see bottom for thoughts on readings for the rest of the month…
link to the reading:
an intro to the topic — anarchism and psychology
more notes on Gross:[Gross’] first thesis was: The realization of the anarchist alternative to the patriarchal order of society has to begin with the destruction of the latter. Without hesitation, [he] owned up to practicing this -in accordance with anarchist principles – by the propaganda of the “example”, first by an exemplary way of life aimed at destroying the limitations of society within himself; second as a psychotherapist by trying to realize new forms of social life experimentally in founding unconventional relationships and communes (for example in Ascona from where he was expelled as an instigator of “orgies”) . . .
His second thesis: Whoever wants to change the structures of power (and production) in a repressive society, has to start by changing these structures in himself and to eradicate the “authority that has infiltrated one’s own inner being” (Sombart 1991, pp. 1l0 – 111).
Gross recognised the way in which family structures that violate the individual reflect those of patriarchal society and was the first to empathize deeply with the child in this conflict.
His lifelong concern with ethical issues culminated for Gross in the concept of an “inborn ‘i n s t i n c t o f m u t u a l a i d’ (Gross 1919a, p. 682)” which he described as the “basic ethical instinct (Gross 1914, p. 529)”. In 1919, Gross published “Protest and Morality in the Unconscious” (Gross 1919a). Jung only published on that subject towards the end of his life in the late 50’s (Jung 1958; 1959). Gross was explicitly referring to Kropotkin and his discovery of the principle of mutual aid in the field of biology. Mutuality is a core concept of anarchist thought. 150 years previously Proudhon had used the term “mutualism” for the free relationship of groups of equals that exist through mutual exchange. Kropotkin elaborated this concept in his book “Mutual Aid, a Factor of Evolution” (Kropotkin 1904), first published in England in 1902. Contemporary researchers in biology, anthropology and genetics seem to confirm this theory, according to a recent article in the Guardian, where Natalie Angier writes about “Why we can’t help helping each other”: “It’s not simply noble to be nice to our fellow man – it’s hardwired into our genes” (Angier 2001). Gross was the first analyst to introduce this ethical concept into psychoanalytic theory and practice.
perhaps next week we will read something by Reich, then an excerpt from Breakout (Before Marcuse and Laing, before Heidegger and Sartre, even before Freud, the way was prepared for the anarcho-psychological critique of economic man, of all codes of ideology or absolute morality, and of scientific habits of mind. First published in 1974, this title traces this philosophical tradition to its roots in the nineteenth century, to the figures of Stirner, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and to their psychological demolition of the two alternative axes of social theory and practice, a critique which today reads more pertinently than ever, and remains unanswered.
To understand this critique is crucial for an age which has shown a mounting revulsion at the consequences of the Crystal Palace, symbol at once of technologico-industrial progress and its rationalist-scientist ideology, an age whose imaginative preoccupations have telescoped onto the individual, and whose interest has switched from the social realm to that of anarchic, inner, ‘psychological man’.), then something by Lacan?
Also – we are starting the countdown to BASTARD 2017 (April 23), with a suggested theme of evil. so think about who you’d like to suggest/invite for workshop presenters!
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.
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.
we seem to be having a run of radical writings, and then radical critiques of them.
this week we’re (re)reading Call, and next week we’ll look at a critique of the invisible committee/tiqqun, reading an excerpt of a book from the italian, To The Customers…
Nothing is missing from the triumph of civilization. Neither political terror nor emotional poverty. Nor universal sterility.
The desert can no longer expand: it is everywhere. But it can still deepen.
Faced with the obviousness of the catastrophe, there are those who become indignant and those who take note, those who denounce and those who get organized. We are on the side of those who get organized.
[From the first issue of Blasphegme: An anarchist broadsheet on the walls of Paris. It’s been getting pasted up around the city in the past month. The biggest difficulty faced by anarchist counter-info projects is often distribution — how to get texts into the hands of people who will be interested in them? Using posters as a way of distributing long-format texts has definitely been tried before, either by connecting to a website or by keeping things short enough to fit, but it’s an interesting idea that’s worth experimenting with more.]
“I spit on your idols, I spit on your gods, I spit on the homeland […] I spit on your flags, I spit on capital and the golden calf, I spit on all religions: they’re jokes, I don’t give a shit about them, I don’t give a damn. They only exist because of you, leave them and they’ll fall apart.
You’re resigned, but you’re a force — you don’t even know it, but you’re a force nonetheless, and I cannot spit on you, I can only hate you… or love you. Beyond all my other desires, I want to see you shaken from your resignation in a terrible awakening into life. There is no future paradise, there is no future, there is only the present.”
Albert Libertad, To the Resigned, 1905
Blasphegme: A neologisme designating a blasphemy delivered in the form of spit (or phlegm) on all religions, whether monotheist or polytheist, whether the religion of the state or of capital, the religion of work or of the ego.
The blasphegme spits in the face of all gods and of all prophets, with no distinction between the various collective delusions that poison us, that keep us in awe of a higher power before which we must kneel.
The blasphegme is the individual expression of non-resignation in the face of a society that leaves us no time to breathe, using the power dynamics between individuals to keep the cattle calm, too busy competing and acting out our frustrations, products of lives that have known only the coercion of laws made to regulate social life.
This journal aims to agitate, to spread anarchist ideas, to spread seeds of subversion in a daily life as boxed-in as graph paper.
We’re not trying to teach, rather we hope to spark debates on the ideas that matter to us and that seem essential for any individual seeking to liberate themselves, here and now, from all that shackles that keep us from soaring high.
Emmaüs: Profiting off misery
Four people will be appearing in appeals court on October 3 in Paris, following some events in the summer of 2015 in a shelter operated by Emmaüs on rue Pernety in the 19th arrondissement. A group of migrants, sick of the scorn of this charitable organization that makes money off their situation, decided to block the entrance of the building with the help of a few others acting in solidarity. Like a good charity, Emmaüs called the cops, crying about illegal confinement, which lead to one migrant and three supporters being held in investigative detention before being released on bail and later being handed a four-month conditional sentence, plus fines, in October 2015.
To be clear, Emmaüs is the company put in charge of the migrant issue by Paris city hall, taking over the sites that the government sets up and working to prevent all struggle, sorting and dispersing migrants, or even collaborating in their incarceration in detention centres.
But Emmaüs is also known for its charitable work. It manages a big block of rent-controlled housing in Ile-de-France (1) and there too is known for its desire to force poor people into ever greater misery in order to make a profit. Kicking out tenants, raising rents… usual speculator tactics. That said, we know this organization mostly for its “communities” where they exploit homeless people, called “companions”, offering them shelter and a meal in place of a wage. The strict rules can see “companions” thrown out in the middle of winter if they’re suspected of not obeying. As well, let’s remember that the Emmaüs stores depend on the work of “companions” and make a profit by selling donated or scavenged stuff to poor people.
For this reason, Emmaüs deserves to join the Vultures of Misery club, alongside The Red Cross, France Land of Refuge, the Salvation army, and all the other humanitarian organizations that prosper on the backs of the poor.
The party’s already over?
(excerpt from a poster seen in the streets of Paris these past months)
We’ve had a good time running through the streets these past months, trying to subvert our existing lives and these modern, sanitized cities, these showpieces of capitalism and the society of control.
