could only emerge from the most recent stage of capitalism.
Endnotes/TC elaborate this position by dividing workers’ struggles into stages. The century stretching from Marx to the 1970s was the age of “programmatism” (named for the ambitious political platforms — the Gotha Program, the Erfurt Program, the Godesberg Program — routinely issued by socialist parties during this period). Workers focused on capturing industrial production by organizing labor parties, going on strike, or occupying factories. They acted as though they were central to industry and to society as a whole. For a time, no strategy seemed more sensible. The number of industrial wage workers was growing rapidly, and many of them shared experiences and interests. Together, they discovered power: a strike in steel or coal made the entire economy scream. Many shared Marx’s confidence in “a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.”
History was not kind to these premises. After May 1968, ultraleftists watched for the reemergence of insurrectionary workers’ councils. But absenteeism, sabotage, theft, and walkouts were more common than calls for self-management. Rather than reorganizing work to their liking, workers preferred not to work at all. Drawing on the work of Robert Brenner, Endnotes attributes this negative orientation to transformations within capitalism. The percentage of manufacturing employment had peaked by the late ’60s and was on the decline. In the ’70s, industry reached overcapacity, resulting in cratering profits. Capitalists responded by breaking unions, shuttering plants, and moving production to places where labor was cheaper and regulations more lax. But even where wages were low, automation displaced human labor at dizzying rates. Workers weren’t being brought together. They were losing their jobs, their shifts, and everything they once held in common. If politics was possible at all for “a working class in transition, a working class tending to become a class excluded from work,” it would not resemble the “programmatist” era.
THE IDEA THAT “the working class as such cannot be the focus of revolutionary theory” was an awkward starting point for a Marxist journal. The second issue of Endnotes (2010) dwelled in this discomfort. Marx himself clearly valued parties, programs, and demands. He held that communism required a transition period, during which workers would be paid with coupons according to hours worked. And money wasn’t the worst thing that would outlive capitalism. Even the immediate abolition of child labor, Marx thought, was “incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish.”
Endnotes conceded that Marx, as a participant in the workers’ movement, held positions that were once plausible and politically useful, though in retrospect inadequate. But they also believed that Marx had anticipated their own postworker perspective — a reading they derived from a mostly German current known as “value-form theory.” In the orthodox reading of Marx, workers produce wealth, but part of their product is taken away from them by their employers; under socialism, workers will produce wealth in much the same way but receive the full value of their labor. This analysis suggests a vision of socialism in which, as Lenin wrote, “the whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labor and pay.” The value-form theorists reject this view. On their reading, the problem with capitalism is not how the products of labor are distributed but the fact that society is organized around labor in the first place.
People have always worked to produce useful things. But under capitalism, labor becomes the basis of all social relationships. Marx tried to describe this novelty with his distinction between abstract and concrete labor. In every kind of society, people perform concrete labor — for example, turning a piece of leather into a shoe. In a capitalist economy, people also work in order to acquire the products of other people’s labor. The shoemaker makes shoes so that he can buy a car, produced by autoworkers he will never meet. This form of social organization — in which workers essentially trade their labor — requires that every form of concrete labor be measurable according to a common metric, as if all were products of “abstract labor,” or labor as such. For Marx, this metric is labor time. Workers receive an hourly wage, which they use to buy products whose prices reflect labor costs. Firms compete over the relative cost of their products, forcing them to minimize labor costs and maximize productivity. Society as a whole comes to be organized around the production of value generally, not specific use-values to satisfy specific human needs, and the labor process is constantly reshaped and degraded by the imperative to produce efficiently. Given this reading, socialism would be not a giant factory, but a world where wealth and value no longer took the form of congealed labor time. (The positive form it would take has never been clear.) Here, Endnotes found a German rhyme for the French ultraleft position that workers need to leave the workplace, not seize it.
A crucial part of Endnotes’s reading of Marx was empirical. It was always assumed, by Marxists and bourgeois theorists alike, that the dynamics of capitalism would swell the ranks of wage laborers in industrial employment. And for a while this was true: industry did grow, up to a point, in the capitalist core, and over time this model spread to “developing” countries. But as Endnotes pointed out, industrial wage workers never became even a simple majority anywhere (except, briefly, Belgium).
Marx himself had noted that capitalism “presses to reduce labor time to a minimum” as it destroys the once-ubiquitous arrangements through which people directly produced the things they needed. The result he anticipated was a growing number of people who needed to find work at the very moment their human labor was no longer needed — “a surplus population,” in Marx’s phrase. What he failed to anticipate was the emergence of industries like automobiles that, despite being mostly capital intensive, also required large numbers of laborers. But according to Endnotes, the new industries and the state managers who facilitated their rise could only delay the inevitable. Marxists have waited long enough that Marx is right again: we have a surplus population.
Not only communists believe this time may be different. As a more famous unbylined English magazine, the Economist, put it in 2014: “Previous technological innovation has always delivered more long-run employment, not less. But things can change.” Around the world, more than a billion people can only dream of selling their labor power. From the point of view of employers, they are unneeded for production, even at the lowest wages. Even in China, the new workshop of the world, there were no net industrial jobs created between 1993 and 2006. The size of China’s industrial workforce — around 110 million people — is vast in absolute terms. But relative to the population of China, the number suggests the limited demand for industrial labor, not just in Detroit but around the world.
In the United States, with unemployment below 5 percent, it seems fanciful to talk about the end of wage labor. Seen globally, the exceptional character of the American economy is stark. So is the challenge of imagining a strategy that would benefit or even make sense to proletarians scattered across a planet of slums. Endnotes’s pessimism resonates with mainstream economics, especially Dani Rodrik’s conclusions in a series of papers on “premature deindustrialization.” Rodrik finds that developing countries “are running out of industrialization opportunities sooner and at much lower levels of income compared to the experience of early industrializers,” but maintains that while this “premature deindustrialization” closes off familiar development strategies, there may be alternative routes to growth. Endnotes takes the darker view that these billions are “pure surplus” whom the system will never find an interest in exploiting. “It exists now only to be managed: segregated into prisons, marginalized in ghettos and camps, disciplined by the police, and annihilated by war.” Even in the US, the low official unemployment numbers conceal millions of prisoners literally locked out of the formal economy.
The displacement of human labor from industrial production has not been ignored in recent left-wing thought. In fact, technological change has generated widespread enthusiasm for “postwork” or “antiwork” strains of Marxism, a tendency captured in slogans like “accelerationism” and “fully automated luxury communism.” For these thinkers, the crisis of industrial employment can be solved by letting robots do work while the former working class, now sustained by a guaranteed minimum income, devotes itself to noneconomic pursuits. It is an attractive idea, both because of the elegance of the solution (No jobs? Abolish work!) and because it is more pleasant to imagine a future in which upper-middle-class fecklessness, rather than favela desperation, is the future for the entire planet.
Endnotes would likely object, perhaps by invoking one of their favorite lines (slightly restated, in their version) from Marx: “Communism is not an idea or a slogan. It is the real movement of history, the movement which — in the rupture — gropes its way out of history.” We can sit around all day talking about the future we want, but we don’t get to choose how capitalism ends. In a memorable essay about logistics, Jasper Bernes takes aim at the techno-optimists who believe we can seize “the globally distributed factory” system and do with it what we wish.1 Bernes argues instead that many forms of economic organization wouldn’t make sense under socialism. He takes logistics — rearranging supply chains and transport costs — as his example. The complex logistical innovations that keep Walmart’s shelves stocked are designed not to maximize productivity but to leverage the competition between different low-wage national economies. “Without those differentials” — presumably abolished under socialism — “most supply-chains would become both wasteful and unnecessary.” Revolutionaries cannot simply take over and “reconfigure” the supply chains; they can only obstruct them — blockading ports, blowing up warehouses, sabotaging trucks. This may sound like anarchist fantasy, but for Bernes and Endnotes these tactics follow from the strictest realism. The questions they ask are not easily dismissed. In the heroic age of 20th-century revolutions, for example, people could expect that
some large percentage of the means of production for consumer goods were ready to hand, and one could locate, in one’s own region, shoe factories and textile mills and steel refineries. A brief assessment of the workplaces in one’s immediate environs should convince most of us — in the US at least, and I suspect most of Europe — of the utter unworkability of the reconfiguration thesis. . . . Most of these jobs pertain to use-values that would be rendered non-uses by revolution. To meet their own needs and the needs of others, these proletarians would have to engage in the production of food and other necessaries, the capacity for which does not exist in most countries.

