the anti-social turn from baedan 1 (i suggest reading through up to queers gone wild, if someone wants to propose more of the article, then let us know…)
please feel free to add things in the comments here.
i was just reminded that there has been some real thought by anarchists i never hear about (or rarely) on psychology.
so future readings could be otto gross
THE DEVIL UNDERNEATH THE COUCH: THE SECRET STORY OF JUNG’S TWIN BROTHER – Gottfried Heuer
“I have only mixed with anarchists and declare myself to be an anarchist,” Otto Gross said in 1913. “I am a psychoanalyst and from my experience I have gained the insight that the existing order … is a bad one. … And since I want everything changed, I am an anarchist” (Berze/Stelzer 1999, p.24)”. He was the first psychoanalyst to link analysis with radical politics and wrote: “The psychology of the unconscious is the philosophy of the revolution” (Gross 1913c). So, when Coline Covington recently wrote, “Analysis is essentially a tool for revolution (Covington 2001, p.331)”, she was just echoing something that Gross said nearly 90 years before. He was not just a psycho-analyst – he was a psycho-anarchist and thus stands for the subversive potential of analysis – which earned him the epithet of the “devil underneath the couch” (Raulff 1993).
Although Gross played a pivotal role in the birth of what today we are calling modernity, with wide-ranging influences in psychoanalysis, psychiatry, philosophy, radical politics, sociology, literature, and ethics, he has remained virtually unknown to this day. Already in 1921, less than a year after Gross’ death, the Austrian writer Anton Kuh wrote of him as, ‘a man known only to very few by name – apart from a handful of psychiatrists and secret policemen – and among those few only to those who plucked his feathers to adorn their own posteriors’ (Kuh 1921, pp.16-7). Today, still, most analysts have never heard of Otto Gross, or their knowledge is confined to, ‘Isn’t that the one who became schizophrenic?’ To a large extent this is the result of an analytic historiography which Erich Fromm has rightly called “Stalinistic” (Fromm 1957, p.133): dissidents become non-persons and vanish from the records. This practice of purging history makes the story of Otto Gross a secret one: it was hoped that we would never know.
Yet Adam Philips recently said: “There is no future for psychoanalysis if it doesn’t want to look in other places for regeneration, and particularly if it doesn’t look to the places it wants to exclude. By its own logic, that’s where the life is, that’s where the action is” (Philips 1997, p.164).
Psychoanalysis was created as a tool to create a better future by turning from the present to the past. It is a “looking backwards to the future” (Handy 2002). What was repressed, powerfully returns, and thus the past gets continually created anew. History has exactly the same function on the collective level. The historian Edmund Jacobitti calls it “composing useful pasts – history as contemporary politics” (Jacobitti 2000). Mindful of this, let me take you “where the action is” – to look at the repressed aspect of analytic history that is Otto Gross.
Of course, his story was not always a secret one. There was a time, in the first decade of the last century, when the greatest minds in psychoanalysis were full of the highest praise for Otto Gross. In 1908 Freud wrote to Jung, “You are really the only one capable of making an original contribution; except perhaps O.Gross” (Freud/Jung 1974, p.126). A few months later, after Gross had been in an analysis with Jung that at times became what we would today call a mutual analysis, Jung replied to Freud, “In Gross I discovered many aspects of my own nature, so that he often seemed like my twin brother” (ibid., p. 156). Thomas Kirsch (Kirsch 2000) in his recent study of “The Jungians” does not mention Gross, although, in view of these feelings expressed by Jung, Gross might well be called the first Jungian. The writer Emil Szittya (1886-1964) even went as far as calling Gross “a friend of Dr. Freud and the intellectual father of Professor Jung” (Szittya n.d., p.211). As late as 1986 the eminent scholar of psychoanalysis Johannes Cremerius wrote about the C.G.Jung of 1909, ‘He is still completely and entirely the pupil of Otto Gross’ (Cremerius 1986, p. 20). So we might as well call Jung an early Grossian. In 1910 Ferenczi wrote to Freud about Gross, “There is no doubt that among those who have followed you up to now he is the most significant” (Freud/Ferenczi 1993, p.154). Ernest Jones in his autobiography wrote: Gross “was my first instructor in the technique of psychoanalysis” (Jones, 1990, p.173) and he called him “the nearest approach to the romantic ideal of a genius I have ever met” (ibid.).
OVERCOMING THE CULTURAL CRISIS – Otto Gross
The psychology of the unconscious is the philosophy of revolution: i.e., this is what it is destined to become because it ferments insurrection within the psyche, and liberates individuality from the bonds of its own unconscious. It is destined to make us inwardly capable of freedom, destined to prepare the ground for the revolution.
The incomparable revaluation of all values, with which the imminent future will be filled, begins in this present time with Nietzsche’s thinking about the depths of the soul and with Freud’s discovery of the so-called psychoanalytic technique. This latter is a practical method which for the first time makes it possible to liberate the unconscious for empirical knowledge: i.e., for us it has now become possible to know ourselves. With this a new ethic is born, which will rest upon the moral imperative to seek real knowledge about oneself and one’s fellow men.
What is so overpowering in this new obligation to appreciate the truth is that until today we have known nothing of the question that matters incomparably above all others – the question of what is intrinsic, essential in our own being, our inner life, our self and that of our fellow human beings; we have never even been in position to inquire about these things. What we are learning to know is that, as we are today, each one of us possesses and recognises as his own only a fraction of the totality embraced by his psychic personality.
In every psyche without exception the unity of the functioning whole, the unity of consciousness, is torn in two, an unconscious has split itself off and maintains its existence by keeping itself apart from the guidance and control of consciousness, apart from any kind of self-observation, especially that directed at itself.
I must assume that knowledge of the Freudian method and its important results is already widespread. Since Freud we understand all that is inappropriate and inadequate in our mental life to be the results of inner experiences whose emotional content excited intense conflict in us. At the time of those experiences – especially in early childhood – the conflict seemed insoluble, and they were excluded from the continuity of the inner life as it is known to the conscious ego. Since then they have continued to motivate us from the unconscious in an uncontrollably destructive and oppositional way. I believe that what is really decisive for the occurrence of repression is to be found in the inner conflict … rather than in relation to the sexual impulse. Sexuality is the universal motive for the infinite number of internal conflicts, though not in itself but as the object of a sexual morality which stands in insoluble conflict with everything that is of value and belongs to willing and reality.
It appears that at the deepest level the real nature of these conflicts may always be traced back to one comprehensive principle, to the conflict between that which belongs to oneself and that which belongs to the other, between that which is innately individual and that which has been suggested to us, i.e., that which is educated or otherwise forced into us.
This conflict of individuality with an authority that has penetrated into our own innermost self belongs more to the period of childhood than to any other time.
The tragedy is correspondingly greater as a person’s individuality is more richly endowed, is stronger in its own particular nature. The earlier and the more intensely that the capacity to withstand suggestion and interference begins its protective function, the earlier and the more intensely will the self-divisive conflict be deepened and exacerbated. The only natures to be spared are those in whom the predisposition towards individuality is so weakly developed and is so little capable of resistance that under the pressure of suggestion from social surroundings, and the influence of education, it succumbs, in a manner of speaking, to atrophy and disappears altogether – natures whose guiding motives are at last composed entirely of alien, handed-down standards of evaluation and habits of reaction. In such second-rate characters a certain apparent health can sustain itself, i.e., a peaceful and harmonious functioning of the whole of the soul or, more accurately, of what remains of the soul. On the other hand, each individual who stands in any way higher than this normal contemporary state of things is not, in existing, conditions, in a position to escape pathogenic conflict and to attain his individual healthi.e., the full harmonious development of the highest possibilities of his innate individual character.
