The piece from black seed 5 called “Murder of the Civilized.” black seed 5 is available for free at the long haul.
an article on reading by eve sedgwick.
we agreed to read the dark mountain manifesto, which is here.
and lew also suggested a piece that i was not sure was online, but here it is, some critical thoughts on endnotes (probably not from an anarchist? haven’t read it yet), so for those of us ready to move on to new things… here’s this. perhaps the next study group can be a duet of the two pieces in turn?
The Bleak Left – On Endnotes
Endnotes 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the 20th Century, 2008.
Endnotes 2: Misery and the Value Form, 2010.
Endnotes 3: Gender, Race, Class and Other Misfortunes, 2013.
Endnotes 4: Unity in Separation, 2015.
IT’S NO SECRET that the collapse of international communism from 1989 to 1991 forced many Marxists into defensive positions. What’s less well understood is why so many others took the opportunity to abjure some of Marxism’s most hallowed principles. Perry Anderson, in a surprisingly admiring review-essay on Francis Fukuyama from 1992, concluded by soberly assessing what remained of socialism. At the center of socialist politics, he wrote, had always been the idea that a new order of things would be created by a militant working class, “whose self-organization prefigured the principles of the society to come.” But in the real world, this group had “declined in size and cohesion.” It wasn’t that it had simply moved from the developed West to the East; even at a global level, he noted, “its relative size as a proportion of humanity is steadily shrinking.” The upshot was that one of the fundamental tenets of Marxism was wrong. The future offered an increasingly smaller, disorganized working class, incapable of carrying out its historic role.
In 1992, calling oneself a “socialist” was an anachronism. Today it is a label with which millions of Americans identify. A self-described “democratic socialist” came agonizingly close to winning the Democratic Party primaries in 2016. And the premise that Anderson felt we should abandon has been nonchalantly reassumed. Articles in Jacobin, the most popular socialist publication to appear in the United States in decades, routinely conclude with a reaffirmation of the place of the working class at the center of socialist politics.
But lost in the heady rush of leftist revival is the still-nagging problem of agency. The fortunes of the organized working class have never been more dire. In the advanced capitalist core, unions have recovered some prestige but not even a fraction of their midcentury power, while the historical European parties of the Socialist International continue their slow collapse. In the Global South, the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) and South Africa’s ANC–Communist–trade union alliance, rare bright spots after 1989, are losing credibility after decades of accommodation to private economic prerogatives. There are, in absolute terms, more industrial workers than ever, and probably as much industrial conflict. But there is no sense that as the working class becomes larger, it is becoming more unified. The end of the end of history has not seen the resumption of the forward march of labor.
In fact, Marxists have been worried about workers for a long time. After 1917, workers tried to take power in Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Spain; their defeat led to fascism. Beginning with Antonio Gramsci, Marxists outside the Soviet Union tried to understand what went wrong. As fascism and armed resistance gave way to social democracy and a moderated capitalism, some radicals consigned the working class to history altogether. It was harder, though, to discard the idea that someone, somehow, would bring socialism to the world. Peasants, national-liberation movements, students, and the incarcerated all provided substitutes. With the emergence of movements like environmentalism and gay liberation after the 1960s, many decided that the whole idea of a revolutionary subject was misguided. Why not recognize a plurality of movements, emerging unpredictably and united not by objective interest but by creative alliances? Today, even as discussions of economic inequality abound, this pluralism remains common sense in activist circles.
But this solution has not satisfied everyone. In 2008, a slim journal published by an anonymous collective began to circulate within the thinning ranks of the revolutionary left. Its cover was solid green except for the journal’s name, Endnotes, in white, and a subtitle, “Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century,” in black. The text was produced by a discussion group formed in Brighton, UK, in 2005 with origins in long-running debates in the German and French ultraleft. (Over time the group broadened to include participants in California.) Authorship wasn’t really secret; you could find bylined references scattered across CVs and footnotes. But collective authorship was key to the distinctive voice, something like the crossfire of an unusually well-prepared reading group recollected in tranquility. The essays run on, sometimes more than ten thousand words, to simulate the modulations of conversation. Disciplinary specializations sit side by side, with notes on Kant and Schelling following graphs of employment patterns in UK manufacturing. The style is by turns earnest (“The communisation of social relations among seven billion people will take time”), bleak (“There is always someone more abject than you”), and droll (“Proletarians do not have to see anyone they do not like, except at work”). It is a journal whose scope, rigor, and utter lack of piety make it one of the consistently challenging left-wing periodicals of our time. In 2014, Anderson himself called it one of the “most impressive publications to emerge in the Bush-Obama era.”
Endnotes emerged from narrow Marxist debates, but in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, the journal supplemented theory with exhaustive analysis of social movements. For the editors, our current age of riots and occupations demands that we confront again the unfashionable question of the revolutionary subject. The editorial collective describes itself as “communist”; its members want the abolition of capitalism, which because of its powerful self-reinforcing tendencies can only be overcome by a coherent social force. But what group of people has enough in common to imagine itself as a social force and also has the strategic leverage to change the world? Unlike many socialists, the editors of Endnotes do not reflexively answer, “The working class.” They ask the question in order to show that this cannot possibly be the answer.