We didn’t give a shit about this law, just like the results of a presidential election or of a football match, because we don’t want to work, period. We don’t accept our exploitation, whether or not its facilitated by this law.
So why wait for the next “movement” to have fun, when all we have to do is to continue what we started these past months? Why should we each return to our own isolation, submerged in the various alienations that distract us from our self-destructive boredom and loneliness, when we’ve seen that so many of us want to attack the existing world? This society tries to break us down a little more each day, and to frighten away those who have decided they can no longer accept this comedy, no longer blindly follow the union march and the marching orders of good citizens, no longer accept states of emergency, or, for that matter, any states at all.
We have discovered, or rediscovered, what it means to run across the pavement, to play in spaces where policing controls our every movement. We knew that this society of misery depended on our servitude, and our fear of cops, but we’ve learned that we are strong enough to overturn it, that they can’t prevent us from playing like wild children who destroy everything they pass.
We’re off to such a good start, let’s not trade any piece of the present for a fictional tomorrow, and let’s not surrender anything of this moment for the winds of the future!
Solidarity with all those arrested these past months!
Some summer notes
This summer, some sparks of revolt flickered here and there, sending a clear message to power that attack against the established order doesn’t take vacations!
The riot is the most beautiful street art … The art festival on Aurillac street happens each summer and, like last year, took a rather subversive turn. Following a collective refusal by some people to be searched at the entrance to the festival, some cheerful revellers tried to change the tone of the party and to spread their hatred of this society among those in attendance.
Tags against fundamentalists … Twice in July and August in Besançon, anti-religious tags were thrown up on the walls of buildings belonging to a catholic fundamentalist organization, known for its actions against abortion and contraception. Here’s a small selection of the messages left for these religious reactionaries: “Down with robes, up with rubbers”, “No gods no masters” and “Catholic Fascists, out of our lives”(2).
The MEDEF deprived of golf … In Chailly-sur-Armaçon, in Côte d’Or, the golf course that was going to host a tournament for members of the MEDEF (3) was trashed. Two banners were left behind, reading “Done playing” and “200 € = one round of golf or one month of misery”
…and all the rest. We don’t have enough space here to list all the other attacks carried out over the holidays, but we’ve observed that everywhere it’s the cops, the offices of political parties (the Socialist Party, the National Front) (4), banks, schools, journalists, etc who take the blows of those whose hatred of this society is not held back by summer.
1) The province that contains Paris
2) Two of these slogans rhyme in french: the first one, capote (skullcap) rhymes with calotte (condom) ; in the third one, the expression uses abbreviations, “cathos fachos”
3) The acronym translates as the Mouvement for French Business, it’s a lobby group for bosses, very influential
4) The socialist party (partie socialiste, PS) is currently in power. The National Front (Front National, FN) is a far-right party
here are the questions!
The murderer was thus reintegrated into society. In the Middle Ages, a common devotion and vision of the world held people together and made it near impossible for anyone present to think that Gilles de Rais was faking. There was a tiny minority of non-believers in Europe, but “atheism” did not exist socially. A common belief in a transcendent being (God) was the condition for the social reintegration of the deviant (who still had to be put to death for society to find peace with itself again). Also, at the time, such acts could only be committed by a man who stood by birth above others: Gilles de Rais was one of Brittany’s largest landowners, not a XXIst century serial killer. Now the days of mass religious communion are gone. A future human society would unify people from the inside reality of their lives, thanks to something experienced between themselves in this world and recognized as such, without
in France, American citizenship grew with them. We are now witnessing the Americanization of the capitalist developed world, that is, at least in Western Europe and Japan.
For a World Without Moral Order
The present article is an introduction to a critique of social mores, a contribution to the necessary task of revolutionary anthropology. The communist movement possesses a dimension both of class and of humanity. Although the central role of the proletarian worker is at the foundation of that movement, and although that movement works toward human community, it is neither a form of workerism nor of humanism. For the time being, reformism lives off separation by the accumulation of demands in parallel spheres, never calling the spheres themselves into question. One measure of the potency of any communist movement is (or should be) its capacity to recognize, and in practice to go beyond the gap or contradiction between the dimensions of class and of community.
This gap and this contradiction flourish in the ambiguities of our emotions and make a critique of social mores an especially delicate matter.
What follows is not an article about “sexuality,” which, like economy or work, is an historical and cultural product. Like work and economy, sexuality was born as a specific sphere of human activity under nineteenth-century capitalism, when it was honed down and theorized (discovered), then made banal by the capitalism of the twentieth century. Within the totality of a communist existence, it can be superceded.
For the same reasons, this is not a “critique of daily life,” which would apply to that social space excluded by work and in competition with it. “Mores,” on the contrary, include the entire range of human relationships in their emotional aspects. They are no stranger to material production. (Bourgeois family values, for example, cannot be dissociated from the work ethic.)
Since capitalism, in its own way, sums up the human past which produced it, there is no revolutionary critique without a critique of social mores and ways of life preceding capitalism, and the way they have been absorbed by it.
LOVE – ECSTASY – CRIMELOVE
If one can believe Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts, “the most natural relationship between man and man is the relationship between man and woman.” This formula may be understood and applied inasmuch as we keep in mind that the history of man is that of his emancipation from nature by the creation of the economic sphere. The idea of man being anti-nature, completely external to nature, is clearly an aberration. Man’s nature is at once a pure biological given – we are primates – and his activity as man modifying the pure biological given of himself and outside himself.
Man is not outside natural conditions, since he is part of them. But he wants to understand them and he has begun playing with them. One can debate the mechanisms which brought this about (the extent to which it resulted from difficulties of survival, especially in temperate regions, etc.) but one thing is certain: By transforming his environment and then, in turn, being transformed by it, man has placed himself in a position radically different from any other known state of matter. Once unburdened of metaphysical presuppositions, this ability to play somewhat with the laws of matter is precisely what constitutes human freedom. Stripped of this freedom – since it went to feed economy – as he produced it, man must now reconquer it without deluding himself about what freedom is. It is neither the freedom of unfettered and ever-surging desire, nor the freedom to follow (who could decipher?) Mother Nature’s commandments. Full rein must also be given to this freedom to play with the laws of matter – whether one is talking about changing the course of a river or the sexual use of an orifice not naturally “intended” for the purpose. Finally, it must be understood that risk is the only guarantee of freedom.
Since human freedom must be given full rein, a critique of human mores must not hold up one practice or another as a symbol of impoverishment. It has been written that in the modern world freedom, as pertains to social mores, is limited to masturbatory activity (alone or with one or more partners). To limit oneself to this given is to misunderstand the essence of sexual impoverishment. Must we belabor the point? There are solitary jerk-offs infinitely less sordid and impoverished than many gropes in the dark. Reading a good adventure novel can be much more exciting than a group tour. The real impoverishment is living in a world where adventure only exists in books. Whatever one person daydreams about another, whether or not he acts on it, it is not disgusting. The disgusting part is all the conditions that must be fulfilled for one person to meet another. When, in the personal ads, a bearded man invites the old lady and her dog who live upstairs from him over for a good time, it is neither the beard nor old age, nor bestiality we find disgusting. What is really repulsive is that, by the publishing of the ad in Libération, the bearded man’s desire has become a sales pitch for a particularly nauseating ideological commodity.