It is understood from all this that such characters hitherto, no matter in what outward form they manifest themselves – whether they are opposed to laws and morality, or lead us positively beyond the average, or collapse internally and become ill – have been perceived with either disgust, veneration or pity as disturbing exceptions whom people try to eliminate. It will come to be understood that, already today, there exists the demand to approve these people as the healthy, the warriors, the progressives, and to learn from and through them.
Not one of the revolutions in recorded history has succeeded in establishing freedom for individuality. They all fell flat, each time as precursors of a new bourgeoisie, they ended in a hurried desire to conform to general norms. They have collapsed because the revolutionary of yesterday carried authority within himself. Only now can it be recognized that the root of all authority lies in the family, that the combination of sexuality and authority, as it shows itself in the patriarchal family still prevailing today, claps every individuality in chains.
The times of crisis in advanced cultures have so far always been attended by complaints about the loosening of the ties of marriage and family life … but people could never hear in this “immoral tendency” the life affirming ethical crying out of humanity for redemption. Everything went to wrack and ruin, and the problem of emancipation from original sin, from the enslavement of women for the sake of their children, remained unsolved.
The revolutionary of today, who, armed with the psychology of the unconscious has a vision of a free, happy future for the relationship between the sexes, fights against the most primal form of rape, against the father and against father right. The coming revolution is the revolution for mother right.* It does not matter under what outward form and by what means it comes about.
(From Die Aktion, April 1913, reprinted in Anarchism…, vol.1 p281, Robert Graham.)
[* A NOTE ON “MOTHER-RIGHT COMMUNISM”
Otto Gross claimed that the rape that established patriarchy was the true ‘original sin’ and “that the entire structure of civilisation since the destruction of the primitive communistic mother right order is false.” He also argued that “the real liberation of woman, the dissolution of the father right family by socialising the care of motherhood, is in the vital interests of every member of society, granting him the highest freedom” (Springer in Hueur, Sexual Revolutions, p118; Peter Davies, Myth Matriarchy and Modernity, p254-6).
Gross’ poor record at parenting his own children rather discredits his opinions on childcare. But he certainly took the issue seriously at an intellectual level. Indeed, the last paragraph of his last article includes the statement: “The mission: to make individual cells of the social body an object of agitation and sabotage. To initiate a fight against the principle of the family, that is, against the prevailing family of the Father Right, on behalf of the Communist Mother Right” (P.Pietikainen, Alchemist of Human Nature, p91).
Gross derived these ideas from Johann Bachofen, the 19th century historian, who had written that: “The end of the development of the state resembles the beginning of human existence. The original equality finally returns. The maternal element opens and closes the cycle of everything human” (August Bebel, Woman under Socialism, Ch.8).
Inspired by Marx, Engels was also very interested in Bachofen’s ideas, as well as those of Lewis Henry Morgan, claiming that: “The rediscovery of the original mother-right gens as the stage preliminary to the father-right gens of the civilised peoples has the same significance for the history of primitive society as Darwin’s theory of evolution has for biology, and Marx’s theory of surplus value for political economy” (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, p35). Marxists such as Bloch, Benjamin and Reich continued this interest in Bachofen, and Erich Fromm wrote about the “materialist-democratic character of matriarchal societies” (The Crisis of Psychoanalysis, p149). However, as the threat of social revolution continued into the 1930s, the anthropological establishment wanted to discredit all such ideas. Bronislaw Malinowski made his thoughts clear when he said:
“A whole school of anthropologists, from Bachofen on, have maintained that the maternal clan was the primitive domestic institution. … In my opinion, as you know, this is entirely incorrect. But an idea like that, once it is taken seriously and applied to modern conditions, becomes positively dangerous. I believe that the most disruptive element in the modern revolutionary tendencies is the idea that parenthood can be made collective. If once we came to the point of doing away with the individual family as the pivotal element of our society, we should be faced with a social catastrophe compared with which the political upheaval of the French revolution and the economic changes of Bolshevism are insignificant. The question, therefore, as to whether group motherhood is an institution which ever existed, whether it is an arrangement which is compatible with human nature and social order, is of considerable practical interest” (N.Allen, Early Human Kinship, p70).
In recent years, however, anthropological and genetic studies of African hunter-gatherers indicate that early human society may well have been both matrilocal and matrilineal (Allen, p80-2, 186; Sarah Hrdy, Mothers and Others). Furthermore, in many simple hunter-gatherer communities, childcare is more collective, and women have more power, than in agricultural societies. So, perhaps, Bachofen, Morgan, Marx, Engels and Gross were more right than the anthropological establishment of the 20th century.
Of course, it still remains to be seen whether Gross’ prediction of a “revolution for mother right”, or Marx’s, not dissimilar, prediction of capitalism’s “fatal crisis [leading to] … the return of modern society to a higher form of the most archaic type”, will be fulfilled in the 21st century (MECW vol.24, p357, 350).]
other readings could be from On An(archy) and Schizoanalysis, and/or break out from the crystal palace.
we agreed to do a month of readings on gender, perhaps seguing into identity of other sorts…
we will be starting with gender nihilism. (link worked, then stopped working, now works again! thanks yi-yi!)
later readings to be determined, but will probably at some point include zerzan’s Patriarchy, Civilization, And The Origins Of Gender
story from anews on an action in greece
on anews this brought up (most oddly) questions of “indiscriminate” consequences and classism. thoughts?
the part about controversies and disagreements at the bottom of
the wikipedia entry for critical race theory
if people already have the charles mills article “but what are you really?”, then you could revisit that, although probably that won’t be the reading… (it’s a bit long), it’s just really interesting.
the following is from CRT:an intro
What do critical race theorists believe? Probably not every
member would subscribe to every tenet set out in this book,
but many would agree on the following propositions. First,
that racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,”
the usual way society does business, the common, everyday
experience of most people of color in this country. Second,
most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy
serves important purposes, both psychic and material.
The first feature, ordinariness, means that racism is difficult
to cure or address. Color-blind, or “formal,” conceptions of
equality, expressed in rules that insist only on treatment that
is the same across the board, can thus remedy only the most
blatant forms of discrimination, such as mortgage redlining
or the refusal to hire a black Ph.D. rather than a white high
school dropout, that do stand out and attract our attention.
The second feature, sometimes called “interest convergence”
or material determinism, adds a further dimension. Because
racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially)
and working-class people (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it. Consider, for example,
Derrick Bell’s shocking proposal (discussed in a later
chapter) that Brown v. Board of Education—considered a
great triumph of civil rights litigation—may have resulted
more from the self-interest of elite whites than a desire to
A third theme of critical race theory, the “social construction”
thesis, holds that race and races are products of social
thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they
correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races
are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires
when convenient. People with common origins share certain
physical traits, of course, such as skin color, physique, and
hair texture. But these constitute only an extremely small
portion of their genetic endowment, are dwarfed by that
which we have in common, and have little or nothing to do
with distinctly human, higher-order traits, such as personality,
intelligence, and moral behavior. That society frequently
chooses to ignore these scientific facts, creates races, and endows them with pseudo-permanent characteristics is of great interest to critical race theory.
Another, somewhat more recent, development concerns
differential racialization and its many consequences. Critical
writers in law, as well as social science, have drawn attention
to the ways the dominant society racializes different minority
groups at different times, in response to shifting needs
such as the labor market. At one period, for example, society
may have had little use for blacks, but much need for
Mexican or Japanese agricultural workers. At another time,
the Japanese, including citizens of long standing, may have
been in intense disfavor and removed to war relocation
camps, while society cultivated other groups of color for jobs
in war industry or as cannon fodder on the front. Popular
images and stereotypes of various minority groups shift over
time, as well. In one era, a group of color may be depicted as
happy-go-lucky, simpleminded, and content to serve white
folks. A little later, when conditions change, that very same
group may appear in cartoons, movies, and other cultural
scripts as menacing, brutish, and out of control, requiring
close monitoring and repression.