THE FIRST ISSUE OF ENDNOTES contained a translation, with commentary, of a debate between the militant Gilles Dauvé and the French editorial collective Théorie Communiste. Dauvé and TC began publishing in the 1970s, lonely inheritors of the tradition of anti-Bolshevik (or ultraleftist) communism that ran from Karl Korsch to the Situationist International. They argued that the European left — whether social democratic, Leninist, or anarcho-syndicalist — aspired to “take over the same world and manage it in a new way,” whether through government ownership, the dictatorship of the proletariat, or workers’ councils. Real communism (the abolition of “exchange, money, commodities, the existence of separate enterprises, the state and — most fundamentally — wage labour and the working class itself”) was imagined, if at all, as something waiting far in the future.
Dauvé and TC reject the idea that communism could be instated “after the revolution.” Instead, the revolution itself would take place through the establishment of communist social relations — a process they called “communization.” Communization is an elusive concept, but it seems to define a politics in which the tactics themselves establish alternatives to capitalism. Think of the difference between a socialist party winning an election in a capitalist country and a crowd of rioters passing out food they looted from a warehouse. In the first case, the socialists cannot help but assume responsibility for running the economy they inherit while they assemble an alternative economy piecemeal. In the second, the riot itself embodies an alternative form of distributing wealth. The communizing current, always tiny, enjoyed a moment of prominence when its slogans (“Occupy everything, demand nothing”) were emblazoned on public universities in California during protests against a rise in tuition in 2009. They reappeared during Occupy Wall Street in 2011.
Radicals always accuse one another of being insufficiently radical. But there is a deeper argument between Dauvé and Théorie Communiste. For Dauvé, associated with a journal called Invariance, communism is an eternal idea, “an ever-present (if at times submerged) possibility,” latent in all workers’ movements. As the left surged in 1917, 1936, and 1968, the promised land came into view, but because of betrayals, hesitation, and tactical errors, no one ever got there. In TC’s view, endorsed by Endnotes, these failures were unavoidable. Different historical situations call for different kinds of struggle. There is no point in criticizing earlier movements for being bad communists, because the idea of communization could only emerge from the most recent stage of capitalism.
Endnotes/TC elaborate this position by dividing workers’ struggles into stages. The century stretching from Marx to the 1970s was the age of “programmatism” (named for the ambitious political platforms — the Gotha Program, the Erfurt Program, the Godesberg Program — routinely issued by socialist parties during this period). Workers focused on capturing industrial production by organizing labor parties, going on strike, or occupying factories. They acted as though they were central to industry and to society as a whole. For a time, no strategy seemed more sensible. The number of industrial wage workers was growing rapidly, and many of them shared experiences and interests. Together, they discovered power: a strike in steel or coal made the entire economy scream. Many shared Marx’s confidence in “a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.”
History was not kind to these premises. After May 1968, ultraleftists watched for the reemergence of insurrectionary workers’ councils. But absenteeism, sabotage, theft, and walkouts were more common than calls for self-management. Rather than reorganizing work to their liking, workers preferred not to work at all. Drawing on the work of Robert Brenner, Endnotes attributes this negative orientation to transformations within capitalism. The percentage of manufacturing employment had peaked by the late ’60s and was on the decline. In the ’70s, industry reached overcapacity, resulting in cratering profits. Capitalists responded by breaking unions, shuttering plants, and moving production to places where labor was cheaper and regulations more lax. But even where wages were low, automation displaced human labor at dizzying rates. Workers weren’t being brought together. They were losing their jobs, their shifts, and everything they once held in common. If politics was possible at all for “a working class in transition, a working class tending to become a class excluded from work,” it would not resemble the “programmatist” era.
THE IDEA THAT “the working class as such cannot be the focus of revolutionary theory” was an awkward starting point for a Marxist journal. The second issue of Endnotes (2010) dwelled in this discomfort. Marx himself clearly valued parties, programs, and demands. He held that communism required a transition period, during which workers would be paid with coupons according to hours worked. And money wasn’t the worst thing that would outlive capitalism. Even the immediate abolition of child labor, Marx thought, was “incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish.”
Endnotes conceded that Marx, as a participant in the workers’ movement, held positions that were once plausible and politically useful, though in retrospect inadequate. But they also believed that Marx had anticipated their own postworker perspective — a reading they derived from a mostly German current known as “value-form theory.” In the orthodox reading of Marx, workers produce wealth, but part of their product is taken away from them by their employers; under socialism, workers will produce wealth in much the same way but receive the full value of their labor. This analysis suggests a vision of socialism in which, as Lenin wrote, “the whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labor and pay.” The value-form theorists reject this view. On their reading, the problem with capitalism is not how the products of labor are distributed but the fact that society is organized around labor in the first place.