Alone in one’s room drafting a theoretical article, inasmuch as that article provides some handle on social reality, one is less isolated from his fellow man than riding the subway or at work. The essence of sexual sordidness and impoverishment does not reside within one or another sexual activity, although the predominance of one activity may be symptomatic of that impoverishment. It is rather to be found in the fact that, whether alone, with one other person or ten other people, the individual is irremediably separated from humanity by relationships of competition, fatigue and boredom. Fatigue provoked by work, boredom with roles, boredom also with sexuality as a separate activity.
Sexual impoverishment is first and foremost social constraints – the constraints of wage-labor and its morbid litany of psychological and physiological hardships – which operate on a sphere presented by mainstream culture and its counter-culture flipside as one of the last frontiers in the world where adventure is still possible. Sexual impoverishment is also, to the extent that capitalist and Judeo-Christian society imposes itself upon him, man’s profound helplessness before what western civilization has made of sexuality.
From Stoicism, dominant world view of the Roman Empire, Christianity adopted the two-fold idea that, on the one hand, sexuality is the basis of all pleasure and, on the other hand, it can and must be controlled. Eastern cultures, by an open affirmation of sexuality (and not only in the bedroom) tend toward a pan-sexualism whereby sex must, of course, be controlled but by the same token as everything else – it occupies no special place. Western culture doesn’t mistreat sexuality by forgetting about it, but by thinking of nothing else. Everything is made sexual. Judeo-Christian society’s fascination with and organization of sex is by far more terrible than its repression and suppression of sex. Western culture has made sex into not only the hidden truth of normal consciousness, but of madness (hysteria) as well. At the outset of moral crisis, Freud discovers that sexuality is the great secret of the whole world and of every civilization.
Sexual impoverishment is a seesaw struggle between two moral orders, the traditional and the modern, which more or less reside together within our contemporary brains and glands. On the one hand, one suffers from the constraints of the old moral order and work, which prevents one from attaining the historical ideal of sexual and amorous fulfillment. On the other hand, the more one liberates oneself of these constraints (or imagines one does) the more that ideal seems hollow and unsatisfying.
A tendency and its spectacular representation, taken together, do not constitute a totality. While a relative liberalization of mores characterizes our era, the traditional moral order has not disappeared. Just try being openly pedophile. The traditional order still functions and will, for a good portion of the population in industrialized nations, go on functioning for a long time. In many parts of the world (Islam, Eastern bloc countries), it is still dominant and harmful. Even in France, its representatives (priests of Rome and Moscow) are far from inactive. The weight of the suffering caused by their misdeeds is great enough that we will not be forbidden to denounce them in the name of the fact that it is capital which undermines the foundation of traditional moral order. It isn’t true that any revolt against this order tends toward neo-reformism. Revolt can also be the cry of the oppressed creature, containing the seed of an infinite variety of sexual and sensual practices repressed for thousands of years by oppressive societies.
It should be clear by now that we are not opposed to “perversions.” We’re not even opposed to life-long heterosexual monogamy. Nevertheless, when litterateurs and artists (the surrealists for example) hold out l’amour fou (“mad” love) to us as the sum of desirable, we are obliged to recognize that they are buying into the modern west’s great reductive myth. This myth is meant to provide an extra helping of soul to couples, isolated atoms which make up the best foundation for the capitalist economy. Among the riches which would be reaped by a humanity rid of capital are the unlimited variations of a perverse and polymorphous sexuality and sensuality. Only when those practices are allowed to flourish will “love,” such as André Breton or Jacqueline Suzanne sing its praises, be exposed for what it is – a transitional cultural construction.
Traditional moral order is oppressive and as such it deserves to be criticized and fought against. But if it is in crisis, it isn’t because our ancestors had less taste for freedom than our contemporaries. Rather, it is because bourgeois moral rules are revealing their inability to adapt to modern conditions of production and circulation of commodities.
Bourgeois moral order, which took on its full scope during the nineteenth century and was handed down through religion or lay education, was born out of the need for an ideological extension of industrial capitalist domination at a period when capital was not yet totally dominant. Moral rules for sex, family and work went hand-in-hand. Bourgeois and petit-bourgeois values served as a platform for capital – property as the fruit of labor and savings, work as terribly hard but necessary, family life. In the first half of the twentieth century, capital came to occupy the entire social space. It became indispensable and unavoidable. Wage labor was the only activity possible since there wasn’t any other. That is how, even as it is foisted upon all of us, wage labor can have the appearance of non-constraint, a guarantee of liberty. Since everything is a commodity each moral rule winds up obsolete. We own property before saving, thanks to credit. One works because it is practical, not out of a sense of duty. The extended family gives way to the nuclear family, which in turn is upset by constraints of money and work. Schools and media vie with parents for authority, influence and upbringing. Everything that The Communist Manifesto foretold has been accomplished by capitalism. As public places where working class people live out their lives become more and more scarce, replaced by consumer centers (discos, malls) which don’t have the same emotional character, too much is being asked of the family precisely when it has the least to offer.
Underlying the crisis in bourgeois moral values there is a deeper crisis of capitalist morality. It’s hard to establish “mores,” to find ways of relating and behaving with one another which go beyond a bankrupt bourgeois morality. What morality does modern capitalism provide for people? Its submission of everyone and everything, its omnipresence theoretically make prior support systems superfluous. Fortunately, this doesn’t work. There is not now and never will be a wholly, purely, uniquely capitalist society. For one thing, capital creates nothing out of nothing. It transforms beings and relationships born outside of it (urban migrators, petits-bourgeois déclassés, immigrants) and something always remains of former social relations, at least in the form of nostalgia. In addition, the actual workings of capital are anything but harmonious – it can’t keep its promise of a Madison Avenue dream world and this provokes a reaction, a falling back on traditional values which are largely outmoded, like the family. Which explains the phenomenon that people keep getting married while one out of every three or four marriages ends in divorce. Finally, because it has to direct, constrain, and bully wage laborers, capital must constantly reintroduce the prop values of authority and obedience that its present phase makes obsolete. The result is the constant use of old ideology in conjunction with new (participation, etc.)
Our era is that of the coexistence of moral orders, of proliferation of social codes and not their abolition. Guilt (the incessant fear of violating a taboo) is juxtaposed with angst (the feeling that one lacks guideposts for the “choices” to be made). Neuroses and hysteria, the historical maladies of a bygone era, are replaced by narcissism and schizophrenia.
What guides our contemporaries’ behavior is less and less a whole set of commandments passed along by the paterfamilias or the priest and which cannot be called into question, but rather a sort of utilitarian moral order for individual fulfillment, aided by a fetishization of the body and a frenzied psychologizing in which interpretation-mania takes the place of confession and examination of conscience.