Closely related to differential racialization—the idea that
each race has its own origins and ever evolving history—is
the notion of intersectionality and anti-essentialism. No person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity. A white feminist
may be Jewish, or working-class, or a single mother. An
African American activist may be gay or lesbian. A Latino
may be a Democrat, a Republican, or even a black—perhaps
because that person’s family hails from the Caribbean. An
Asian may be a recently arrived Hmong of rural background
and unfamiliar with mercantile life, or a fourth-generation
Chinese with a father who is a university professor and a
mother who operates a business. Everyone has potentially
conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances.
A final element concerns the notion of a unique voice of
color. Coexisting in somewhat uneasy tension with anti-essentialism, the voice-of-color thesis holds that because of
their different histories and experiences with oppression,
black, Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers may
be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters
that the whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in
other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak
about race and racism. The ““legal storytelling” movement
urges black and brown writers to recount their experiences
with racism and the legal system and to apply their own
unique perspectives to assess law’s master narratives.
things even this cursory reading brings up–
1. what does it mean that the most cutting edge theory on race is coming from a group of lawyers?
2. obviously the solutions for lawyers are not going to be ours, but what responses could anarchists have to these different thoughts on what race means/implies in the us?
3. intersectionality is a term that has taken off amongst identity adherents. the concept was intended to be a challenge to essentialism, but seems not to have been at all. what do people think about that? have you had experiences with this term in particular?
and… a random but very interesting chapter from Seeing Through Race: Idolatry
a few chapters from To the Customers, a critique of the invisible commitee, and specifically To Our Friends, by some anon folks out of italy.
“By spreading his tail this bird so fair,
Whose plumage drags the forest floor,
Appears more lovely than before,
But thus unveils his derrière.”
The Invisible Committee’s second book, like the first, was published in France by the same publishing house, La Fabrique, whose name is a homage to workerist ideology. Its animator is Eric Hazan, a real character of an editor, as well as a historian and philosopher. Beyond being, of course, a bitter enemy of the constituted order, although his First Revolutionary Measures (the title of one of his books written together with the zombie of Kamo, who, some whisper, was also dug up on the plateau of Millevaches near Tarnac) has not completely managed to make people forget his latest counter-revolutionary measures (his electoral propaganda in favor of the socialist François Hollande, now president of France). Like the preceding work, To Our Friends is also part of the battle series of La Fabrique editions, the same series that includes works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Blanqui, Gramsci, Robespierre, as well as three titles from Tiqqun … But Hazan doesn’t only have eyes for the grandpas and grandsons of authoritarian revolutionary thought: his 2010 catalog can also brag of Les Mauvais Jours Finiront: 40 ans de combats pour la justice et les libertes (The Bad Days Will End: 40 Years of Fighting for Justice and Liberty), the title that, with the piquant communard-situ flavor, serves to spice up a hot dish from an author as insipid as the Judiciary Union. Well? What’s strange about this? Nothing, considering that in 2003, Hazan had already distinguished himself for the publication of the diary of the founder of the National Police union (who spent twenty years doing this “good job in which one helps people and protects society”), while in 2005 he published the book of an auxiliary doctor of the police who desired to let the public know what it takes to care for the health of the arrested in the police station.
In short, as you’ve understood, Eric Hazan is a revolutionary, well-read and lacking prejudice.
The back cover of the Invisible Committee’s new book, along with listing to whom it is addressed, concludes with the by now inevitable affectation of humility, a genuine trademark of certain movement areas. This new editorial effort is simperingly presented by its authors as a “modest contribution to an understanding of our time.” Now, it is already annoying to hear a scholar complimenting himself for his erudition, or a muse bragging about her beauty, or a strong man asserting his strength. But modesty? To flaunt one’s modesty is to fall into the most flagrant hypocrisy, it is bellowing out one’s conceit. But, as we will see, the Invisible Committee is the supreme master of contradiction.
Starting with an ostentatious humility, the I.C. is announced with great fanfare. In the original promotional press release for the book in France, we actually read:
In 2007, we published The Coming Insurrection… A book that has now ended up being associated with the ‘Tarnac case,’ forgetting that it was already a success in bookstores… Because it isn’t enough that a book be included in its totality in a file of an anti-terrorist investigation for it to sell, it is also necessary that the truths it articulates touch that readers due to a certain correctness. It must be acknowledged that a number of assertions by the Invisible Committee have since been confirmed, starting with the first and most essential: the sensational return of the insurrectionary phenomenon. Starting in 2008, a half-year has not passed without a mass revolt or an uprising taking place to the removal of the powers in charge … If it has been the sequence of events that has conferred its subversive character to The Coming Insurrection, it is the intensity of the present that makes To Our Friends an eminently more scandalous text. We cannot content ourselves with celebrating the insurrectional wave that currently passes through the world, also congratulating ourselves on having noticed its birth before others… To Our Friends is thus written at the peak of this general movement, at the peak of the experience. Its words come from the heart of disorders and are addressed to all those who still believe sufficiently in life to fight. To Our Friends wants to be a report on the condition of the world and of the movement, an essentially strategic and openly partisan writing. Its political ambition is boundless: to produce a shared understanding of the times, at the expense of the extreme confusion of the present.
Advertising language knows only the absolute superlative. The words of this presentation sound so lacking in modesty as to be inappropriate if addressed to potential friends, usually not so inclined to welcome such arrogance, but perfect if one intends to address potential customers luring them with the promise of strong emotions. Isn’t it true that every new product that gets put on the market is presented as if it were a “masterpiece,” an “experience you don’t want to miss,” a “unique sensation”? In 2006, an essay on the propaganda of daily life that appeared in France, published by Raisons d’agir editions, also pointed this out, declaring that
Another symptom of the influence of advertising is the inflation of hyperbole, particularly in… book and film reviews […] Journalists make the jobs of the copywriters of the advertising agencies easier, littering their articles with enthusiastic formulas, rich with adjectives … The incestuous relationship with advertising contributes to making [language] a tool of programmed emotion, an impulsive language, just as one describes ‘an impulsive purchase’.
Curious—but we are not at all surprised—that the author of this essay, entitled “LQR,” is precisely Mr. Eric Hazan, who in the costume of the essayist lashes out against this invasion of advertising into the language, while in the costume of editor he welcomes it, with the aim of programming readers to the impulsive purchase of his products.
Putting aside the poverty of self-promotional gimmicks, such a conceit brings to our minds some considerations of an old and well-known Italian anarchist, who mocked the
sweet mania of all idolaters. Thus, marxists attribute everything to Marx, and one passes for a marxist even if one says that bosses rob the workers (ah! so you admit the theory of surplus value, they shout at you in a triumphant tone) or if one affirms the millennia-old truth that to assert reason force is required. If you say that the sun shines, the mazzinians will say that Mazzini said it, and the marxists will answer that Marx said it. Idolaters are made this way.
The Invisible Committee is also made this way, it is an idolater of itself. It only remembers the disorders that broke out after its book was blessed by FNAC or Amazon—not even the insurrections and rebellions that exploded starting from 2007 were due to it, not even the rebels who rose up throughout the planet did so because they were aroused by reading its text. And what about what happened, for example, in Oaxaca or Kurdistan in 2006, in France or Iran in 2005, in Manipur or Syria in 2004, in Iraq and Bolivia in 2003, in Argentina in 2002, in Algeria in 2001, in Ecuador in 2000, in Iran in 1999, in Indonesia in 1998, in Albania in 1997… not to mention the ongoing revolts that break out in countries impenetrable to western information like China?