This antinormative stance is part of what makes Endnotes so fascinating: surely there has never been such a sober magazine of the ultraleft. Its pages are completely empty of exhortations, special pleading, and wishful thinking. The contrast with most political writing is clear, and reading the journal makes one aware of how much left-wing writing traffics in vague optimism. But in the very success of their criticism, the editors place themselves in a rigor trap, where it is hard to see how their own politics could survive the same kind of withering analysis they apply to others. Bernes writes quite reasonably, for example, that it is “politically non-workable” to expect that “15 percent or so of workers whose activities would still be useful [after the revolution] would work on behalf of others.” But he believes, with the Endnotes collective, that communism is somehow workable. It is as if someone has given you a dazzling lecture on the dangers of drinking coffee before offering you a line of coke.
BETWEEN ISSUES two (2010) and three (2013), the Arab world revolted. Huge crowds took over squares in Spain and Greece, while somewhat smaller crowds did the same across the US. Riots raged across England for almost a week, and the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. Endnotes deployed the concept of surplus populations to explore how this “intensification of struggle” could occur without “the return of a workers’ identity.” The crisis of class was evident in the masses of unemployed young people in the squares. It was also clear in the icons of the movements: Mohamed Bouazizi and Eric Garner weren’t striking workers but street vendors harassed by the police. Instead of prescribing a dose of Marxism to the protesters, the editors asked Marxists to take a lesson from the absence of workers’ rhetoric in the new movements.
According to Endnotes, the shape of the new struggles was determined by the ongoing decomposition of the working class into heterogeneous fractions. None of these fractions could plausibly present itself as representative of the common interest, as industrial workers had done. Rather, stagnant growth rates and regimes of austerity had sharpened the conflict between different kinds of proletarians. Pensioners and unemployed youth, “native” citizens and immigrants, public employees and nonunionized workers, all found themselves competing for shares in a shrinking pie. What they had in common — the need to earn a living — made them rivals, even enemies.
Endnotes called this predicament “the riddle of composition”: which class fractions might add up to a political threat? The movement of the squares answered the riddle by repressing differences under the sign of “the people” (as evidenced in slogans ranging from Occupy’s “Bail out the people” to the Arab Spring’s “The people demand the fall of the regime”). The populist rhetoric, as well as the characteristic refusal of programmatic demands, eschewed specificity in order to make room for as many groups as possible. Since the “people” ranged from downwardly mobile professionals to the destitute, they could not come together in “neighborhoods, schools, job centers, workplaces.” Their common identity existed only in the squares, where exacting democratic procedures supposedly heralded a new society. With physical presence as their only leverage, the movements evaporated when the squares were cleared.
Elsewhere in issue three, Endnotes addressed the rioting that swept England after the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, London, in August 2011. “It would take quite an optimist to find in all this any literal harbingers of revolution or of building class struggle,” they concluded. But riots and looting provided a glimpse of a future where repression by the police was more important than fights with the boss, and the fiercest struggles raged at sites of consumption rather than production. For Endnotes, this was not exploitation but “abjection” — the condition of being excluded from prevailing social forms of wealth and dignity but unable to exit the system. The abject is the opposite of the “affirmable” identity of the classical labor movement. Workers used to sing “without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel could turn,” or “we have been naught; we shall be all.” Today, the casualties of capital are better characterized by the title of Marc Lamont Hill’s recent book on Ferguson, Flint, and beyond: Nobody.
Abjection is bound up with racism — consider the exclusion marked in older phrases like “ghetto” and “the underclass.” In issue four (2015), Endnotes analyzed Black Lives Matter as an inheritor of the failures of Occupy Wall Street. “Black” described a group smaller than “the 99 percent,” but it reflected a more concrete social reality, and perhaps a more subversive potential. No one but the homeless had an existential stake in Occupy — something that could not be said of the movement for black lives. Despite the existence of class distinctions among black Americans, there was less distance between the black upper class and the black proletariat than there was between rich and poor whites. But as the movement grew, the distinctions would become harder to ignore. The authors pointed to a cleavage between those from the nationally prominent activist layer (who, whatever their origins, were likely to have attended college) and the lower-profile, more victimized, and possibly more active residents of places like Ferguson and Sandtown-Winchester, who first took the streets when their neighbors were killed.
Black Lives Matter did remarkable work suturing these divisions. For instance, DeRay McKesson, who went from Teach for America to Ferguson to a six-figure job as chief human-capital officer in the Baltimore public schools, has consistently refused to condemn rioting. In the terms of Endnotes’s Marxism, the class elasticity of blackness (a category stretching from Freddie Gray to Barack Obama) could not be dismissed if it was still able to “induce such large-scale dynamic mobilizations in the American population.” But the cleavage was real nonetheless, confirmed by the unsolved murder in September 2016 of Ferguson activist Darren Seals. After his death, national news outlets reported that Seals, who had been beside Michael Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, on the night of Darren Wilson’s nonindictment, had become a fierce, even violent critic of national BLM leaders like McKesson, whom Seals had accused in social-media posts of “making millions on top of millions because of the work we put in, in FERGUSON.”
Understanding the Endnotes position on race and gender requires grappling with the particular meaning they assign to the words capital and capitalism. For most Marxists, the working class is the protagonist of history. For Endnotes, the subject of recent history is capital. This is somewhat strange, since capital is not a person or a group of people with intentions or goals. Rather, capital here is a shorthand for the whole web of social relations among people living in capitalist societies. These social relations, viewed across historical time, have a distinct pattern of motion, whose course no individual could consciously choose or hope to master. The result of this motion has been the displacement of labor from production and the emergence of surplus populations. Class relations, such as those between workers and their employers, play a role in these developments. For example, when unions raise the cost of hiring workers, capitalists may choose to automate production; or when socialists seize power in an underdeveloped country, they may institute a five-year plan for industrialization. This makes class conflict a constituent part of capital, not a force capable of transcending it.
The workers’ movement imagined the development of capitalism would undermine nonclass identities by drawing more and more people into increasingly uniform factories. According to Endnotes, this assumption was always misguided. The number of people dependent on the market has always included many who never enter into a wage contract, such as housewives and slaves, to name two indispensable examples. With the onset of deindustrialization, the inadequacy of class as a unifying concept has become clearer than ever. Accordingly, Endnotes accords “gender, race, class and other misfortunes” equal importance.2 But this is not because they see different forms of oppression as plural and incommensurable. Capitalism is still a single integrated whole, but it depends on and generates many forms of social conflict.
In some cases, it is easy to see what this means: gender and race exist in historically specific forms, and today these forms are shaped by the unfolding of capitalist value production. To take just one example, Endnotes thinks capitalism could not exist without a separate, domestic sphere where human life is created and sustained without the direct mediation of the market. Without this separation, capitalists would be responsible for the upkeep of the working class, a contradiction in a system premised on the employer’s ability to free himself of workers by firing them. It works the other way, too: before capitalism there was no “domestic” sphere, as most production took place in households, with men commanding (rather than hiring) the labor of their wives and children.
So far, so good: two forms — class and gender — depend on each other for their existence. What is trickier to understand in Endnotes’s theory is how the forms of gender and race that exist under capitalism relate to the forms of gender and race that existed before it, or might exist after it. Since capitalism is treated as a systematic whole, the revolution must not only destroy class society but also — and simultaneously — destroy gender, race, et cetera. It’s easy to sympathize with Endnotes’s desire to resist a hierarchy of oppressions, but trying to imagine an instantaneous revolution in which every division between people is overcome at once strains both the historical and the utopian imagination. It seems far more plausible that forms such as race and gender develop unevenly, retaining aspects that predate capitalism even as they are constantly reshaped by new conditions. Likewise, it is easier to imagine a revolution that would dismantle interlocking social forms piece by piece, just as they were assembled.
Everything is about capitalism, but class is nothing special. This is the distinctive Endnotes position on the perennial conflict between identity politics and Marxism. Another way of putting it is that capitalism is a real universal, but only in the negative sense. What can billions of people, different from one another in every way, have in common besides the fact that they all need to work for a living? The upshot, for Endnotes, is that we should no longer speak about class consciousness but “consciousness of capital” — an awareness that all our fates are shaped by a single system, even though its pressures, rather than crystallizing resistance, push to break things apart.
CONTINUING THIS LINE OF ARGUMENT, Endnotes devoted the bulk of its fourth, most recent, issue to a history of the workers’ movement as a form of identity politics. From the first issue, the journal had aimed “to undermine the illusion that [the workers’ movement] is somehow ‘our’ past, something to be protected or preserved.” Here, in nearly forty thousand words, they performed their most merciless demystification yet. As they had argued before, the workers’ movement was based on the premise that the development of capitalism would forge a “collective worker” in “a compact mass,” a future already visible in the factories inhabited by semiskilled male workers. When the collective did not arrive at the appointed hour, activists responded by constructing a moral community dedicated to the collective affirmation of a workers’ identity. In socialist parties and mutual-aid societies, at picnics and in union halls, “proletarians were made to forget they were Corsican or Lyonnais” and became bound to one another as workers.