Ahead of his time, de Sade simply foretold ours – one of the disappearance of any moral guarantee, before man becomes himself. Sooner or later one experiences the same intolerable boredom in reading the marquis’ monotonous catalogue, as when reading the personal ads with their infinite repetition of the forms of a pleasure without communication. Sadeian desire aims to completely reify other people, to make them into a clay out of which he can cut his fantasies. Annihilating otherness, refusing to be dependant on someone else’s desires is a morbid attitude – it means the repetition of the same thing, and death. But, while the Sadeian hero needs to smash social restraints, modern man and his logic of individual fulfillment becomes his own fantasy clay. Rather than getting carried away by his desires, he “realizes his fantasies.” At least he tries to, as one goes “jogging,” instead of running for pleasure or because one has to be somewhere in a hurry. Modern man doesn’t lose himself in his partner – he operates and develops his capacity for carnal pleasure, his aptitude for orgasm. Whipless tamer of his own body, he tells it, “Come!” or “Come harder!” or “Run!” or “Dance!”
For modern man, the obligation to work is replaced by the obligation to successful leisure time, sexual constraints by the difficulty in asserting a sexual identity. Narcissistic culture goes hand in hand with a new function for religion: instead of evoking transcendence, it smoothes, in part, the way through critical periods in life – adolescence, marriage and death. Indeed, to become modern religion isn’t enough – he also needs the help of the family! Here’s how a psychologist (C. Lasch, Le Monde, April 12, 1981) talks: “Not an over-present family, as in the nineteenth century, but an over-absent one. It is defined not by the work ethic or sexual constraint but by ethics of survival and sexual promiscuity.”
In the midst of the moral crisis facing western society, man is less equipped than ever to resolve “the issue of sex.” It is precisely when this issue is addressed in all its naked glory that one has the best chance of understanding that it is, in fact, a non-issue.
Sex, brow-beaten for two thousand years, only emerges to become a commodity, the victim of an all-consuming commodification – sending modern man, all the more lost, into a panic. In a world of commodities, the unbridled pursuit of sensuality (such as in La Grande Abbuffata, [Blow-Out] 1973) sets the individual even farther apart from humanity, from his partners, from himself. Once the idea of sex as alienating and deadly reemerges, in the end, we fall back on Christianity.
The work of a Georges Bataille (1897-1962), for example, is revealing of this evolution in western society since 1900. Running counter to the history of civilization, Bataille starts from sexuality and works back to religion. From the work of fiction Story of the Eye (1928) until the end of his life, Bataille spent all his time exploring what was implicit in the eye. He crosses paths with the revolutionary movement and rapidly and easily moves away from it – especially since this movement practically disappeared. Nevertheless, he had time, in the late thirties, to take up positions with respect to antifascism and the threat of war, the lucidity of which is in sharp contrast with the verbiage produced by the vast majority of the extreme left. This explains the ambiguity of his work. It can be used as an illustration of the religious dead-ends where the experience of unbridled sexuality pushed to the extreme inevitably leads:
“A brothel is my true church, the only one unsoothing enough.” (Le Coupable, published in 1944.)
Although here, as in most of his work, he settled for going to the opposite extremes of accepted values, honing down a new version of Satanism, he did also write some lines revealing great intuition about essential aspects of communism: “taking perversion and crime not as exclusive values but as things to be integrated into human totality.” (April 4, 1936.)
Through the cultural constructions to which they have given birth (love as in Ancient Greece, courtly love, systems of kinship, the bourgeois contract, etc.) our emotional and sexual lives have always been at once source and object of passion and conflict, as well as crossroads with another cultural sphere – the sacred. In trance, in ecstasy, in the feeling of communion with nature, human aspiration to go beyond the limits of the individual is expressed in the form of paroxysm. Diverted toward the cosmos or divinity, this aspiration to become one with the species has until now worn the prestigious rags of the sacred. Religion in general, and monotheism in particular, have set narrow limits around the sacred, assigning it a guiding role while distancing it from human life. While in primitive societies the sacred is inseparable from daily life, statist societies, on the contrary, have made it more and more specialized. Capitalist society has not liquidated the sacred, but repressed it. Multiple residual and ersatz manifestations of the sacred continue to encumber social life. Faced with a world where old religious artifacts and mercantile banalization coexist, the communist critique is two-pronged – it must desacralize, i.e., smoke all the old taboos out of their hiding places, and it must prepare to supercede the sacred where capitalism has only degraded it.
Desacralization then, of areas where old goblins have gone to hide – like the pubis, for example. Against penis worship, against the penis’ conquering imperialism, feminists have found nothing better than the fetishization of the vagina. Backed up with piles of literature and pathos, they have made it the seat of their difference, the dark fold wherein their very being is to be found. Rape then becomes the crime of crimes, an ontological assault. As if a penis penetrating a woman by violence were more disgusting than forcing a woman into wage slavery by economic pressure. True, in the first case the guilty party is easily found – he is an individual – whereas in the latter case the guilty party is a social relationship. It’s easier to exorcize one’s fears by making rape into blasphemy, an intrusion into the holiest of holies. As if being manipulated by advertising, constantly physically abused at work, numbered and filed by government agencies were less profoundly violent in their assault on a person than imposed intercourse.
Ultimately, what makes the Somalian rip out his wife’s clitoris and what drives the feminists flows from a common conception – for both, it is conceivable that human individuality may constitute the object of ownership. The Somalian, convinced that his wife is part of his livestock, feels duty-bound to protect her from feminine desire, a dangerous parasite for the economy of the flock. But, in so doing, he truncates, impoverishes his own pleasure, his own desire. The woman’s clitoris is the symbolic target of all human desire, regardless of gender. This mutilated woman has been amputated from all of humanity. The feminist who cries out that her body belongs to herself would like to keep her desire for herself. But when she desires, she enters into a community where appropriation dissolves.
The claim “My body is my own” would give substance to the 1789 “Rights of Man.” Hasn’t it been repeated often enough that these rights merely apply to an abstract man and that, ultimately, the bourgeois individual (in contemporary terms, “white, male, over 21 and bourgeois”) is their sole benefactor! Neoreformists claim they close this loophole by gathering up real substance and giving it to this hitherto abstract “man.” In sum, the “real rights” of “real man.” But “real man” is none other than woman, Jew, Corsican, homosexual, Vietnamese, etc. “My body is my own” toes the line of a bourgeois revolution forever being completed, perfected by asking democracy to have content instead of only form. In the name of the cause, they critique the effects.
Demanding ownership of one’s individual body is a renewal of the bourgeois demand for the right to own property. To escape the secular oppression of women, once (and still, in other forms) treated by their husbands as property, the feminist has found nothing better than the broadening of the right to own property. May the woman own property as well, thus she’ll be protected – and good fences make good neighbors! In this pitiful demand, we see the reflection of the “security” media and political parties would at all costs share among our contemporaries. The demand is born of an outlook stopped up on the inside, whereby private appropriation is the only means imaginable to be master of a thing (in this case, one’s body.) Our bodies belong to those who love us, not by virtue of any legally guaranteed “right,” but because we live and move, flesh and feeling, only as a function of them. And, inasmuch as we can love the human species, our body belongs to it.
Even as it desacralizes, the communist critique must denounce the capitalist utopia of a world where one could no longer love to death, where everything flattened out, everything would be of equal value and exchangeable. Practicing sports, fucking, working would all take place in the same quantified time, sliced like a salami – industrial time. Sexologists would be on hand to fix any faltering libido, psychotherapists would rid us of any suffering of the psyche, and the police, with the support of chemistry, would prevent any stepping out of line. In such a world, no sphere of human activity – which because it could become the object of a game in which the stakes are the whole of life – would give another rhythm to time.