Let the lowdown scoundrels of the Invisible Committee resign themselves. They have predicted nothing, they have not discovered and announced anything new. Storms don’t break out to confirm the words of the meteorologist. There have been insurrections throughout history, and they have no need of anyone to theorize them in order to explode. Neither revolutionaries who discuss them in their autonomous publications, nor intellectuals who transform them into logos of success on the publishing market. So if the I.C. brag about being aware of the insurrectional phenomenon before others, then one has to ask who these others are: their competitors in climbing sales ratings for titles of political critique? Toni Negri who obsesses them so much in the competition for theoretical hegemony of the extreme left, or Stéphane Hessel who incites to the civic insurrection of consciences, or Naomi Klein, icon of the anti-globalization movement, whose books have all sold many more than them, clearly because… they have articulated even more correct truths?
However it may be, we admit it, the Invisible Committee has achieved a first. Before others, it has commodified insurrection.
But in case advertising hyperbole isn’t successful, emotional participation intervenes. In the book’s preface, the rugged members of the Invisible Committee enthrall their readers with their personal confidences, making the readers into participants in their adventurous life:
Since The Coming Insurrection, we’ve gone to the places where the epoch was inflamed. We’ve read, we’ve fought, we’ve discussed with comrades of every country and every tendency. Together with them, we’ve come up against the invisible obstacles of the times. Some of us have died, others have seen prison. We’ve kept going. We haven’t given up on constructing worlds or attacking this one.
It is here that that sensation of deep embarrassment, almost shame, for someone else comes out.
The strength of anonymity is in its ability to unburden the meaning of an idea or an action from the identity of the one who formulates it or carries it out, returning it in this way to a full availability in its universal essence. But what is there to say when it gets used only to take the license of claiming or boasting about who knows what undertakings? Who is the Invisible Committee out to impress when—certain that no one could refute it—it evokes its omnipresence in disorders, death, and prison suffered by its members, along with its irreducible tenacity? Such boastfulness might impress its customers, but it provokes everyone else to savage sarcasm. We also take for granted that the collection of authors’ rights has allowed it to make insurrectional tourism, or rather to compete with pacifists and leftists, the police and journalists in rushing headlong to wherever there were outbreaks of revolt. But we still doubt that the I.C. has discussed with comrades of every tendency (okay, let’s not be too persnickety: “every tendency” except for those who don’t adore them). Finally, who among its initiates is dead and how? It doesn’t say, this way making fantasy fly. Is the Committee speaking of those fallen on the field during insurrections? Or more simply of the dedicatees of this new book? Maybe Billy and Guccio and Alexis were all part of the Committee? And which of its members ended up in prison? The hacker Jeremy Hammond?
We strongly doubt it, but it is completely useless to dwell on such questions. After having been the self-proclaimed spokespeople of the “historical party” of insurrection, nothing remains to the Invisible Committee but to inspect its properties, coopting the revolt of others through the use of the royal “we” that makes it reflect on “global action by our party,” or to recall that on “May 10, 2010, five hundred thousand of us flooded into the center of Athens.” Just as in the past the intellectuals of the Situationist International bragged of expressing the revolutionary theory, maintaining in defiance of ridicule that their ideas were “in everyone’s heads—it is well-known,” in the same way the intellectuals of the I.C. brag in the present of expressing the insurrectional event, maintaining—in defiance of ridicule and feeding off of the slogan of Anonymous—that they are legion and are everywhere on the barricades erected over the planet. It is well-known!
Here it is: the last peacock of the zoo of the extreme left, utterly intent on opening its tail with phosphorescent feathers to put itself on display before its public.
One of the common traits of LQR, the idiom of advertising and the language of the Third Reich—a parallel that obviously does not imply any equating of neoliberalism to nazism—is the pursuit of effectiveness even at the expense of plausibility …
Of nazi language, Jean-Pierre Faye writes, ‘the most surprising thing is that its inconsequentialities are practical for it: since they also play in the field that produced them, one would say that they tend to recharge it.’ Even LQR does not fear inconsequentiality.
LQR. La propagande du quotidien
(LQR: The Propaganda of Everyday Life)
The language of the Invisible Committee fears it that much less. The aspect that most leaps out before its writings is precisely the lack of a consequential logic underlying its affirmations. It seems to be a characteristic of this entire milieu, since already in 2003 the last editors of Tiqqun announced in their (announcement for enlistment and so called) Appel (Call): “The question is not to demonstrate, to argue, to convince. We will go straight to the evident. The evident is not primarily an affair of logic or reasoning. It attaches to the sensible, to worlds.” One already starts to smile over the curious and self-interested mixture of terms. In general, the sensible is as far as can be from an evident. The sensible is subjective, individual, obscure as a riddle that is interpreted by each one individually. The evident, instead, is objective, common, clear as a certainty clarified for all collectively. The sensible is controversial, the evident, no, it is verified. If both are not “affairs of logic,” it is for diametrically opposed reasons. Reason doesn’t have the capacity of making an affair of what lies beyond its range (like the elusive sensible), while it has no need to do it with what is right here (like the evident already taken for granted at a discount). But what interests the authors of Appel, what makes them drool before the evocation of the sensible as evident, is that both are recognized, accepted in any case, and, above all, are not debated. Each one has her own inaccessible sensibility, all yield before the undeniable evident.
It’s the same worry that afflicts the Invisible Committee: not to be called into question. So in order not to incur the risk that its words are examined, pondered, maybe even refuted, in order to make it clear that they are also immediately conceded and accepted as they are, it feigns a superior indifference for the substance of the contents—a tedious waste of time—preferring to make the readers quiver with thrilling sensations, like silk: intensity, consistency, finesse. In its debut of 2007, it was quick to present itself in the guise not of the responsible author, but rather of the “scribe” who bears no blame, which limits itself to reporting “commonplaces,” “truths,” and “observations” of the times. In this way, The Coming Insurrection did not become a book on which to reflect and debate, but rather a book to acknowledge. In short, a sacred text.
Along the same line, To Our Friends is presented as a commentary on some slogans drawn on walls during the revolts that broke out around the world. Every chapter, in fact, takes a bit of graffiti, the image of which is recopied on its opening page, as the title. Through this pathetic expedient the customers are directed to observe the same inferred evidence—it isn’t the Invisible Committee speaking, it is the global insurrection; hey, have you seen? the global insurrections say exactly what the Invisible Committee says! Well, of course, after all, the walls of this planet agree with everyone from democrats to fascists, from religious fanatics to sports fans, even sex maniacs. You just have to choose the right photograph.
It’s not hard to grasp that for common mortals intent on making themselves pass for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is only one sure method for making their words infallible: saying everything and its contrary. Flip through the pages of the Invisible Committee and you remain certain that every one of its statements, peremptory as befits a piece of evidence, will know a few pages later an equally peremptory denial. In this way, what it maintains will always be true and those who criticize it will support, by force of circumstance, the false. Its intention to untangle the “greatest confusion,” to “untangle the skein of the present, and in places to settle accounts with ancient falsehoods,” through a hurricane of contradictions, sophisms, and absurdities, is curious, but we fear that such confusions and such falsehoods can only increase after the reading of its books in which every least bit of logic and consequentiality are literally demolished.