The identity was fashioned in response to pressing material problems confronting the urban proletariat. Collective action such as striking was difficult among people who did not trust one another; the propagation of an ethic of mutuality was required to get people to take risks for strangers. Furthermore, the goals of the labor movement were constrained by the exclusion from political power of the popular classes, who (outside the United States) were denied the franchise well into the late 19th century. The culture of working-class organization was partly a tool in the fight for political power: by emphasizing the dignity of labor and promoting moral causes such as temperance, the leaders of the labor movement tried to demonstrate that they represented a class worthy of inclusion in the social order. Inevitably, this involved targeting deviants within — including the lumpenproletariat scorned by Rosa Luxemburg as a counterrevolutionary “school of sharks.” In opposing bourgeois contempt for the supposedly degenerate proletariat, the proponents of workers’ identity absorbed many of the values of the dominant society, stressing the respectability and propriety of working men as well as the ability of union leaders to maintain orderly production. Workers built a movement “only insofar as they believed, and convinced others to believe, in a shared identity: the collective worker.”
In other hands, this account of class formation would be a success story, proving that the willful construction of identities can be a way to achieve power. Antonio Gramsci, breaking in his own way with orthodox Marxism, understood that the working class would not mechanically come to dominate politics in the advanced capitalist countries, and so communists would need to articulate working-class politics in a coalition with other class fractions and reinforce straightforward economic arguments with an edifice of moral and cultural authority. The political indeterminacy of class politics was a project that socialists could overcome: by exploiting the ambiguity, they could construct a winning working-class bloc in any given historical moment. The base did not determine the superstructure: canny superstructural intervention could potentially transform the economy and society overall.
By contrast, Endnotes denies that the cultural construction of class identity can ever cut sharply enough to alter the long-term course of history. The figure of “the worker,” though constructed by activists, was powerful because the reality of factory production came close enough to the myth to make it plausible. All of it was undone when the factories closed. In fact, the workers’ movement, by promoting economic “growth” and becoming a partner in production, actually helped hasten the maturity of capitalist production and, with it, its own irrelevance. Class, in the final instance, is a dependent variable dragged behind the independent motion of capital. Even the most adept organic intellectuals could never bend history in a new direction; they could only mark time until objective necessity entered a new phase, one that no longer required workers or their identities.
In a brief coda to issue four, Endnotes finds a blunt illustration of their thesis in the former Yugoslavia.3 Global capital may be largely uninterested in exploiting labor in the Balkans, but the theology of the workers’ state remains in living memory, so that “regardless of it standing idle for years, the local factory remained a place of identification and pride.” Without power over production — and facing indifferent investors — employees lose access to the conventional forms of labor conflict. When the “workers” occupy factories, to demand back wages or the resumption of production, they resort to tactics reminiscent of prison rebellions: “hunger strikes, self-mutilations and suicide threats,” including laying their bodies on train tracks. They are not bringing to birth a new world but desperately seeking a way out.
Endnotes is reluctant to suggest what might replace the workers’ movement, and constantly protests — perhaps too much — the assumption that the surplus population might be the new subject of history. But the editors strongly suggest that the basis for new forms of solidarity and struggle will be a general tendency for things to get worse. There were many college students occupying plazas, but they did so knowing they no longer represent an elite in waiting. Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were killed in “suburb[s] in transition,” hollowed out by the housing crisis. Economic decline was reflected within the movements, which frequently saw “the worse-off entering and transforming protests initiated by the better-off” — occupations and demonstrations giving way to homeless camps and lumpen riots. The entrance of poorer people often revealed that the new participatory structures were not an alternative model of meeting basic necessities. In the past, or at least this stylized rendering of the past, the involvement of more groups of people meant a revolution was growing in strength, swelling until it seemed to represent a universal cause. Today, in the absence of unifying institutions and ideas, the diversification of the protest movement only poses problems.
Endnotes’s stress on “descending modulations” leads to a pessimism that strangely converges on conservative conventional wisdom. For example, it dismisses the hope “that the state can be convinced to act rationally, to undertake a more radical Keynesian stimulus.” Even before the crisis, sovereign-debt levels had soared (reaching levels much higher than they had been in 1929, before the Great Depression). Governments, in this story, had borrowed money during bad times, intending to pay it back during the recovery. But falling growth rates meant that even when recessions ended, states had trouble finding revenue to settle their debts. These high levels of debt, carried over into the crisis, limited states’ ability to borrow more. Keynes (and his followers today, like Yanis Varoufakis) thought they could save capitalism from itself by demonstrating the folly of austerity. But for Endnotes, there is no alternative, at least until the revolution — a position disconcertingly close to right-wing dogma.
Just as they scorn antiausterity hopes, Endnotes rejects activists who think “communities would do just fine if the police stopped interfering.” The editors emphasize “a very real crime wave beginning in the late 1960s” and insist that police bring “a semblance of order to lives that no longer matter to capital.” Their account of the Ferguson experience emphasizes, to a degree uncommon outside far-right news sources, chaos and violence: the “small but significant number of guns on the streets, often fired into the air,” the nights of “shooting at police, looting, and a journalist . . . robbed,” the fact that many victims of police violence may not have been “innocent” in the straightforward sense demanded by moralizing liberals. The point is not to defend police — banished along with the rest of the state in the Endnotes ideal — but to point out the ugly realities of a decaying capitalism. Unmanageable chaos, on this reading, is one of the causes of division among supporters of BLM, drawing out some of the class contradictions already latent in it.
If the techno-utopian, accelerationist Marxism can resemble Silicon Valley dreams of pure automation, Endnotes’s Marxism bears traces of survivalist pessimism. As the laws of capitalist development take their course, we’re told, more and more people will own nothing but their labor, and find that their labor is worth nothing. Having no alternative, some of them will discover ways to “destroy the link between finding work and surviving.” Jacques Camatte, a founder of communization theory and inspiration to Endnotes, eventually became a leading anarcho-primitivist. Endnotes disavows this later Camatte, but given their insistence that communism dispense with markets and states (not to mention other capitalist mediations such as “nation [and] species”), it’s unclear what the editors think would prevent a collapse in living standards. They concede that it is “entirely possible to imagine that hating one another, and ensuring that no one gets slightly better than anyone else, will take precedence over making the revolution.” This is a staggering understatement. It’s hard to imagine global economic decline unchecked by large-scale political institutions leading to anything but Hobbesian disaster. What needs justification is the hope that Endnotes retains: that the revolution is still possible, even if “the actual means of reconnecting individuals to their capacities, outside the market and the state, are impossible to foresee.”
ENDNOTES, TOGETHER WITH similar collectives in other countries, publishes Sic: international journal of communization. Around spring 2014, Manos Manousakis, a Greek communizer who wrote for Sic about riots, began complaining to his reading group that “everything is over” and “nothing matters any more since this cycle of struggles leads nowhere.” The depth of his disillusion became clear in early 2015, when he joined the new Syriza government as Minister of Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping, and Tourism. His tenure lasted until July of that year, when along with much of Syriza’s left he resigned in protest of the government’s acceptance of humiliating terms imposed by the European Union.
Manousakis’s journey, which scandalized the international ultraleft, encapsulates the dilemma leftists face today. Rejecting the abstract antistatism of communist reading groups, he joined the parliamentary left in taking state power, only to discover the hard limits the system placed on even modest reform. Are there any other choices? It might be worth considering the central Endnotes metaphor of the “horizon” — a vision that frames all motion but that can never be reached, something that despite its omnipresence does not objectively exist. In the Endnotes critique of the workers’-movement horizon, real trends were extrapolated too far: the temporary explosion in industrial employment in Western Europe was taken to augur the transformation of global society into one big factory. The classical socialists were right that wage labor and industrial organization were reshaping society, and the strength of their analysis allowed them to achieve concrete victories: the enfranchisement of the working class across Europe, the establishment of national health services, the erosion of deference on the streets and in the workplace. But the final industrial triumph did not occur, and we face a new horizon.
But what if this new horizon, leading to class decomposition and immediate communization, is accurate in some respects but exaggerated in others? The future according to Endnotes draws attention to central trends of our time: the breakdown of capitalism’s link between work and survival, the displacement of human labor from production. A move away from the factory can be seen already in movements and discussions around the environment, guaranteed minimum income, mass incarceration, and women’s unwaged labor. But perhaps Endnotes has overcorrected. Just as the dream of the unified working class has always been haunted by its actual incoherence, the new picture of an insuperably fractured proletariat ignores the ways in which the working class is still unified and meaningful.
Many socialists share much of Endnotes’s understanding of capitalist reality without accepting their millenarian conclusions about strategy. Robert Brenner’s 2006 analysis of intercapitalist competition, The Economics of Global Turbulence, underwrites Endnotes’s claim that the global economy has been stuck in a long downturn since the 1970s. If you take their word for it, Brenner’s graphs of steadily declining manufacturing profits point a straight line to communization. But his own political comments suggest that he continues to hew to the post-Trotskyist labor radicalism he first embraced in the late 1960s: radical potential remains in the hands of the working class, provided the rank and file can shake off union bureaucrats and the Democratic Party. Workers in the global supply chain (longshoremen, warehouse workers, truck drivers) may still have the leverage once enjoyed by workers in basic industry.
Fredric Jameson, another NLR stalwart, was moved by Endnotes to proclaim that “Capital is a book about unemployment” — endorsing their central claim about surplus populations. But his recent book, An American Utopia, returns to Leninist basics to imagine how capitalism could be transcended through the transformation of existing institutions. His conclusion, that the road to revolution runs through universal military service, is self-consciously provocative and less important than the broader message:
I prefer the word socialism to communism in discussions today, because it is more practical than the latter and actually raises questions of party formation as well as transitions, privatizations, nationalizations, finances, and the like, which the loftier regions of communism allow us to avoid.