The ahistoric illusion which is the foundation of mystical practices is dangerous. By definition, only that part of these practices which isn’t really theirs is of interest to us – that which can be communicated. One doesn’t step outside of history, but history, whether it be that of the individual or that of the species, isn’t the pure linear movement which capitalism works to produce and works at making people believe it produces. History includes apogees which go beyond and outside of the present, orgasms which are a losing of oneself in the other, in sociality and in the species.
“Christianity gave substance to the sacred but the nature of the sacred (…) is perhaps the most elusive thing that happens between people. The sacred is nothing but a privileged moment of communial oneness, the convulsive communication of what we ordinarily stifle.” (G. Bataille, The Sacred)
This moment of “communial oneness” can be found today at a concert, in the panic gaining a crowd and, in its most degraded form, in great swells of patriotism and other sporadic outbursts of the union sacrée. Manipulate it, and you can do any dirty deed. One may presume that in a modern war, unlike what happens in backward capitalist nations such as Iran, only a minority would actually participate. The rest would only watch. But nothing is for certain – the manipulation of the sacred may have some good days left in it, because the sacred, to date, has been the only powerful moments offered as manifestation of man’s irrepressible need for togetherness.
As much as they have furnished a more or less imaginary niche outside of class struggle, mystical practices have been known to cement revolts. This is demonstrated, for example, by the role of the Taoist trance in the resistance of central power in imperial China, voodoo in slave uprisings, or millenarian prophecy. Although contemporary mystical pursuits play a counter-revolutionary role because they are merely one of many ways the bourgeois individual turns inward, the fact remains that mercantile banalization of every aspect of life tends to empty existence of its passion. The world we live in asks us to love only a jumbled bunch of individual inadequacies. Compared to traditional societies, this world has lost an essential dimension of human experience – the powerful moments of oneness with nature. We are condemned to watch pagan festivals on TV.
But it would be ridiculous for us to advocate a return to the past, to its joys which, history has taught us, are repetitive, cause of illusion, and short-sighted in character. When capital tends to impose its exclusive reign, looking elsewhere than revolution for “communial oneness” and “convulsive communication” becomes purely reactionary. That capital has made everything banal gives us the chance to liberate ourselves from that specialized sphere known as “sexuality.” We want a world where being carried away, out of oneself, exists as a possibility in all human activities – a world which holds out the species to love, and individuals whose inadequacies will be those of the species and no longer those of the world. The stakes of the game today, what is worth risking death, what could give another rhythm to time is the content of life in its entirety.
“History makes no sense – and it’s a good thing it doesn’t. Would we torment ourselves for a happy outcome, for a final celebration paid for wholly by our sweat and our disasters? For future idiots leaping about on our ashes? The vision of a paradisiacal culmination surpasses the absurdity of hope’s worst wanderings. The only excuse one can find for Time is that we find some moments more enjoyable than others, accidents without consequence, in an intolerable monotony of perplexities.” (E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay)
Communism is not a paradisiacal culmination.
First of all, identifying communism as a paradise means one can accept anything in the meanwhile. In the case of a social revolution, one accepts that society is not changed from top to bottom – a stateless society, without prisons – fine, later… when men are perfect. In the meantime, everything can be justified. Worker state, people’s prisons, etc. – since communism is only good for a humanity of gods.
Next, there is a soothing vision of a desirable society which is a turnoff to desiring it. Every community, regardless of its size, requires that its members renounce a part of themselves. And, if one defines “positive desires” as those which, if realized, would not compromise the liberty of others, every community forces each member to leave certain of these unsatisfied. The reason is simple: these desires are not necessarily shared by the other member or members. What makes this situation tolerable is the certainty that anyone who feels that these renouncements threaten the very integrity of his being would still have the possibility of leaving. Leaving would not be painless, but isn’t the risk of pain and death indispensable to the full measure of a meaningful life?
That humanity, playing with matter, risks self-annihilation and with it annihilation of all life on the planet, is not what bothers us. What is unbearable is that humanity does this in utter thoughtlessness and practically in spite of itself, because it has created capital and capital has imposed its own inhuman laws upon it. It is nevertheless true that once man begins modifying his environment, he does so at the risk of destroying it and himself along with it, and that this risk would probably subsist in no matter what social organization. One could even conceive of a humanity which, after first struggling with, then taming and loving the universe, would decide to disappear, to reintegrate nature in the form of dust. In any case, there is no humanity without risk, because there is no humanity without others. The play of human passions also bears this out.
It is relatively easy to imagine that a world less severe would give women and men (men, who since the bourgeois revolution have been condemned to wear only work clothes!) a chance to be more attractive, to be at once simpler and more refined in their seduction. At the same time, however, one can’t help yawning at the idea of a world where everyone would be attractive to everyone else, where one fucks like one shakes hands, without any implied commitment. (Liberalization of mores, make no mistake, promises just such a world.) Realistically then, Jenny will still like Karl more than she likes Friedrich. But one would have to believe in miracles to believe that never a Friedrich would desire a Jenny who doesn’t desire him. Communism does not in any way guarantee the reconciliation of all desires, and the tragedy of non-requited desire seems unsurpassable, the price to pay if seduction is to remain an enthralling game – not for any “no-pain-no-gain” old-fogey principle but because desire includes otherness and therefore its possible negation. There is no human or social game without stakes and without risk! That is the only norm which seems unsurpassable – unless our ape imaginations, still paying tithe to the old world, cannot fathom man.
What makes Fourier less boring than most of the other utopists is that, besides a very poetic and very extensive polling of possibles, his system allows for the necessity of conflict. We know that practically all of the accidents considered crimes by the old world are only sudden changes of ownership (theft), accidents of competition (the murder of a bank teller), or products of the impoverishment of social mores. But in a stateless society it is not unimaginable that the exacerbation of passions may lead one man to inflict suffering upon or kill another. In such a world, the only guarantee that one man wouldn’t torture another would be that he doesn’t feel the need to. But what if he does feel it? What if he finds torturing fun? Rid of such old models like “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” “a pound of flesh,” and the like, a woman whose lover has just been murdered, a man whose beloved has just been tortured, would, in spite of their sorrow, find it perfectly stupid to kill someone else or lock him away, as fantasy compensation for the lost they have endured – perhaps… What if a desire for revenge won out? What if the other person keeps on killing?