The examples that one might make on the matter risk being endless. We have already seen how the Invisible Committee shows off its modesty to satisfy its vanity. It doesn’t miss any opportunity to insult the left, which publishes it and with whom it theorizes having relationships. It denounces the recuperation and impotence of radical ideas when put in the service of the commerce of publishing, but doesn’t hesitate to practice it. It thunders about wanting to desert this world, but doesn’t tolerate those who abandon it (unlike these latter, to secede from the world, it seizes it in order to grasp its position!). It complains of the human being alienated by technological trinkets, then exhorts people to use these trinkets after having revealed the ethic of the technique. With regards to ethics, it considers them adorable but only in the service of politics. It admits that insurrection depends on qualitative criteria, while it explains why one cannot do without the quantitative. It cites outlaws who deny the existence of another world, then announces that it creates worlds. It sees war everywhere and wants to make it in such a devastating way that it does not designate the enemy, but rather seeks to makes friends with it. It is interested in any demand-based struggle, originating with any pretext, but then blames those who raise the question of austerity. It critiques time and again the myth of assemblyism and the anxiety over legitimacy present in many struggles, while it exalts the great merit of those most infected with them. It throws the self-organizational capacities that people put into action when they are suddenly deprived of state services in the face of realists, and then becomes realistic in its turn and prescribes courses that prevent/preempt self-organization for all. It invites the forgetful to remember the ancient insurrectional origin of the term “popular” (populor = devastate) but deliberately omits explaining that the “devastation” was that carried out by soldiers in war (populus = army). It wants life to put roots into the earth, but it doesn’t tolerate ideas putting roots into life. While it sets forth its critique of areas of the movement, it accuses those subversives who criticize areas of the movement of “auto-phagy.” It reproaches revolutionaries for not understanding that power is found in infrastructures, that it is therefore necessary to strike there, but then warns against taking action. Since everything organizing itself requires attention and everything being organized requires management, it invites becoming-revolutionaries to be organized. It proclaims the end of civilization, by warning that its technical complexity makes it immortal. It mocks the divisions that weaken the movement, but acknowledges that fragmentation could make it indomitable. It goes into ecstasy over the impulse of spontaneism, but it’s best if it is not completely spontaneist. Along with “comrade Deleuze,” it supports the need to be the most centralist of the centralists, but then, along with an Egyptian comrade, supports not wanting leaders, so that the centrality, in order not to be too oppressive, must be transversal. These are just a few examples to explain the nausea that assails us after a few ups and downs on the theoretical roller-coaster of those who in 2007 announced The Coming Insurrection and in 2014 revealed that the aim of every prophecy is to “impose here and now waiting, passivity, submission.”
Now when one runs into someone who can habitually stoop to contradictory claims, a doubt spontaneously and immediately arises: is she aware of the absurdities she maintains? If he doesn’t notice them, perhaps his intelligence is quite limited. If, on the other hand, she is aware of it, why does she do it? There would be some not very clear motivation behind it, which escapes us. In short, the conclusion one reaches in these cases is that there are only two alternatives. Either one is dealing with an aware person, who is then an opportunist or one is dealing with an imbecile.
But the Invisible Committee, as one can easily see, is certainly not imbecilic. The other, much more reliable theory remains. This explains the reason for the deep disgust that pervades us in reading its texts (the same that we felt on reading that Appel, which, in whatever way and whoever its authors were, anticipated them inside the movement). Could it be that we are victims of that revolutionary romanticism that loves to see in every enemy of the constituted order a Warrior for the Idea; Could it be that, like Winston Smith, we also have not managed very well to detach ourselves from the conventions of oldspeak: but could we not feel disgusted before those who would like to make revolutions through the contortions of doublethink? This may all be commercially and politically convenient—as the editorial success of the Invisible Committee and the electoral success of its first Fan Club indicate—but it remains ethically appalling.
In the tremors of the uprisings,
I held, as anchors for every storm,
ten to twelve party badges in my pocket.
A Toast to Turncoats
In Latin, it seems, was the origin of a dig at the master of rhetoric, Cicero, who was accustomed “duabus sellis sedere” (to sit on two thrones). In French today they say “jouer sur les deux tableaux” (to play on two gameboards). In German, it becomes “zwischen Baum und Borke leben” (to live between the tree and the bark). In Spanish it sounds like “nadar entre dos aguas” (to swim in two waters). In Italian it is “tenere i piedi in più scarpe” (to have one’s feet in many shoes). While in English it is “to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.”
Every language has a colorful expression of its own to point out the attitude of one who doesn’t hesitate to change opinion and behavior according to the moment and the situation, one that describes the oscillations of turncoats, of chameleons, of double-crossers. Opportunism is an old defect that afflicts politics, whether reformist or revolutionary. Like the Calls, it becomes manifest above all in periods of manifest crisis. When events go along at a more or less regular rhythm, it is easy to keep theory and practice, means and ends, together. But when that rhythm gets disrupted, when urgency takes over the mind, that is when people are transformed into acrobats of Tactics. From the search for what one considers right (an ethical question), one turns to the search for what one considers functional and convenient (techno-political questions), closing one’s eyes to possible incongruities. Some of those Spanish anarchists who would become government ministers knew about this, for example, Garcia Oliver who—going in the course of a few months from robbing banks to drawing up decreed laws—began to demand “using the same methods as the enemy, and especially discipline and unity.”
The characteristic of the Invisible Committee is not that of putting into action a practice that contradicts any of its theory, since from the start it maintains opposing theories, flinging open the door to any practice whatsoever. It is so full of contradictions as to no longer even appear contradictory. On the contrary. In fact, if one can say everything and its opposite, then one can also do everything and its opposite. This is the secret of its success: giving a semblance of coherence to incoherence. This is what has affected its editor Hazan, theoretical critic of advertising, which he utilizes in practice, as well as a revolutionary editor of judges and cops and supporter of presidential candidates. And this also seems to excite its admirers in Tarnac, who, after having learned yesterday that “visibility must be avoided” and that it is necessary to “get organized” coherently, and before repeating today that “disgust, pure negativity, and absolute refusal are the only discernable [sic] political forces of the moment,” have thought it good to come into the political and media limelight. But don’t suppose that the editor and Fan Club are not in agreement with the observation that “for two whole centuries elections have been the most widely used instrument after the army for suppressing insurrections,” they had simply already learned in 2007 that “Those who still vote seem to have no other intention than to desecrate the ballot box by voting as a pure act of protest. We’re beginning to suspect that it’s only against voting itself that people continue to vote.” A wasted effort since it is well-known, except in Tarnac, that capital, ever since “the revolutionaries of the years 1960-1970, were quite clear that they wanted nothing to do with it… selects its people… territory by territory.” Everything clear, true?
Naturally this absolute lack of coherence is also and above all what attracts the Committee’s customers, the thing for which they are doubly grateful. First of all for producing goods at an essentially affordable price that allow them to enter into the virtual reality of insurrection, of living a thousand adventures “as if they were true” without taking the risk of getting scratched. To the readers it is enough to leaf through its books to see oneself seated at the table of the Strategic Committee for Global Insurrection, the words of the insurgents of Tharir square in one’s ears, the streets of Exarchia before one’s eyes, Edward Snowden on the run from the CIA sitting on the right and sub-comandante Marcos on the left. Because, ultimately, according to the Invisible Committee itself, everything is reduced to being a mere question of perception and sensibility. A hit of adrenaline that is extended even after the reading of the book, since at that point the readers feel stirred up and gratified and free to do anything whatever, even if he was a nuclear technician in the service of the army. Police and fascists excluded (in anticipation of the firing squad, or of some future tactical utilization?), everyone else now knows that they can one day unite with the revolutionaries, the true revolutionaries, those who look neither at intentions nor at individual responsibilities, but only at technical competence.
Such a practical eclecticism is not just the implicit consequence of the contemporary formulation of more opposing thoughts, or of the lack of a coherent and consistent theory, since it is explicitly theorized by the Committee itself. After and as Tiqqun, it repeats like a mantra the need of an action based on a situational ethic. Or rather on the relaxed availability, capacity, ability to adapt oneself to circumstances, to merge into the environment, to be—to say it in the I.C.’s way—“at the height of the situation.” Here one might refer to the ancient sophist relativism of Gorgia, but it’s better to leave it in the vulgar oldspeak of the ends that justify the means. If already in Appel one could read that
To get organised means: to start from the situation and not dismiss it. To take sides within it. Weaving the necessary material, affective, and political solidarities … The position within a situation determines the need to forge alliances, and for that purpose to establish some lines of communication, some wider circulation. In turn those new links reconfigure the situation,
in To Our Friends, the I.C. maintains that,
Conflict is the very stuff of what exists. So the thing to do is to acquire an art of conducting it, which is an art of living on a situational footing, and which requires a finesse and an existential mobility instead of a readiness to crush whatever is not us,
managing in this way “in the complexity of the movements, to discern the shared friends, the possible alliances, the necessary conflicts. According to a logic of strategy, and not of dialectics.”