Words to make an Endnotes editor reach for the revolver: socialism, party, finance, nation, and, above all, transition. It is difficult to give up on the idea that there might be intermediate measures connecting the world we live in to the world we would prefer. The notion that the increasing complexity and interdependence of the economy points toward “the abolition of capital as private property within the boundaries of capitalist production itself” (Capital III) has always been the most exciting part of Marxism, the quality setting it apart from religious chiliasm or existential rebellion. Another world is not only possible, it is already taking form — unevenly, incompletely — around us all the time.
If nothing else, this philosophy allows for the possibility that current struggles could be successful, something Endnotes has trouble imagining. At one point, they concede that protest could “renegotiate the terms on which the crisis is being managed” through redistributive political reforms like a financial-transactions tax or a new wave of worker militancy. These are the things that most people on the left, including most Marxists, hope for and are working toward, and Endnotes does not claim they are strictly impossible. But the journal still dismisses those possibilities as akin to creating “a workers’ council on the deck of the Titanic.” Here Endnotes’s pessimism persists beyond what rigor and logic call for. If we can force a change in the terms of the crisis, why can’t we imagine those proximate victories linking up with longer-term goals, through which things like the state, markets, and money (all of which existed before capitalism did — something Endnotes acknowledges) could be made to do things besides immiserate and exclude?
Endnotes unapologetically narrates the fortunes of the working class as the rise and fall of the industrial worker. Back then, labor was “engaged in building a modern world.” Today’s workers, however, are “employed in dead-end service jobs” and “see no purpose in their work.” But “service” is a broad category. Growing numbers of health-care workers, largely women and nonwhite, suffer from exploitation and may hate their jobs with good reason. But the purpose of care work is easier to identify with, and harder for society to dispense with, than working retail. However communism turns out, people will continue to be born, get sick, and die; if for no other reason than this, many existing kinds of work will continue to be socially necessary. Why couldn’t this kind of labor be affirmed the way industrial development once was? Couldn’t it ground a program that demanded universal guarantees of health and human services alongside the abolition of differential racial and gendered responsibility for the care of others?
Endnotes benefits from the undeniable lack of success leftists have had in achieving either reform or revolution anywhere in the world recently. The experience of Greece’s Syriza should trouble everyone who entertains hopes about taking state power and imposing a program. Most left-wing writing tries to cover these deep uncertainties with optimism of the will; it is proper, or at least inevitable, that radical politics involve some suspension of disbelief. Even the rigorous hopelessness of Endnotes gives way to a certain dreamlike quality when it imagines our long-run prospects. “Struggle can be endlessly generative,” the editors rhapsodize, potentially generating even “the unification of humanity” and the end of “gender, race, class, nation, species.”
Every political writer must balance groundless hope against deflating realism. Endnotes excels at the latter because it transfers all hope to a distant future. They write with the undisenchanted energy of someone who believes deeply in radical possibility, while refusing to take any unwarranted consolation from the way things are now. They offer the rest of us, who I believe are correct to place our hopes in programs and transitions, challenges that will not be answered easily. Perhaps, despite its cunning and erudition, the politics of Endnotes is no more serious than glib forms of anarchism. But on what grounds are our “realistic” politics any less fanciful?
Endnotes occasionally publishes essays with individual bylines, like Bernes’s, which they call “intakes.” The most remarkable thing about these pieces is how closely, in tone and in politics, they resemble the official, unbylined essays. ↩
An interesting effect of the collective authorship is that a reader never knows which sentences have been written by white men. The Endnotes member most publicly associated with gender theory is Maya Gonzalez. ↩
An important source for the history of the workers’ movement in the issue is an essay titled “Telling the Truth About Class” by Hungarian philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás, who had been a dissident in socialist Hungary. Endnotes, like Tamás, sees little difference between capitalist development and Eastern Bloc revolutions that empowered “technocratic communists to focus on the developmental tasks at hand—namely, breaking up peasant communities and displacing peasants to the cities, where they could be put to work in gigantic mills.” ↩