In the workers’ movement, the anarchists are probably among the few who have concretely addressed the question of a stateless society. Bakunin’s answer is not very convincing:
“Complete abolition of all degrading and cruel sentences, of corporal punishment and the death penalty as established and executed by law. Abolition of all indefinite or too-lengthy sentences which leave no possibility of rehabilitation – as crime must be considered a disease…”
Sounds like the Socialist Party line before they got to power, but what follows is more interesting:
“Any individual condemned by any society whatsoever, whether local, provincial or national, shall retain his right to refuse to submit to the sentence pronounced against him by declaring that he no longer wants to be part of that society. In that case, however, the society will in turn retain the right to eject the individual and declare him outside its guarantee and protection. The individual would thus be thrown back to the natural law of eye-for-an-eye, at least in the territory occupied by that society, and could be fleeced, mistreated, even killed without the society stepping in. Everyone else could cast off the refractor, like you would a harmful beast, although never could he be forced into servitude or enslaved.” (Bakunin, La Liberté)
The primitives shall not go unremembered in this solution. The individual who has transgressed a taboo is never again taken seriously. They laugh every time he opens his mouth, or he has to flee into the jungle, or he becomes invisible, etc. In any case, he is cast out of the community and therefore bound for an early death. If it’s a question of tearing down the prisons in order to build them back up again, a bit less harsh and better ventilated, then count us out. We shall always side with the refractor. What, after all, is a “too lengthy” sentence? One needn’t have wasted away in prison to know that time spent there is always too lengthy. However, if this is about replacing prison by an even more radical alienation, count us out all the same. As for treating crime as a disease, it’s an open invitation to a society under the absolute control of psychiatric argument and medication.
“Curiously, the basest of bandits can seem like a real nice guy the instant one stops taking things so seriously (and an adult not too prematurely old can rival the worst class cut-up in this domain). Is the social order at the mercy of a belly laugh? … Life is not all one big laugh, say teachers and mothers, and not without a note of hilarious earnestness. It’s news to the children… Nevertheless I imagine that in the poor mind darkened by this training a shining paradise is born in the crash of broken dishes… unbridled fun makes use of all the world’s products, every ruined object is there to be smashed like a toy.” (Bataille, Les Pieds Nickelés)
So what do we do with dish breakers? It is impossible, today, to answer this question and, even in a stateless society it isn’t sure a satisfactory answer can be found. The guy who won’t play along, who breaks the dishes, who’s ready to run the risk of pain and even death, simply for the fun of breaking off social ties. That is the risk, the probably unsurpassable risk run by a society which refuses to cast anyone, no matter how asocial, out of humanity’s midst. The damage done to the society would always be inferior to the damage done by making the asocial person into a monster. Communism must not lose its raison d’être to save a few lives, no matter how “innocent” they may be. To date, let’s admit, the mediations conceived to avoid or buffer conflict and maintain society’s internal order have caused oppression and human loss infinitely greater than those it was supposed to prevent or limit. In communism, no substitute state or “non-state” which would remain a state.
“The repression of antisocial reaction is as fanciful as it is objectionable on principle.” (“Letter to the Insane Asylum Head Doctors,” La Révolution Surréaliste, no. 3, April 15, 1925)
The issue is not pertinent only for a distant future. It is on the agenda at times of social unrest. Consider the looters and thieves of nineteenth-century riots, consider the moral order reproduced in them by these riots. In the same way, during the early part of the Russian revolution, a “Bolshevik marriage code” (the title alone speaks volumes) was juxtaposed with a powerful movement of transformation of social mores. From any more or less revolutionary period will spring gangs half way between social subversion and delinquency, temporary inegalities, hoarders, profiteers, but especially, a whole range of uncertain conduct which one would be hard-pressed to characterize as “revolutionary,” or “for survival” or “counter-revolutionary,” etc. Ongoing communization will resolve this, but only over one, two, perhaps several generations. Between now and then, we must prepare ourselves – not for a “return to order” which will be one of the key slogans of all antirevolutionaries, but by developing what makes the originality of a communist movement – essentially, it doesn’t repress, it subverts.
This means, first of all, that it uses only the amount of violence strictly necessary to obtain its goals, not out of moralism or non-violence, but because superfluous violence always becomes autonomous, becomes its own end. It also means that one’s weapon is first and foremost the transformation of social relationships and of production of living conditions. Spontaneous looting will no longer be a massive change of ownership, a mere juxtaposition of private appropriations, if a community of struggle is formed between looters and producers. Only on this condition can looting be the starting point for social reappropriation of riches and use of those riches in a context broader than plain and simple consuming. (Consuming, per se, is not to be denounced, since social life is not only productive activity. It is also consumption and consummation. If poor people wanted first to taste a few pleasures, who but the priests would hold it against them?) As for the hoarders, if violent measures are sometimes necessary, it will be to recuperate goods not for punishment. In any case, it is only by spreading the reign of freeness that they can be rendered completely harmless. What good is hoarding if money is only paper, if you can no longer sell what you hoard?
The more a revolution is radicalized the less it needs to be repressive. We make no bones about stating this especially since, for communism, human life in the sense of biological survival is not the supreme good. It is capitalism which offers this monstrous sucker deal: Be assured of maximal survival in exchange for maximal submission to economy. Yet isn’t a world where one has to hide in order to choose the hour of one’s death a terribly depreciated world indeed?
In communism, one doesn’t start from values set by a common accord but from the real relations in which one lives. Any group practices, refuses, allows for, imposes certain acts and not others. Before we have values, and in order to have them, there are things one does and doesn’t do, imposes and forbids.
In a contradictory class society, the forbidden is cast in stone and, at the same time, made to be moved around and violated. The taboos of primitive societies and, to some degree, those of traditional societies do not constitute a moral order as such. Values and taboos are constantly reproduced by every act in social life. As work and private life opposed one another more and more radically, the issue of social mores came to the fore, then, in 19th-century Europe with what the bourgeoisie called “dangerous classes,” became acute. On the one hand the worker must be considered free to go to work (in order to justify the capitalist’s freedom to refuse him work) and, on the other, moral order had to keep him mechanically sound by telling him that it isn’t good to get drunk and that work is his dignity. Moral order only exists because there are mores, i.e., a domain which society theoretically leaves up to the individual but which it constantly legislates from the outside.
Law, first religious and then state law, supposes its scoffing. That is the difference with communism, where there is no need for intangible law which everyone knows will not be respected. No absolutes, unless perhaps the primacy of the species, which is not to say its survival. No falsely universal rules. Like law, like ideology all moral orders rationalize after the fact. They always take themselves for, and purport to be the foundation of social life, but without foundation themselves, based only on God, nature, logic, social welfare… i.e., a foundation which doesn’t exist since it can’t be called into question. The rules that human beings would give themselves (in ways we cannot predict) in communism would flow from communist sociality. They will not constitute a moral order insofar as they will claim no illusory universality in time and space. The rules of the game will include the possibility of playing with the rules of the game.
“Revolt is a form of optimism which is hardly less repugnant than the usual kind. For revolt to be possible, it has to suppose the possibility of an opportune reaction. In other words, that there is a preferable order of things toward which we must strive. Revolt, considered as an end in itself, is optimistic as well – it goes on the premise that change, disorder is satisfying. I can’t believe that anything is satisfying.
Question: ‘In your opinion, is suicide only a lesser evil?’
‘Exactly, a lesser evil hardly better than having a profession or a moral code.’” (Jacques Rigaut, testimony in the “Barrès Affair,” 1921, Ecrits)
An entire body of nihilist literature has developed the “dish breaker’s” point of view, that of one who resists all social attachment and who, as a compulsory corollary, has a taste for death. But the nihilist thinkers’ lovely music never kept most of them from fading into the hubbub of daily life to a respectable age. This incoherency supports the idea that the pure refractor is only a literary myth. As for the rare individuals who, like Rigaut, chose the last resort of suicide, like Genet, who tasted true debasement, they lived out this myth like a passion. But if true and intransigent mystics have existed, that doesn’t prove the existence of God. These “refractors” are fodder for an elitism which is false right from the get-go. The worst of it is not that they believe they are superior, but that they think themselves different from the rest of humanity. They position themselves as observers of a world from which they are separate – but participation is prerequisite to understanding. Being on the outside, they would have it, is lucidity. But, as Bataille explains, they fall into the worst of traps:
“…I have never seen existence with the absent-minded contempt of the man alone.” (Œuvres)
“It is human tumult, with the stink and vulgarity of all its needs, big and small, with its strident disgust for the police that represses it – it is the frenzied activity of all men (excepting that police and the friends of that police) and this activity alone, which shapes the revolutionary mentality in opposition to the bourgeois mentality.”