Even though the Invisible Committee sometimes opportunistically invoked it, the refusal of the world—what incites to desertion, to secession—is not at all considered a basis for sedition, but rather for renunciation. The I.C. sees deserting this world, staying outside of it, as the first step toward the rancorous impotence of the hermitage. This is why the I.C. doesn’t at all exhort people to break ranks, but to take one’s side inside, or rather reconfigure them. In fact, the true crisis gets defined as “that of presence” and to come out of it, it is necessary to heed the admonition of a member of Telecomix:
What is certain is that the territory you’re living in is defended by persons you would do well to meet. Because they’re changing the world and they won’t wait for you.
If it is the state defending the territory, if it is the state changing the world, if it is the state not waiting for subversives … well, let the latter hurry to catch up with the state, to go meet with it. They might give it some good advice.
But this is not desertion at all: deserters are those who no longer obey orders, who abandon the spaces in which they are restricted, throw off the uniforms, and go into hiding. What the I.C. propose instead in To Our Friends is an infiltration starting from the bottom. A nearly impossible tactic to put into practice (except in films dear to the Committee like Fight Club), but very easy to theorize about on paper (as the early situationists well knew). A tactic that requires a predisposition to falsehood, an inclination to hypocrisy, complicity in abjection, tolerance for infamy, and that has always accompanied the worst betrayals. But when it’s a question of tightening necessary political solidarities, there are those who don’t get lost in operative doubts or in ethical scruples.
In this regard, To Our Friends contains intoxicating passages. According to the Committee,
insurrections no longer base themselves on political ideologies, but on ethical truths. Here we have two words that, to a modern sensibility, sound oxymoronic when brought together. Establishing what is true is the role of science, is it not?—science having nothing to do with moral norms and other contingent values.
When it has to approach the words truth and ethics, the Committee excuses itself with embarrassment as if it had belched in public. To such hyper-modern eyes, such an approach can only seem like an oxymoron. Ultimately, it’s understandable. Ethics dies on contact with politics, politics weakens on contact with ethics. This is why anyone who is obsessed with the search for what is convenient can do nothing less than recall how their values are “contingent” (or rather accidental, random, incidental, conditional). For every outdated spirit, the ethical truths wielded by the Invisible Committee make them roll on the floor laughing as these truths are fickle, synonymous with convenient opinions. An ethical truth takes hold of an entire life, 24 hours out of 24, not the time of a situation with the sole aim of tightening a strategic alliance.
But the moment the ethical ballast is jettisoned, according to the I.C. it goes without saying that “We have an absolutely clear field for any decision, any initiative, as long as they’re linked to a careful reading of the situation… Our range of action is boundless.” Boundless, clear? However little the situation requires it, it is possible to do anything. It’s what Nechaev thought in the past, or Bin Laden in the present. So one understands the reason why the I.C. regrets that “Since the catastrophic defeat of the 1970s, the moral question of radicality has gradually replaced the strategic question of revolution.” To be strategic, the revolutionary has to be as subtle and mobile as a rubber band, she must be able to easily go from the balaclava to the suit and tie, from conflicts with the police in the streets to handshakes with colleagues in the government buildings. One must be capable of spitting on those in power and kissing subversives today, and tomorrow kissing those in power and spitting on subversives. To achieve this result it is necessary to have done with those individuals and those groups so stupid and presumptuous as to get impeded by values that they believe to be their own and autonomous, which they follow like the dog follows its master. It is necessary instead to make way for the “historical party” phantasm invested with a higher mission—leading to the revolution—in a position to justify every base act carried out by its human militants in flesh and blood in the course of their intelligent and modest slalom between the sensible weathercocks of situations.
But where do all these considerations come to? To Tarnac, for example. It was hard for Invisible Committee to swallow that in 2008-2009 its most enthusiastic fans (or members, according to some points of view) were mocked, taunted, sometimes even pushed out of movement situations, after having clearly shown what their conflict is made of, when, to these admirers of Blanqui—who spent more than thirty years behind bars—a few weeks in prison seemed to be enough to send them running under the skirts of the disparaged Left in search of protection. Which is why, after years of meditation weighing things up, here is the tactical defense of such behavior: “When repression strikes us, let’s begin by not taking ourselves for ourselves. Let’s dissolve the fantastical terrorist subject …”. It isn’t the claim of innocence, no. It isn’t panic, no. It isn’t the absence of the least bit of dignity, no. It is a winning strategic move. In effect, in this life of the daily repression of desires, it seems to us precisely that the whole lesson of the I.C. is reduced to this: no longer take yourself for yourself.
In the same way, it is always in defense of its Tarnac fans—since March 2014 neo-municipal-council-members, then mass media opinion-makers, and more recently even admonishers of police investigators (to whom they suggest which investigative trails to follow)—that the Committee emphasizes the imperious tactical necessity of establishing contacts with the other side, with all those who might prove useful tomorrow:
We need to go look in every sector, in all the territories we inhabit, for those who possess strategic technical knowledge… This process of knowledge accumulation, of establishing collusions in every domain, is a prerequisite for a serious and massive return of the revolutionary question.
This is why recently the most revolutionary grocers in France have gone to knock on the doors of a pair of embassies in London to pay homage to two of the great victims of persecution for telematic Free Information. One is an Australian hacker who aided the police of his country in the hunt for “pedophiles” (those monsters who, behind the closed doors of their habitation, collect and look at obscene photographs of children and who therefore, not being 19th century celebrities like Lewis Carroll or Pierre Louÿs, deserve only prison), the other is an American information technician in the service of the CIA since 2006, after an accident that happened to him during his training shattered his dream of fighting with the Special Forces in Iraq. Here absolutely are two people to know, because they defend the territory, change the world and possess necessary knowledge. And so, two precious allies of revolutionaries, as the condition of both objectively shows since they find themselves targeted by the United States government. After all, as the I.C. puts it:
A gesture is revolutionary not by its own content but by the sequence of effects it engenders. The situation is what determines the meaning of the act, not the intention of its authors.
Which means that individual intentions don’t count for anything, only the results count and it is up to the future to establish who is or isn’t revolutionary. A Marinus Van der Lubbe, to give a name, you can forget him. What did he do that was revolutionary? Nothing, the loser. Considering it well, indeed, now there is no more doubt: there is hope even for cops and fascists. A hope of redemption, of atonement, in short, of “tiqqun.”
In case it isn’t sufficiently clear, after the passage of the Invisible Committee nothing is left intact but a political idea; and that is, for example, that one can be a state functionary and a revolutionary at the same time.
i don’t remember who suggested it, introducing the topic will be a free for all!
for those who were interested (based perhaps on last night’s group), you can download the word series from here
two are up now, two more will be soon.
three brief pieces from Willful Disobedience, originally a series of pamphlets by wolfi landstreicher, then a book collecting those pamphlets.
The Enemy of Thinking
It is not uncommon in american anarchist circles to hear someone say, “I believe in fairies”, “I believe in magic”, “I believe in ghosts” or the like. Only rarely do these believers claim a direct experience of the phenomena they claim to believe in. Much more often it is a friend, a relative or that standard favorite, “someone I met” who supposedly had the experience. When there is a direct experience, a little bit of questioning usually reveals that the actual experience has, at best, a very tenuous connection to the belief it is used to support. Yet if one dares to point this out, one may be accused of denying the believer’s experience and of being a cold-hearted rationalist.