reading for 5/23/17

by apio ludd

Destroying Civilization, Destroying Nature
Theses toward decivilizing and becoming dangerous


One of the most harmful prevailing prejudices of our times is the belief in Nature as a unified being separate from, and even opposed to Humanity (also perceived as a unified being). In the context of this doctrine, what is specifically Human – what is created by conscious human activity – is called Artificial as opposed to Natural.


The concept of Nature (that is the concept that all beings, things, relationships and activities not created by human beings constitute a unified whole that stands in contrast to all the things, beings, relationships and activities consciously created by human beings) is itself a product of conscious human activity and, thus, artificial.


Etymologically, “nature” simply refers to what is born into something, what is inherent to it; “artifice” refers to something that is made through consciously applied skill. Considered in this way, there is no necessary (“natural” if you will) opposition between “nature” and “artifice”, since what is consciously and skillfully created can only be made by natural beings (at least as of now) with an inborn capacity to learn to act consciously and with skill.

This does not mean that all or even most “artificial” creations are desirable. Just as there are certain “natural” realities that may cause us harm, so there are many “artificial” realities that are detrimental to us. Furthermore, while “natural” harms are usually temporary events that we can endure and get beyond, artificial creations that cause us harm are often meant to be permanent and even expansive. Thus, the only way to put an end to their harmfulness is to dismantle or destroy them. For example, institutions, large-scale structures and technological systems are all created through conscious human activity. They form a network that defines and limits the possibilities of our lives. They harm us socially and psychologically through these limitations that cripple imagination and creative capacity. They harm us physically by causing or enhancing disasters, illness, poverty, pollution, etc. Getting beyond them requires not endurance, but rather conscious human activity aimed at destruction…

In addition, there are aspects of the reality in which we live that are neither “natural” or “artificial”, neither inborn nor consciously created, I am speaking here of the vast array of historical, social and cultural contingencies that develop out of the continuous, fluid interweaving of human relations amongst themselves and with non-human beings and things. Though they develop from human activity, they are not conscious creations, but rather reflect the meeting of chance and necessity in living in the world. For this reason, they often reflect the absurdity of the attempt to institutionally rationalize the world. But they also often provide the opportunities for challenging this institutional rationalization. Thus, in order to attack the civilized ruling order, we need to see beyond the “natural”-“artificial” dichotomy and explore this realm of historical, social and cultural contingency in order to grasp what we can as weapons for our revolt.


The conception of Nature as a unified entity is the basis for two apparently contradictory, but in fact complementary, ideologies that serve the ruling order by enforcing control over our lives: the moral ideology that ascribes goodness to the Natural and evil to the Unnatural and the metaphysical ideology of inherent alienation that sees Nature as a force hostile to Humanity and its development, a force that must be conquered and brought under control.

The moral ideology is applied most widely to in the sexual realm, but has also been used against magical and alchemical experimentation as well as any activity that is looked upon as a challenge to god’s rule (hubris). In our times, it is used against a variety of sexual acts as well as against abortion. Sexual minorities interested in assimilating often try to prove the naturalness of their sexuality (for example, by claiming it is genetic) as opposed to the unnaturalness of certain other forms of sexuality (pedophilia, whose definition has been expanded in recently years to mean the sexual attraction of an adult for anyone under the legal age of consent1, and to a lesser extent bestiality are the prime contemporary examples of “unnatural” desire). But whether used against the hubris of alleged sorcerers, alchemists or courageous infidels, or against specific sexual or reproductive acts, this moral Nature serves as a tool for keeping passion and desire in check and thus for keeping us under control.

The ideology that views Nature as a hostile force which Humanity must conquer in order to meet its needs occurs to some extent within all civilizations, but only seems to have become the dominant conception within western civilization in the past five or six hundred years. Its rise to dominance, in fact corresponds with the rise of capitalism and the beginnings of industrialism. It was necessary to begin to channel human creative endeavors into activity that would maximally exploit all potential economic resources – natural and human – and this ideology provided a justification for just such an exploitative development. It makes use of disease, storms, floods, droughts, earthquakes and other so-called natural difficulties and catastrophes to back up this perspective and justify the most intrusive and controlling technological interventions. More than the moral ideology, this perspective is the modern justification for domination and control.


Civilization is a network of institutions that materially and practically alienate us from our own lives and creativity and, at the same time, from the myriad of relationships with the infinite variety of beings and things that make up the world in which we live. This alienation is what transforms the variety of beings and things into the unity of Nature. This unity mirrors the imposed unity of civilization.


Overcoming alienation could thus be seen as a process of decivilizing. But what does this mean? It does not mean rewilding, going back to the primitive, going back to Nature. All these ideas imply a return to a way of being that is in reality a conceptual model (the Wild, the Primitive, the Natural) and thus a civilized ideal. Decivilizing is not a return to anything. The flow of relationships between ever-changing individuals that is existence outside of the Civilization-Nature dichotomy is never repeatable. So decivilizing has to be understood and explored without models, without any concept of a return.


A process of decivilizing would instead be a process of destruction and dismantling. Of material and social institutions and structures, of course. But also of the ideological structures, the false conceptual unities (Stirner’s “spooks”) which channel thinking to such an extent that most of us don’t even notice these chains on our thoughts. The oneness of Nature, the oneness of Life, the oneness of the Earth are all civilized ideological constructions that guarantee that we continue to view our relationship with the rest of the world through the lens of alienation.


In this light, the desire to attack and destroy the institutions, structures and people that enforce the rule of the civilized regime becomes meaningful only when we are experimenting with ways of grasping our lives as our own and encountering other beings as individuals striving to create their lives – i.e., when we are practically attacking the ideological structure that channel our thoughts and desires. This does not mean rejecting all categorization, but rather recognizing its limits as a specific tool. Categorization can, for example, help us to distinguish poisonous from edible plants. But it cannot tell us the reality or even the most significant aspects of another being: their desires, their aspirations, their dreams…


By recognizing and encountering the uniqueness of each being in each moment, we find the basis for determining how to carry out our desires, for recognizing where complicity and mutuality are appropriate, where conflict is inevitable or desirable, where passionate encounter might flare up and where indifference makes sense. Thus, we are able to focus on what we need to realize desire, what place other beings and things and the relationships we build with them have in this creative process.


In terms of attacking civilization, this means rejecting any monolithic conception of it, without losing sight of its nature as an intertwining network of interdependent institutions and structures. These institutions and fundamental structures can only exist through the alienation of individuals from their lives. That alienation is their basis. This is why we can never make these institutions and basic structures our own, and there is no use in trying to grasp them as such. Rather they need to be destroyed, removed from our path.

But the development of civilization has created a great many byproducts of all sorts: materials, tools, buildings, gathering spaces, ideas, skills, etc. If we view civilization simplistically, as a solid monolith, then we can only bemoan our need to continue to use some of these byproducts as we dream of a distant future when we will live in a paradise where every trace of this monolith is gone.

If, on the other hand, we can distinguish what is essential to civilization from its byproducts and encounter the latter immediately in terms of our needs and desires (i.e., in a decivilized manner), new possibilities open for exploring how to live on our own terms.


This is how outlaws, the so-called “dangerous classes”, tend to encounter the world. Everything that isn’t nailed down is there for the taking to create life with. As anarchists who recognize civilization as the institutionalization of relationships of domination and exploitation, we would also encounter these byproducts in terms of how they can be used to attack, destroy and dismantle civilization.


But how does the idea of relating to each individual being in its uniqueness affect the human need to consciously and skillfully create? If we conceive of the ever-changing myriads of relationships around us as a monolithic Nature that is basically hostile toward us, the techniques methods and structures we develop will aim to conquer, control and dominate this hostile force (perhaps even to destroy it). If, instead, we see ourselves and all the beings around us as unique individuals in an ever-changing interaction with each other, we would still use skill and artifice, but not to conquer a monolith. Instead, we would use them to weave our way through a wonderful dance of relationships – destroying the calcifying institutions that block this dance – in a way that brings the greatest enjoyment to our lives.


A practice of this sort requires a vital and active imagination and a resolute playfulness.

By imagination, I mean the capacity to “see beyond” what is, to see possibilities that challenge and attack the current reality rather than extending it. I am not talking here of an adherence to a single utopian vision – which would tend to create authoritarian monstrosities in search of adherents to devour – but of a capacity for ongoing utopian exploration without a destination, without a goal.

Perhaps this is what distinguishes anarchists from other outlaws. Imagination has moved their conception of the enjoyment of life beyond mere consumption to playful creation. Certainly, the ways in which outlaws have often historically consumed – the squandering of all they gained through their wits and daring in excesses of debauched feasting and immediate enjoyment of luxuries – runs counter to the capitalist value of accumulation, but it still equates wealth with things, reflecting the alienation of current relationships. Active, practical imagination can show us the real wealth that can spring from free relationships as creative activity.