The myth of the refractor has at times cluttered revolutionary theory – witness the Situationists’ fascination with outlaws in general and Lacenaire in particular, epitomized by Debord’s last appalling film. But if this myth must be criticized, it is also because it is the flipside of class society’s production of fascinating monsters, and so tends to validate it.
Upon this sea of zombies in which we swim, sometimes a shiver of passion goes, when citizens are served a radically foreign being, something which looks like a man, but whose real humanity is entirely denied. For the Nazi, it is the Jew. For the anti-fascist, the Nazi. For the mass of our contemporaries, it is the terrorist, the gangster, the killer of children. When the time comes to track these monsters down and determine their punishment, at last passions splash back to the surface and imagination, which we thought extinguished, takes off at a gallop. One can only regret that this type of imagination and its fine-tuning is precisely what is attributed to that other guaranteed-inhuman monster – the Nazi executioner.
Never could everyone be forced to respect a law in contradiction with the way relationships really work. Never could murder be prevented where there is a reason to kill. Never could theft be prevented where there were inegalities and where commerce is based on theft. So an example is made, by focusing on one particular case. Even more than that, we exorcize that part of us which would have wanted to be the executioner of those defenseless bodies or the rapist-murderer of those children. The share of envy in the hateful cries of the crowd no longer needs to be demonstrated. It is clear even to the stubbornly myopic eyes of the journalist.
Communism, on the contrary, is a society without monsters, because each person will finally recognize in the desires and acts of others, as many possible shapes of his own desires and humane existence. “The human being is the true “being-together” ” (Marx). The term “being-in-its-totality,” or collective being, express our movement even better than the word “communism” which is primarily associated with collectivizing things. Marx’ statement is worth developing extensively, and we will come back to it at another time. For now, suffice it to notice the critique of bourgeois humanism contained in the statement. While, thanks to the mediation of culture, the Montaigne-type honest man can be every man, the communist man knows from practice that he can only exist as he is because all others exist as they are.
This does not in any way mean that no desire must be repressed. Repression and sublimation keep one from plunging into a refusal of otherness. But communism is a society with no guarantee but the free interplay of passions and needs, while capitalist society is crazy for insurance and would like to provide a guarantee against every happenstance of life, including death. All possible risks and dangers should be “covered by insurance,” except “in case of absolute necessity” – war and revolution – and even then… The only event capitalism cannot insure against is its own disappearance.
When one sets about a global critique of the world, remaining on a purely theoretical level is unacceptable. There are periods when subversive activity is almost entirely reduced to the writing of papers and exchanges between individuals. Our discomfort is deployed in this “almost.” To continue having a lucid view of the world, one must be possessed of a tension it is not easy to maintain, as it implies refusal, a tending to the fringes, and profound sterility. This refusal, this tendency to the fringes and this sterility contribute as much to maintaining passion as it does to hardening it into misanthropic bitterness or intellectual mania. No act spun by social life is considered self-evident by one who refuses capital’s organization of the world. Not even manifestations of biological givens are exempt from his torment! Signing on to procreation seems suspect to him – how can one want to spawn in such a world, as long as one can’t make out the possibility of transforming it any time soon?
Nevertheless, outside of a few simple principles – not to participate in the machinery of mystification or repression (neither cop nor star), not to pursue a career – one can’t claim to precisely and permanently define the forms for refusal. For radical critique, there is no decent behavior. There is only some things more indecent than others and certain behaviors that mock theory. Thinking of oneself as revolutionary in a non-revolutionary period… What counts is less the result of this contradiction – unavoidably fragmented and crippling – than the contradiction itself, the tension of refusal.
What good is criticizing the sordidness of mores if it must remain? Our way of being only makes sense with respect to communism. In answer to Cioran’s quote which opened this section, it must be said that the truly unbearable sweat and disasters are those which don’t belong to us, which this world foists upon us. The only excuse we find for time’s killing us is history’s promise to avenge us. The meaning of our way of being is the possibility that social connection is guaranteed only by itself, and that it works!
If the social crisis worsens, there will be less and less room for half-way choices. Calling for “a little less police” will become less and less feasible. The choice will more and more be between what exists and no police at all. That is when humanity will have to show whether or not it loves freedom.
Love. Ecstasy. Crime. Three historical products through which humanity has lived out, still lives out its emotional practices and relationships. Love: consequence of indifference and generalized selfishness, seeking refuge in a few beings who have the advantage of chance and necessity. It is the impossible love for mankind which finds a poor excuse for an outlet in a handful of individuals. Ecstasy: a brief escape from the profane, the banal and into the sacred; fleeing and immediately captured and boxed in by religion. Crime: the only way out when the norm can no longer be respected or gotten around.
Love, sacredness and crime are ways to give meaning to the present in escaping it. Positive or negative, the three include both pull and repulse, in a relationship of attraction and rejection with respect to one another. Love is glorified but mistrusted. The sacred is by nature threatened with profanation – calling on it to exclude it and, at the same time, strengthening itself. Crime is punished, but it fascinates.
These three rides out of the ordinary run of days will not be any more made general than they are abolished by communism. Any life (be it collective or individual) supposes borders. But communism will be amoral insofar as it will no longer need fixed norms, exterior to social life. Ways of life and models for behavior will circulate, not without clashes and violence. They will be transmitted, transformed and produced at the same time as social relationships. As absolute separation between the inside and the beyond, the sacred will fade away. In this way, religion will no longer have its place, neither those of olden times nor those modern religions who have no gods but only devils to be cast out of the social midst. The liberty of man, his ability to modify his own nature, project himself beyond himself. Up until now, moral order, all moral orders – and all the more insidiously when they are not presented as such – makes these beyonds into human-crushing entities. Communism won’t level the “magic mountain.” It will do what’s necessary so as not to be dominated by it. It will create and multiply distant horizons, and the pleasure of losing oneself in them, but also the ability to foster new ones, which subverts the “natural” submission to any world order whatsoever.
To translate a text is enough to measure, word by word, both its breadth and its limitations – in the case of this article, its Franco-centrism. The disappearance of “public living places,” for example, is different in France and in Anglo-Saxon countries. The degradation of the Dublin or London pub can’t be compared to the losses sustained by the Parisian bistrot over forty years. As for the United States, luncheonettes, candy stores and diners don’t constitute poles of sociability resembling the French café. And even on the continent, while Paris sells her soul to Big Mac, Rome holds the line. The tendency to mercantilization of daily life is universal; it isn’t uniform.