Neo-paganism and mysticism have penetrated deeply into the american anarchist scene, undermining a healthy skepticism that seems so essential to the battle against authority. We were all well trained to believe—to accept various ideas as true without examination and to interpret our experiences based on these beliefs. Since we were taught how to believe, not how to think, when we reject the beliefs of the mainstream, it is much easier to embrace an alternative belief system than to begin the struggle of learning to think for ourselves. When this rejection includes a critique of civilization, one can even justify the embrace of mystical beliefs as a return to the animism or earth religion attributed to non-civilized people. But some of us have no interest in belief systems. Since we want to think for ourselves, and such thinking has nothing in common with belief of any sort.
Probably one of the reasons american anarchists shy away from skepticism—other than that belief is easier—is that scientific rationalists have claimed to be skeptics while pushing a plainly authoritarian belief system. Magazines such as the Skeptical Inquirer have done much of worth in debunking new age bullshit, mystical claims and even such socially significant beliefs as the “satanic abuse” myth, but they have failed to turn the same mystical eye on the mainstream beliefs of established science. For a long time, science has been able to hide behind the fact that it uses some fairly reliable methods in its activities. Certainly. observation and experimentation are essential tools in the development of ways of thinking that are one’s own. But science does not apply these methods freely to the exploration of self-determined living, but uses them in a system of beliefs. Stephen Jay Gould is a firm believer in science; he is also unusually honest about it. In one of his books, I found a discussion of the basis of science. He states clearly that the basis of science is not, as is popularly thought, the so-called “scientific method” ( i.e., empirical observation and experimentation), but rather the belief that there are universal laws by which nature has consistently operated. Gould points out that the empirical method only becomes science when applied within the context of this belief. The scientific rationalists are glad to apply their skepticism to belief in fairies or magic, but won’t even consider applying it to the belief in scientific laws. In this, they are acting like the christian who scoffs at hinduism. Anarchists are wise to reject this rigid and authoritarian worldview.
But when the rejection of scientific rationalism becomes the embrace of gullibility, authority has been successful in its training. The ruling order is far less interested in what we believe than in guaranteeing that we continue to believe rather than beginning to , beginning to try to understand the world we encounter outside of any of the belief systems we’ve been given to view it through. As long as we are focused on muons or fairies, quasars or goddesses, thermodynamics or astral-projection, we won’t be asking any of the essential questions, because we’ll already have answers, answers that we’ve come to believe in, answers that transform nothing. The hard road of doubt, which cannot (tolerate) the easy answers of either the scientist or the mystic, is the only road that begins from the individual’s desire for self-determination. Real thinking is based in hard and probing questions the first of which are: why is my life so far from what I desire, and how do I transform it? When one leaps too quickly to an answer based upon belief, one has lost one’s life and embraced slavery.
Skepticism is an essential tool for all who want to destroy authority. In order to learn how to explore, experiment and probe—that is, to think for oneself—one must refuse to believe. Of course, it is a struggle, often painful, without the comfort of easy answers; but it is also the adventure of discovering the world for oneself, of creating a life that, for its own pleasure, acts to destroy all authority and every social constraint. So if you speak to me of your beliefs, expect to be doubted, questioned, probed and mocked, because that within you which still needs to believe is that within you that still needs a master.
Thoughts on Growing Up
To become an adult in this society is to be mutilated. The processes of family conditioning and education subtly (and often not so subtly) terrorize children, reducing their capacity for self-determination and transforming them into beings useful to society. A well-adjusted, “mature” adult is one who accepts the humiliations that work-and-pay society constantly heaps upon them with equanimity. It is absurd to call the process that creates such a shriveled, mutilated being “growing up.
There are some of us who recognize the necessity of destroying work if we are to destroy authority. We recognize that entirely new ways of living and interacting need to be created, ways best understood as free play. Unfortunately, some of the anarchists within this milieu cannot see beyond the fact that the adult as we know it is a social mutilation and tend to idealize childhood in such a way that they embrace an artificial infantilism, donning masks of childishness to prove they’ve escaped this mutilation. In so doing, they limit the games they can play, particularly those games aimed at the destruction of this society.
At the age of forty, I am still able to take pleasure in playing such “children’s” games as hide-and-seek or tag. Certainly, if growing up is not to be the belittling process of becoming a societal adult, none of the pleasures or games of our younger days should be given up. Rather they should be refined and expanded, opening up ever-greater possibilities for creating marvelous lives and destroying this society.
The games invented by those anarchists who have trapped themselves in their artificial infantilism are not this sort of expansive play, or not nearly enough so. Becoming “mud people” in the business district of a city, playing clown at a shopping center, parading noise orchestras through banks and other businesses is great fun and can even be a wee bit subversive. But those who consider these games a significant challenge to the social system are deluding themselves. People working in offices, factories, banks and shops do not need to be taught that there are better things to do with their time than work. Most are quite aware of this. But a global system of social control compels people to participate in its reproduction in order to guarantee themselves a certain level of survival. As long as the domination of this system seems to be inevitable and eternal, most people will adjust themselves and even feel a resigned contentment with their “lot”. So anarchist insurgents need to develop much fiercer, riskier games—games of violent attack against this system of control.
I have been chided many times for associating play with violence and destruction, occasionally by “serious revolutionaries” who tell me that the war against the power structures is no game, but more often by the proponents of anarcho-infantilism who tell me that there is nothing playful about violence. What all of these chiders have in common is that they do not understand how serious play can be. If the game one is playing is that of creating and projecting one’s life for oneself, then one will take one’s play quite seriously. It is not mere recreation in this case, but one’s very life. This game inevitably brings one into conflict with society. One can respond to this in a merely defensive manner, but this leaves one in a stalemate with retreat becoming inevitable.
When one’s passion for intense living, one’s joy in the game of creating one’s own life and interactions is great enough, then mere defense will not do. Attack, violent attack, becomes an essential part of the game, a part in which one can take great pleasure. Here one encounters an adventure that challenges one’s capabilities, develops one’s imagination as a practical weapon, takes one beyond the realm of survival’s hedged bets into the world of genuine risk that is life. Can the laughter of joy exist anywhere else than in such a world, where the pleasure we take in fireworks increases a hundred-fold when we know that the fireworks are blowing up a police station, a bank, a factory or a church? For me, growing up can only mean the process of creating more intense and expansive game—of creating our lives for ourselves. As long as authority exists, this means games of violent attack against all of the institutions of society, aiming at the total destruction of these institutions. Anything less will keep us trapped in the infantile adulthood this society imposes. I desire much more.
AGAINST BINARY THINKING
As our desire to create our lives as we see fit, to realize ourselves to the fullest extent, to reappropriate the conditions of our existence, develops into a real project of revolt against all domination and oppression, we begin to encounter the world with a more penetrating eye. Our ideas sharpen as they become tools in a life and in relationships aimed at the destruction of the social order and the opening of unknown possibilities for exploring the infinity of singular beings. With a clear aim, a resolute project of revolt, it is much easier to throw off the methods of thought imposed by this society: by school, religion, television, the media, advertising, elections, the internet—all the educational, informational and communications tools through which the ruling order expresses itself. One who has a life project, a project of revolt that motivates her activities to their depths, based on his desires and passions, not on an ideology or cause, will thus express her ideas, analyses and critiques with the assurance of one who is speaking from life, from the depths of his own being.
But where a projectual practice of revolt is lacking (and, let’s be clear, I am not talking about having a bunch of random “radical” projects like an infoshop, a pirate radio station, a “Food not Bombs”, etc, but of creating one’s life and relationships in active revolt against the current existence in its totality), people continue to encounter the world in ways that they were taught, using the methods of thinking imposed by the current social order—this tolerant order of democratic discussion where there are two sides to every question; where we all have a choice…among the limited options offered in the marketplace of goods and of opinions, that is; where the “ideas” offered have all been separated from life, drained of all except the most instrumental passions and desires, drained of joy and sorrow and rage; where every desire is drained of its singularity and immediate content and conformed to the needs of whatever ideology and of the marketplace. There is no place here for the strong and passionate critique that springs from our desire for the fullness of life, from our awareness of the complexity of the world we face and the world we want to create, because here all ideas have been flattened into opinions and every opinion is equal—and equally empty.