By resolute playfulness, I mean the refusal to compromise oneself by taking on an identity that pins one down, the refusal to take seriously precisely those things to which this society gives importance, the insistence upon experimenting with one’s life in each moment without worrying about a future that does not exist. The world is full of toys, games and challenges that can heighten the intensity of living. They are often hidden, buried beneath the institutional seriousness or the necessities of survival imposed by the ruling order. The insurgent and outlaw grasping of life involves breaking through these barriers.


So, a process of decivilization, of freeing ourselves from the constraints and obligations imposed by the network of institutions that we call civilization, is not a return to anything. It does not center around learning certain skills and techniques or applying certain utilitarian measures. It is rather a matter of refusing the domination of the utilitarian, the domination of survival over life, of insisting upon going out into the world to play on our own terms, taking hold of what gives us pleasure, and destroying what stands in our way.


1 It originally meant the sexual attraction of an adult for prepubescent children.

reading for 5/9

we are taking a break from weeks of hate, and 5/9 will be talking about domestic violence/abusive behavior, how anarchists might respond/define/curb/recognize behavior.
two sets of readings–
the broken teapot
and thoughts on possible community responses to intimate violence

we also discussed reading more on anti-blackness, on ISIS, the little green book (quaddaffi), pol pot, and some other things i can’t remember.

readings for 5/2

continuing with the weeks of hate (despite jack not showing up for the first one!)
first, three sections from mao’s little book:
criticism and self-criticism
classes and class struggle
and the mass line

then if there’s time, this piece from crimethinc why the alt-right is weak

during these weeks, the challenge will not of course be to find things we disagree with, but to find what overlap there is between the opinions in these readings and how we and other anarchists think today…

readings for 4/11/17

part one:
ARR’s The Left-Overs

part two:
post-left vs “woke” left

part three:
ARR’s Egomania!

readings for 4/4

welp, our reading picker didn’t come through, but here are three pieces from killing king abacus, an influential zine out of santa cruz in the 90s/early aughts.


As recently as 65 years ago, it was common to find analyses in anarchist literature of the institutions in which the various forms of domination were manifested. If one wrote of the oppression of women, the family and marriage would be examined and exposed. If the repression of pleasure and the joy of life was the question under discussion, religion and law would be put under the gun. The institutional framework upon which this society has been built was recognized as the source of exploitation, domination and alienation. It seems that in recent times this institutional framework has been largely forgotten. Of the various institutions into which our alienated creative potential has been accumulated to our detriment, only the state and capital (and occasionally technology) seem to get mentioned to any significant extent any more and even these are frequently treated more as states of mind than as concrete social institutions. Thus, we discover that anarchists are against statism (whatever that is) rather than the state. So Bookchin can claim to be anti-statist while promoting the ancient Greek city-state as a model for his democratic version of “anarchy”. And every other form of oppression also becomes an “ism” (racism, sexism, etc.) or worse (homophobia implies a psychological disorder needing therapy, not a form of social repression calling for revolt). Of course, we do not deny the reality of the ideologies of bigotry and their penetration into the thoughts and feelings of the exploited and oppressed. But without an understanding of the institutional framework of oppression and domination, it is not possible to understand how the ruling class uses these ideologies to divide those they exploit. Even the seemingly most radical (because their rhetoric is most extreme) in the anarchist milieu do not escape this. The critique coming from primitivist and anti-civilization circles far too often aims its verbal attack at a nebulous, poorly defined civilization. Certainly, “for the destruction of civilization” sounds radical. On my own terms, I even agree with it. But on my terms, civilization is not some nebulous, largely mental, category springing from rationalism or the western mindset or whatever undesirable way of thinking; it is a network of concrete social institutions that I confront in my daily life: the state, the economy, religion, the family, technological systems, and so on, all very real entities that no mind games will eradicate. And here is where the current tendency falls short. When an analysis of the institutional framework of oppression, exploitation, domination and alienation are forgotten, therapy replaces revolution. We are forced to deal with the pathetic, whining confessions of a Chris Crass or the bad pop psychology of the writers of “Stick it to the Manarchy” (using terms like “manarchy” is a sure sign that someone is saying nothing worth hearing) as they try to work out their insipient “sexism”, “racism”, “homophobia” and “classism” which are no longer ideologies of bigotry, but low-level mental illnesses suffered by the self-proclaimed “privileged” of all classes. Any serious revolutionary anarchist has to see all of this as just another ploy by the cowardly and by those who still have some stake in the present order to put off the real decision about which side they are on in the struggle against this society. Those of us who are serious about destroying the present world in order to create our lives as our own have no time for these self-indulgent mind-games reminiscent of 12-step groups (“My name is…, and I am an addict of my own repression”). Our task is before us: to expose and attack the institutions that have stolen our lives from us and, in the process, to reappropriate our lives. Whatever small bits of oppressive mentality might survive this process can be dealt with when we’ve accomplished this task.

Roles are the repetitive performance of a particular set of power relations. The incentive for playing a role is a shred of power; even when one plays a submissive role there must be some sort of incentive even if this is only a negative incentive, the avoidance of a worse fate. To say that roles are performances doesn’t make them unreal, roles are real acts, acts that are repeated until they harden into habit. Roles do not appear from nowhere, they are perpetuated by institutions such as the family, the workplace, businesses, bureaucracies, schools, and roles in turn perpetuate the power structures of these institutions. There are objective social structures and institutions that perpetuate roles, this does not mean that they are set in stone. There are subjective desires to subvert and destroy these roles, this doesn’t mean that this is easy or that subversion will succeed. In the tension between the structures of power and the desire to rebel, the game of subversion is played.

Ethnicity, gender and class existed before capitalism but in very different forms. Ethnicity has been changed drastically by the rise of the nation state, gender roles have been changed by the proletarianization of women, and it is quite obvious that the rise of capitalism changed class structure. Nevertheless roles based on gender, ethnicity and class were used to perpetuate power relations by the structures of power both before the rise of capitalism and after. Nationality is something that people often don’t historicize, people simply don’t realize how young the nation state is and that this has effected the very idea of cultural identity. Our present concept of ethnicity (this word comes from the Greek word for nation) is shaped by the nation state. Some imagine that nationality existed in its present form long before the rise of the nation-state and others imagine that patriarchy existed in a stronger form in the past, that it is now slowly fading away into nothingness. Patriarchy is one of the more obvious examples of a process that perpetuated roles of domination and submission long before capitalism. I would argue that some forms of patriarchy have indeed lessened but that overall patriarchy is not fading away, it has been merely reconfigured by capital into a different form, those aspects that limited the flow of capital and the proletarianization of women were changed. Patriarchy is not one global monolithic structure; it is cultural, and has varied forms. It starts in the family, spreads to other institutions and is thus reproduced throughout society. Capitalism reproduces new mutated forms of patriarchy, it uses gender difference just as it does class and ethnic/racial differences, to exploit the labor force to the greatest degree possible.

How do we use categories of identity to understand the society we live in without perpetuating the very roles that we wish to move beyond? This is tricky, if we simply throw away the categories that describe gender, race, and ethnicity we lose important tools that we need to understand how this society functions, how these categories effect and structure our relations. On the other hand, it is easy to fall into perpetuating the very roles that we wish to transcend. This is a problem that often surfaces within identity politics, which start with an identity category as a point of departure. Since such politics are based in identity categories which are fundamentally tied to roles, unless there’s a conscious attempt to subvert roles, one instead reinforces them. Recently the article “Stick it to the Manarchy” referred to women and people of color in the same lists of categories as the elderly and children as if being female or not white made a person less capable of dealing with demonstrations and riots. The argument is that people of color are prosecuted more harshly, this is true, yet I have never noticed this being a deterrent. In fact, in my experience it is those who come from more privileged backgrounds that are more scared in such situations. What their reason is for including women on this list I can’t figure out. In any case they fall into a patronizing tone in spite of any intentions to the contrary. There is a danger that discussion about gender can fall into patronizing tones that reinforce the role of the woman as victim. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we should avoid discussion about sexism which is very real, or that women shouldn’t complain about getting fucked over because they want to avoid perpetuating an image of the woman as victim. We can only throw away the categories of gender, race, class and so on when we are dancing on the ruins of this society and have learned to relate to each other without these roles in a classless stateless society. Until then we can’t just pretend that we are all treated equally, simply proclaiming the death of these social divisions by refusing to refer to them does nothing except forfeit a means to confront the problems that they create.