The evolution of mores is probably no faster but certainly more readily perceived in a place where modernity is the oil floating upon an old Catholic vinegar. When the current occupant of the White House is in danger of blowing his job over a blowjob, it’s not because ethical values weigh more heavily in Washington than in Paris, but because the French do not traditionally accord the hoi polloi a say in matters of morality and public confession is not common practice. But in sniggering over the hypocrisy and archaism at work over the pond, the Parisian forgets that the Clinton scandals illustrate the pervasive triviality of TV democracy, a democratic moral order that modern Europeans, be they left or free market, are intent on imitating.
“For a World Without Moral Order” was written in 1983, during the backwash of the subversive wave of the sixties and seventies. Since then, things have only gotten worse. “Just try being openly pedophile,” we wrote. Sadly prophetic. Any form of child-adult love is instantaneously identified as child abuse, whether in its least “offensive” forms or its most atrocious – rape and murder. Parental love would be the only exception to this rule, but, alas, let us not forget that statistics cruelly demonstrate that a child is most at risk of sexual molestation inside that bastion of security known as “the family.” By the same logic, every heterosexual male ought to shake in his boots at the thought of Jack the Ripper, since this would be the ultimate result of all male-female attraction. (The dark cloud of this logic, indeed, seems to loom over current intersexual relations in whole sections of the U.S., to such a degree as to desexualize man-woman relationships.)
Over the course of the last fifteen years, capitalist society has become more visibly itself, answering social struggles and human demands with an array of monsters fresh off its assembly line. Consumer society gets rid of cars only by designating pedestrian areas which die every evening at closing time. Modern urban development can only accommodate motorist, cyclist, jogger, rollerblader, etc. by assigning each his own lane. Mores, unfortunately, adhere to the same each-his-own-lane model. The revolt against an all-too-real white male domination gave rise to the universally derided and almost universally practiced Politically Correct. Unable to change reality, it settles for euphemizing and separating realities, only changing the language.
Fifteen years of ever more crippling separation, invariably painted in the pleasing pastels of liberation. What is gay? A man who only goes out with men, convinced he will never feel the attraction of the opposite sex? How should he know? How can he exclude the possibility of being overwhelmed by the desire for and of a woman?
Gay fiction? Why not rearrange the bookstores along the lines of department store clothing (as is practically the case already in certain U.S. bookstores)? Put Virginia Woolf in Women’s, Shakespeare in Men’s (although the sonnets…) Lord Byron in the “Physically Challenged, Diet Addicted” section and any writer over sixty-five will see new works displayed in Senior fiction.
Granted, thanks to this gay-ity, the gay man feels safe from all-too-real discrimination. Different clubs, different neighborhoods, different literature, and last but not least a different vocabulary. How sad that, in order to escape age-old repression, millions could imagine nothing better than making up a category even narrower than the family, and founded only on the choice of sexual object: penis vs. vagina. Act is made into identity, definition into destiny, and sexual preference into a world vision (gay culture). While language does express social relationships, it is the latter that must be changed. And in the twilight of the 20th century, words are more easily modified than things.
“Be a nice girl and go make some coffee.” Is the sexism in the girl? Does this mean that a man who says “Girl, I love you. How about I make us some coffee?” loves and/or respects his partner any less than if he’d said woman? In reality, where intimate relations are concerned, intentions are rarely ambiguous. It is in the sphere of formality – polite terms, official appellations, workplace jargon – that there is a whole universe to be revolutionized if not abolished, and here lingual feminism aims merely to euphemize, desexualize, neutralize. What is gained by replacing girl with person? More or less what was gained in substituting Ministry of Defense for War Office, and soon thereafter giving up on the word altogether and saying only “M.O.D.” The acronym reigns, painless and incomprehensible to outsiders. Generalist language is a thing of the past.
By the way, what does communist express? Should the word be changed because for decades it served the inversion of a reality founded on the defeat of the workers’ movement? Or would it be better to give new life to the thing and thereby to the word? We, men and women who are not misogynous, feel no urgency to prove our femininophilia through appropriate language. Let’s let those sitting chair get excited about whether to say chairperson or chairwoman.
Whether Antonin Artaud gets thrown into the nuthouse, institutionalized, or worse, certified, the matter at hand is the psychiatric treatment of a human and social problem – should the asylum be a closed building or chemical restraints.
The enemy is what makes passive, what divides. Good fences make good neighbors. Autonomy is a fenced-in, private space within which I believe I am free to do what I mustn’t do outside it. From a state, feminism makes a border. “Hands off!” Whether intentionally or not, this contributes to individual parcelling, which requires a superior authority with the power to guarantee the rights of each (child, parent, man, woman, the old, the young, the gay, the consumer, the worker, the ill, the pedestrian, member of a minority, etc.) with respect to the others. For each right may be declared absolute, it is always relative with respect to others. “Absolutes are not cumulable,” as Jean Genet said it. And what redefines and referees the adding up of these relativities if not the power of the state? Privatization of life goes hand in hand with ever increasing judges and psychologists.
Humanity shall not liberate itself by slicing itself up, like liberated territories with poles to mark their borders. Revolution means going beyond all borders. It means superceding womanhood as well as manhood. Individuals getting private control over their lives, even over something as vital as their own bodies, is not a solution in itself. The only true solution is to create with others (of both sexes) relationships of a different nature, where one no longer fears nor risks domination. The point is not for women to be free of men, but free with them. The goal is not for each person to declare his independence, but that each may stop fearfully refusing to be dependent, interdependent. Liberty is a relationship.
One shortcoming of “For a World Without Moral Order” is probably that it doesn’t stress enough just how much usage and customs of a future world would surprise, even shock this one. Many dilemmas, fears and terrors, perennial or recent, would disappear. Others would resurge. This is not any more about getting to paradise than it is about soothing barbary.
Criticizing moral order is not a way of saying “Everyone do what he wants and thanks to human goodness all will turn out for the best.” The problem is not how to avoid conflict and norms, but to change the presently fallacious relationship to those norms. There is no other logic, no other meaning and so no other guarantee of my actions than my relationship with my fellow man. The goal – and the whole problem – would be, will be one day to live a norm not separate from my and from our actions.
 Un Monde sans morale, first published in the revue La Banquise (#1) in 1983, was originally translated by Michael William into English for publication in the Fall ’93 issue (#38) of the American magazine, Anarchy.
 See below excerpt from Frank Browning’s A Queer Geography pages 32-35.
 See also Bruce Benderson’s Toward A New Degeneracy (Edgewise Press, 1997).
we’re going to change it up this week, for the topic of anarchist conflict resolution, and listen to two episodes (conflict 1 and conflict 2) of the brilliant pod cast. the relevant parts start at 29:00 and 30:00 respectively, if you’re in a hurry.
this is a podcast by two study-group regulars who are currently out of town.
it will be a bit more challenging to refer to things that they said, since it won’t be in writing, so you’re encouraged to write things they say down, if they are interesting, confusing, or problematic.
here is the article referred to in conflict 2, “the politics of denunciation.” reading it will also make the conversation more interesting, probably.
our newcomer-sponsored reading is a chapter from Anarchy Alive! by uri gordon, a chapter that was originally published in WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society. uri is an academic who usually does a good job of reporting on anarchy in a non-jargoned, fairly unbiased way, so we’ll see how he does in this chapter.