And so without a project of revolt that springs from the fullness of our being and our relationships, even we anarchists find our thinking permeated with the methodology of opinion. Thus, the binary method of the public poll penetrates into the expression of so-called anarchist ideas: are you a communist or are you an individualist? do you sacrifice yourself and your desires to a moralistic “green anarchist” vision of a distant future where what is left of humanity reverts to the supposed edenic conditions of prehistoric foragers or to an equally distant “red anarchist” vision of the self-managed industrial workers’ paradise? do you adhere to feminism or do you uphold male domination? The list could go on, but the point is that such binary thinking is a clear sign that one’s revolt is still in the realm of morals and ideals external to oneself and thus in the realm of opinion.
To imagine a communism developed precisely to expand individual freedom and to see such freedom as flourishing in the context of that equality of access to all the tools necessary for determining the conditions of one’s existence that is true communism—this is a bit complex for the world of opinion. To conceive of a critique of civilization that originates in one’s desire for the fullness of being that civilization cannot offer, because its expansion can only be based on a homogenization that diminishes existence in the name of monolithic control, and to therefore envision and act to realize not a model of an ideal world, but that revolutionary rupture that opens myriads of unknown possibilities from which a new decivilized existence could develop based on our desires and dreams—this is nothing but pure egoism from the standpoint of ideology and morality. To criticize the poverty of the practice of feminism and the emptiness of so many of its theoretical constructs which have left it incapable of truly confronting and moving beyond gender because one imagines a liberation from the constraints of gender that is not homogenization into a universal androgyny but rather the opening up of the full spectrum of singular expressions of one’s being in the sexual and passional spheres and every other sphere that gender has affected—this is pure arrogance particularly if one happens to be a man. No, it is better to keep one’s thought within the constraints of offered choices, to flatten one’s ideas into opinions, to not only tolerate blatant stupidity, but to blind oneself to it even among those who are supposedly our comrades, to avoid living and thinking in a projectual manner. Otherwise, one risks meeting life face-to-face and truly having to grapple with existence.
But for me revolt is not a hobby, anarchy is not a word I use to make myself feel more radical. These are my life’s project, the way of being I am striving to create. The ideas I develop are not mere opinions, but the outgrowth of the passionate reason of my project, based on my life, my desires and my dreams as they encounter the world. They are as fluid as lived desires and dreams, but this fluidity is strong, assured and determined. And if, as some have said, this makes me dogmatic and arrogant, then we need more dogmatic and arrogant anarchists. Because it is not the ceaseless negotiation of opinions, of democratic discourse, that will bring down the ruling order, but the revolt of indomitable individuals who refuse to compromise themselves, coming together to destroy all domination.
By anarchist spirit I mean that deeply human sentiment, which aims at the good of all, freedom and justice for all, solidarity and love among the people; which is not an exclusive characteristic only of self-declared anarchists, but inspires all people who have a generous heart and an open mind. —
of destroying the current vertical social arrangements. As such, we’re generally neither particularly good nor efficient at directly
organization, drawn from practice and yet articulated in theory, ranging from individual rights to self-governance. Technological advancements in printing facilitated the relatively widespread dissemination of this written material for the first time in human history via books, pamphlets, and periodicals. New common social spaces like coffeehouses, public libraries, and speakers’ corners in parks allowed for debate about and the spread of these incendiary ideas. None of this ensured that people would think for themselves, act for themselves, or act out of a concern for humanity. But what was at least theoretically revolutionary about this Copernican turn was that before then, the vast majority of people largely didn’t believe in their own agency or ability to self-organize on such an interconnected, self-conscious, and crucially, widespread basis. They were born,
Anarchism developed within this milieu as, in “classical” anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s words, the “left wing” of socialism. Like all socialists, anarchists concentrated on the economy, specifically capitalism, and saw the laboring classes in the factories and fields, as well as artisans, as the main agents of revolution. They also felt that many socialists were to the “right” or nonlibertarian side of anarchism, soft on their critique of the state, to say the least. These early anarchists, like all anarchists after them, saw the state as equally complicit in structuring social
As many are rediscovering today, anarchism from the first explored something that Marxism has long needed to grapple with: domination and hierarchy, and their replacement in all cases with greater degrees of freedom. That said, the classical period of anarchism exhibited numerous blind spots and even a certain naïveté. Areas such as gender and race, in which domination occurs beyond capitalism, the state, and the church, were often given short shrift or ignored altogether. Nineteenth-century
socialisms. Anarchism developed over time, theoretically and through practice. Its dynamism, an essential principle, played a large part in allowing anarchism to serve as its own challenge. Its openness to other social movements and radical ideas contributed to its further unfolding. Like any new political philosophy, it would take many minds and
on what was being lost (from small-scale agrarian communities to the commons) and what was being gained (from potentially liberatory technologies to potentially more democratic political structures) to craft a set of uncompromising, reconstructive ethics.
especially one seeking a thoroughgoing eradication of domination, had to be premised on both individual and collective freedom—no one is free unless everyone is free, and everyone can only be free if each person can
In accepting this arrangement, the English poor (now called “whites”) went against their class interests to serve their “racial” ones, and thereby reinforced the power of the rich.
a curious form of democracy: the white democracy. In the white democracy, all whites were considered equal (even as the poor were subordinated to the rich and women were subordinated to men).
hard work, and equal opportunity, while simultaneously insisting on higher wages, preferential access to the best jobs, informal unemployment insurance (first hired, last fired), full enjoyment of civil rights, and the right to send their kids to the best schools, live in the nicest neighborhoods, and receive decent treatment by the police. Even white
called them, whites agreed to enforce slavery, segregation, genocide, reservation, and other forms of racial oppression. The result was that working-class whites and people of color were oppressed because the working class was divided. The tragic irony is that many poor whites often did not get to make use of these advantages, yet despite this, they defended them bitterly.
and legal segregation. Take any social indicator—graduation rates, homeownership rates, median family wealth, prison incarceration rates, life expectancy rates, infant mortality rates, cancer rates, unemployment rates, or median family debt—and you’ll find the same thing: in each category, whites are significantly better off than any other racial group. As a group, whites enjoy more wealth, less debt, more education, less imprisonment, more health care, less illness, more safety, less crime, better treatment by the police, and less police brutality than any other group. Some whisper that this is because whites have a better work ethic. But U.S. history tells us that the white democracy, born over four hundred years ago, lives on.
This is not to say that white supremacy is the “worst” form of oppression. All oppression is equally morally wrong. Nor is it to imply that if white supremacy disappears, then all other forms of oppression will magically melt away. It is simply to say that one of the most significant obstacles to organizing freedom movements throughout U.S. history has been the white democracy, and that it remains a major obstacle today.
is a “divisive” issue and that we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. This argument sounds inclusive, but it really maintains the white democracy because it lets whites decide
undermine the cross-class alliance. So are struggles to defend indigenous sovereignty, affirmative action, embattled ethnic studies programs in high schools and colleges, and the right for people of color to caucus in organizations or movements. All of these struggles—which people of color engage in daily, but whites only occasionally do, if at all—seek to
alliance have opened up radical possibilities for all people. Feminism in the 1840s and the movement for the eight-hour day in the 1860s came out of abolitionism. Radical Reconstruction (1868–76) very nearly built socialism in the South as it sought to give political and economic power to the freedmen and women. The civil rights struggle in the 1960s not only overthrew legal segregation, it also kicked off the women’s rights, free
expansion of freedom for people of color has always expanded freedom for whites as well. Abolishing white interests is not “divisive,” “narrow,” or “reverse racism.”