Race (or at least racism), unlike ethnicity, is based on a person’s appearance and not necessarily their culture. I do not mean to imply that race is biological, it is a social construction, but that for example a black person raised by white people, who is culturally indistinguishable from whites, still experiences racism. Gender is generally structured around biological sex (a person has to drastically change their appearance to be treated as a different gender); the traits that are described by these categories are partially biological (or based on the assumption of the presence of a certain biology) and thus it is impossible to completely break with these categories as long as the present society remains since they will effect how people treat you no matter how you act. That is, race and gender consist of more than just roles.

Roles are social because they are relations, they are performances in which there is always an interaction with the audience. They cannot simply be broken with on an individual level; by changing or breaking with a role one is necessarily changing a relation. However, this does not mean that they can only be broken with collectively, or only by society as a whole. To change roles is to change relations, such change can occur on many scales, it is not only a question of collective change. There are innumerable intermediate scales to social change that lay between the individual and the collective or the individual and the societal. Therefore we do not need to wait until some “collective break” seems imminent to move beyond the roles that shape our relations. It is precisely by not waiting and starting to subvert these relations now at whatever scale possible that a break might eventually spread throughout society as a whole. I am not referring to a collective break in the sense of a homogenous simultaneous break with roles but a multifarious rupture that spreads throughout society; the concept of roleless relations necessarily implies multiplicity for to act without a role is to act without the very power relations that create homogeneity. Of course it is not that easy, it is not just a question of everybody trying to make change in their daily lives and this change adding up to a sum total of revolution. A large-scale break with roles implies a large scale break with the power relations that roles perpetuate, in other words capital and the state must be destroyed in all of their manifestations, the multiple micro ways in which they filter into our relations, and their macro institutional forms.

To break with a role is not something that can be achieved immediately or easily, often one must first go through a process of subverting and bending roles, playing with them, making the unnaturalness of roles obvious through parody. How do we expose the unnaturalness of gender, race or nationality? Parody can expose a role as unnatural. When someone misappropriates a gender role, when a man badly copies female behavior or vice versa we may be forced to think about whether there is a “genuine” female and male behavior. Is the transvestite copying true femaleness or maleness or is s/he copying a copy? Suddenly everything gets confusing. Is she a real woman? Is there such a thing?

How do we organize ourselves in a qualitatively different manner without the constraints of roles? How would we organize ourselves if the most powerful and repressive structures which reproduce our present social roles were absent? It is important to be able to imagine such a situation and attempt to organize ourselves differently, without the roles that constrain us and perpetuate the state-capital machine, to the degree possible, here and now.

Alienation is not a psychological disorder, an inability on the part of certain individuals to adjust to a basically healthy society. Alienation is an inherent part of the present social order, objectively verifiable. The present social reality is based on a hierarchy of power that requires a system of representation through which society can reproduce itself. To maintain this social system, it is necessary that the lives of individuals be made alien to them, not self-created, but defined in terms of roles and rules of protocol for the proper relationships between these roles. The healthiest individuals in this society are precisely those who most deeply feel the anguish of their alienation, who know that real life is not here and, therefore, refuse to succumb.

Alienation is as old as civilization itself since the dawn of civilization corresponds with the origin of institutionalized power structures. But resistance to alienation is just as old. Every structure created by those in power for the purpose of controlling the interactions of individuals has met with resistance from those who do not want to be controlled. However, since this resistance has remained, for the most part, unconscious, un-willful and, thus, incoherent, social control has advanced to the point where now it often seems that there is no place left where individuals can truly meet face to face.

The main purpose of city streets and sidewalks is commercial traffic—moving goods for sale and those who buy and sell them where necessary. They are intended to create a particular form of social relationship, one centered around a market economy. But streets and sidewalks, along with city parks, became gathering places for those who simply wanted to talk and play and enjoy themselves. The so-called idle poor particularly found such settings useful for creating the interactions and pleasures that made up their lives—often to the detriment of commerce and the needs of the power structures. In recent years, streets and parks have been increasingly policed and restricted with laws against loitering, vagrancy, gathering in groups and sleeping outdoors. In addition, urban architecture and city planning, which have always reflected the interests of the ruling class, have become increasingly sterile and oppressive, creating an atmosphere in which conviviality and festivity are smothered. The most recent examples of city planning simply have no center at all. It’s becoming increasingly obvious: the reference they propose is always somewhere else. These are labyrinths in which you are only allowed to lose yourself. No games. No meetings. No living. A desert of plate-glass. A grid of roads. High-rise flats. Oppression is no longer centralized because oppression is everywhere.

Even as alienation has increased and taken on more encompassing forms, festivals and holidays such as Carnival and Halloween have acted as vehicles for the expression of genuine life, its passions and desires. Precisely because these events are separated from an everyday existence in which the separation of one’s life from oneself is the most essential quality, they have allowed people to temporarily re-appropriate their lives and passions—often protected by the anonymity of a mask, a crowd or generalized drunkenness. But these celebrations are being increasingly restricted and ordered when not completely suppressed. Concerns for public safety (conveniently forgotten when real dangers such as automobile traffic, industrial pollution or job-related accidents are at issue) are used as excuses for increased policing of such celebrations and their restriction to increasingly smaller, often enclosed spaces and highly orchestrated events. It is irrelevant that these alleged concerns for public safety are mostly based on hearsay and exaggeration. When these celebrations are restricted to small spaces and orchestrated events, commodification comes to dominate. Most of the permitted events become entertainment spectacles for which one must pay or temporary markets for the sale of junk. The genuine festivals of the exploited become increasingly illegalized by these processes, and the pallid, impoverished pseudo-festivals that are offered in their place are often too expensive for the poor—and too much like ordinary existence in this society to be attractive on any more than a superficial level anyway. The spirit of free play is being suppressed and channeled into the dispirited consumption of commodities.

The attacks on street life, both daily and festive, are essentially attacks on the exploited and marginalized of this society. The rich have long since retreated from the streets except as a means to get to or from work and the shops, preferring the imagined security of their atomized existence in which all interactions happen through the proper channels. (Even in the business districts of most cities where these managers of the economy find it necessary on occasion to walk from one building to another, they will always be walking with their cell-phone to their ear, safely regulating how and with whom they interact.) But those at the bottom of the social hierarchy have little access to these channels, and the increasingly illegal sphere of street life has been where they can meet. And here they could meet face to face.

The increased restrictions on permitted interactions on the streets and in the parks did not put an end to relatively free interactions. Taverns and cafes continued to be gathering places for discussion, the sharing of news and ideas and occasionally even for the development of subversive projects. It is true that cafes and taverns have always been places of business, places where one is expected to buy, but they have also provided space where people can meet and interact with very little mediation. Now this is changing as well. Not even considering the fact that increasingly such businesses are instituting policies of kicking individuals who don’t buy anything out, the environments themselves are being made inhospitable to real interaction. In the United States, most taverns are dominated by televisions and loud music. It is not uncommon for a tavern to have several televisions so that there is no place to turn to escape its domination. At times, the music may be fun to dance to, but when there is no way to get away from it, it becomes another attack against genuine, unmediated interaction. In a setting so unwelcoming to genuine conversation, it is easier to interact only with those you already know or to conform to the protocol of roles imposed be the social order.

Cafes remain outside of the realm of domination by the television and can still provide a setting for real interaction. But here as well there are trends which tend to move away from this. Probably the most insidious of these is the cyber-café. Along with coffee, these cafes offer computer use to their customers. Rather than talking to each other directly, people in these cafes drift into their own little cyber-world, checking out abstract and distant information or conversing electronically with people halfway across the globe. This sort of mediated interaction guarantees that ideas remain safely in the realm of opinion and makes practical projects extremely unlikely. This is not the setting from which movements such as dadaism or surrealism, or groups like the Situationist International are likely to spring.

The cyber-café is a trend that reflects the growing domination of the cybernetic over interactions of all kinds. The tedium of everyday interactions in the present world makes a virtual world very attractive to some. Certain cyber-utopians tell us that the development of computer technologies will put end to cities as we know them, as all (of the ruling and managing classes—the poor and exploited don’t count in this vision) are able to work, play and shop through their computers from suburban homesteads which they never have to leave—a more pastoral and ecological version of the luxury high-rise in which well-to-do people can live, work, play and shop without ever leaving the building. A darker, more realistic version of this vision sees the cities becoming reservations for the excluded classes and other social misfits who can’t or won’t fit into this cybertopia. The laws and restrictions limiting the use of streets and parks that are currently being put into effected are aimed precisely at these excluded ones who would be the urban dwellers of this vision. The well-to-do suburbanite is already well integrated into a system where face-to-face interaction is an anachronism to be dealt with through a protocol of surface courtesy which reinforces isolation and the atomized existence of well-oiled cogs.

This cybernetic vision, however, whether in its utopian or dystopian version, does not take the exigencies of class struggle into account. Would it, indeed, be in the interest of the ruling class to bring the exploited together in an even more concentrated manner? Could the mechanisms for creating social consensus and public opinion continue to function adequately for the maintenance of social peace in a situation of such unmitigated misery? In fact, this dystopian vision is comparable to the presently existing detention centers for undocumented aliens. These centers, which exist throughout Europe, in the United States, in Australia and so on, are places of frequent unrest and revolt (as are the urban ghettoes that presently exist). In fact the very existence of these camps are indicative of a process that is going on now that is very different from the one suggested by the dystopian perspective described above. Many cities are now being heavily gentrified with the ruling classes and their managerial lackeys moving into the center of these cities, driving out the urban exploited, leaving them with nowhere to go. In poorer countries, people who have lived on the land, taking care of their needs for themselves, are being driven off their land, proletarianized and forced into a precarious urban existence that often drives them to immigrate. In fact, rather than concentrating the exploited classes in the cities, the general trend at present seems to be for capital to force them into increasing precariousness, with no place to stay and an increasing difficulty for maintaining ongoing relationships. This could be perceived as a frontal assault by the ruling class against face-to-face interactions among the exploited, particularly those of the sort that might stimulate revolt.

Of course, this process of deconcentration is gradual and the exploited do continue to have many opportunities for face-to-face interaction. So it is presently necessary for the rulers to provide a substitute for such interactions which can act as a pacifier and can guarantee that when explosions of rage do occur those involved are not really used to talking with each other or acting together. Thus recreation must be made less interactive. Of course, this tendency toward increasingly solitary and atomized forms of recreation is not only found in the opportunities for commodified play available to the poor, but throughout society. The affluent must also be kept from real interactions of pleasure, because otherwise they might realize that the present society only offers them a larger portion of the generalized impoverishment of life that is this society’s main product. Thus, television, films, video games, computer games and virtual reality provide forms of recreation in which millions of individuals passively observe the same simulated events, maybe making the minimal response of pushing a button or flicking a switch to stimulate a programmed reaction that is the same for everyone who makes that response. Real action and interaction have no place in these recreational non-activities. Even dungeons-and-dragons type games are so thoroughly programmed that no real interaction can happen among the players who must completely transform themselves into roles determined by the rules of the game, acting in terms of these rules which often seem like the random hand of fate. In other words, these games are merely fantasies mirroring the present society. The trend toward mediated interaction and play, particularly in its cybernetic form, has caused some people to lose touch with reality, undermining their ability to distinguish actual life from simulated life. People become more gullible, open to all sorts of lies and deceptions. This is probably a major factor in the recent rise in religious and superstitious beliefs. When television, films and computer technologies can portray supposedly supernatural events in ways that appear real and when people’s experiences are increasingly mediated through these technologies, then such mystical paradigms are enforced in their minds as methods for interpreting the world, and the healthy skepticism that is so necessary for effective resistance to authority is obliterated. Strange events may very well happen, but any tale of such an event that reinforces mystical, religious, occult or superstitious belief is immediately suspect, because it fits in too well with the social insanity imposed by an increasingly mediated existence.

This society is becoming more insane every day. Involvement with actual people and actual environments is being suppressed along with any space—physical or psychological—in which individuals can create their own interactions. This alienation, which is imposed on everyone whether they are aware of it or not, can be viewed as a kind of schizophrenia, but this insanity is not that of individuals; it is society as a whole that is schizophrenic. And the methods by which it is imposing its insanity are bureaucratic and intellectual with the latter methods becoming increasingly dominant.

As I have already said, the imposition of alienation has never been without resistance. Recently, I read about various cafes and taverns opened with the intention of promoting face to face interaction by people who desired revolution. In the early twentieth century, hoboes created informal “hobo colleges” for the same purpose. People such as Emma Goldman or Ben Reitman might speak and the hoboes and others present would discuss the speech with passion and intellectual incisiveness. Such projects were not revolutionary in themselves, but they were a form of resistance to increasing alienation. In Chicago, when Bughouse Square, a park where anarchists, communists and others who opposed the present social order gathered, argued and discussed how to fight that social order, was closed down, several cafes and taverns were opened with the specific purpose of providing a space for the same sort of intense, passionate discussions of how to transform the world. But where are those cafes and taverns now? They were a form of resistance, but they were not revolution, and as businesses they couldn’t keep going forever since profit wasn’t their motive. They were a form of resistance to alienation that was still trapped in the logic of that most basic form of alienation, the economy, a logic that inevitably killed these projects.

Another form of resistance to alienation is described in a pamphlet entitled, “The Battle for Hyde Park: ruffians, radicals and ravers, 1855-1994” (available on line at, or e-mail them at to find out how to get a paper copy). This pamphlet documents the potential for festivity and free play in the context of social conflict. It describes four riot situations in Hyde Park in which free play was an essential element. In these situations, the potential for insurrection could be seen. The last of the events described happened in 1994 and was witnessed by those who put the pamphlet together. Unfortunately, in their attempt to give an overall historical view, the writers of the article describing this demonstration turned festive riot completely ignored the question of personal interactions and the role of affinity in this situation. Certainly these elements are essential for understanding this event. When these questions are ignored, events such as those of October 9,1994 in London remain, for us, events separated from life, events that happen purely by accident, having no relation to our projectuality as insurgent individuals, because we (and even most of those who participated) have not been able to develop an understanding of how such events connect to our lives and the affinities we develop. An analysis along these lines may be essential if events such as these are not to be carried along in the trajectory of alienation that I have been describing which would transform such riots into events like tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards—something that happens to people, not something they create.

As long as the present social context exists, alienation will continue to expand, making our lives ever more distant from us and our interactions ever more controlled by the protocol of the commodity and of the institutions of power. So it is essential to destroy this society, to raze it to the ground. But what can such a vision mean on a practical level right now? It is essential to resist the progress of alienation with all our might, creating projects for ourselves which promote real interactions outside of the roles and relationships that social reproduction demands. This resistance must be willful, a conscious refusal of the imposition of alienated and impoverished interactions. This resistance needs to move beyond being merely defensive to become an offensive attack against the institutions and structures of alienation. This attack needs to take up every weapon available to it: detournement, subversion, sabotage, vandalism, irony, sarcasm, sacrilege…and, yes, physical arms where appropriate—carefully avoiding any specializations. Each would use the weapons she finds most appropriate in terms of his situation and singularity, but there is no use in judging those who choose weapons we did not choose. I know such a call frightens most anarchists. It calls them from the little world of their subculture, their micro-society with its own alienating roles and structures which parallel those of the larger society, into a realm of real risk where imagination must be used to create insurrectional projects based on actual affinity between singular individuals. All of the models and structures in which we’ve taken refuge must be fiercely examined and critically dismantled, and we must learn to depend on ourselves. If we do not wish to find ourselves in a world where no one really lives, where no one really knows anyone else, where everyone has become a mere cog in a machine meshing with other cogs but remaining truly alone, then we must have the strength to attack alienation in every way we can. Otherwise, we may just find there is no place left where we can meet face to face.