People have always worked to produce useful things. But under capitalism, labor becomes the basis of all social relationships. Marx tried to describe this novelty with his distinction between abstract and concrete labor. In every kind of society, people perform concrete labor — for example, turning a piece of leather into a shoe. In a capitalist economy, people also work in order to acquire the products of other people’s labor. The shoemaker makes shoes so that he can buy a car, produced by autoworkers he will never meet. This form of social organization — in which workers essentially trade their labor — requires that every form of concrete labor be measurable according to a common metric, as if all were products of “abstract labor,” or labor as such. For Marx, this metric is labor time. Workers receive an hourly wage, which they use to buy products whose prices reflect labor costs. Firms compete over the relative cost of their products, forcing them to minimize labor costs and maximize productivity. Society as a whole comes to be organized around the production of value generally, not specific use-values to satisfy specific human needs, and the labor process is constantly reshaped and degraded by the imperative to produce efficiently. Given this reading, socialism would be not a giant factory, but a world where wealth and value no longer took the form of congealed labor time. (The positive form it would take has never been clear.) Here, Endnotes found a German rhyme for the French ultraleft position that workers need to leave the workplace, not seize it.
A crucial part of Endnotes’s reading of Marx was empirical. It was always assumed, by Marxists and bourgeois theorists alike, that the dynamics of capitalism would swell the ranks of wage laborers in industrial employment. And for a while this was true: industry did grow, up to a point, in the capitalist core, and over time this model spread to “developing” countries. But as Endnotes pointed out, industrial wage workers never became even a simple majority anywhere (except, briefly, Belgium).
Marx himself had noted that capitalism “presses to reduce labor time to a minimum” as it destroys the once-ubiquitous arrangements through which people directly produced the things they needed. The result he anticipated was a growing number of people who needed to find work at the very moment their human labor was no longer needed — “a surplus population,” in Marx’s phrase. What he failed to anticipate was the emergence of industries like automobiles that, despite being mostly capital intensive, also required large numbers of laborers. But according to Endnotes, the new industries and the state managers who facilitated their rise could only delay the inevitable. Marxists have waited long enough that Marx is right again: we have a surplus population.
Not only communists believe this time may be different. As a more famous unbylined English magazine, the Economist, put it in 2014: “Previous technological innovation has always delivered more long-run employment, not less. But things can change.” Around the world, more than a billion people can only dream of selling their labor power. From the point of view of employers, they are unneeded for production, even at the lowest wages. Even in China, the new workshop of the world, there were no net industrial jobs created between 1993 and 2006. The size of China’s industrial workforce — around 110 million people — is vast in absolute terms. But relative to the population of China, the number suggests the limited demand for industrial labor, not just in Detroit but around the world.
In the United States, with unemployment below 5 percent, it seems fanciful to talk about the end of wage labor. Seen globally, the exceptional character of the American economy is stark. So is the challenge of imagining a strategy that would benefit or even make sense to proletarians scattered across a planet of slums. Endnotes’s pessimism resonates with mainstream economics, especially Dani Rodrik’s conclusions in a series of papers on “premature deindustrialization.” Rodrik finds that developing countries “are running out of industrialization opportunities sooner and at much lower levels of income compared to the experience of early industrializers,” but maintains that while this “premature deindustrialization” closes off familiar development strategies, there may be alternative routes to growth. Endnotes takes the darker view that these billions are “pure surplus” whom the system will never find an interest in exploiting. “It exists now only to be managed: segregated into prisons, marginalized in ghettos and camps, disciplined by the police, and annihilated by war.” Even in the US, the low official unemployment numbers conceal millions of prisoners literally locked out of the formal economy.
The displacement of human labor from industrial production has not been ignored in recent left-wing thought. In fact, technological change has generated widespread enthusiasm for “postwork” or “antiwork” strains of Marxism, a tendency captured in slogans like “accelerationism” and “fully automated luxury communism.” For these thinkers, the crisis of industrial employment can be solved by letting robots do work while the former working class, now sustained by a guaranteed minimum income, devotes itself to noneconomic pursuits. It is an attractive idea, both because of the elegance of the solution (No jobs? Abolish work!) and because it is more pleasant to imagine a future in which upper-middle-class fecklessness, rather than favela desperation, is the future for the entire planet.
Endnotes would likely object, perhaps by invoking one of their favorite lines (slightly restated, in their version) from Marx: “Communism is not an idea or a slogan. It is the real movement of history, the movement which — in the rupture — gropes its way out of history.” We can sit around all day talking about the future we want, but we don’t get to choose how capitalism ends. In a memorable essay about logistics, Jasper Bernes takes aim at the techno-optimists who believe we can seize “the globally distributed factory” system and do with it what we wish.1 Bernes argues instead that many forms of economic organization wouldn’t make sense under socialism. He takes logistics — rearranging supply chains and transport costs — as his example. The complex logistical innovations that keep Walmart’s shelves stocked are designed not to maximize productivity but to leverage the competition between different low-wage national economies. “Without those differentials” — presumably abolished under socialism — “most supply-chains would become both wasteful and unnecessary.” Revolutionaries cannot simply take over and “reconfigure” the supply chains; they can only obstruct them — blockading ports, blowing up warehouses, sabotaging trucks. This may sound like anarchist fantasy, but for Bernes and Endnotes these tactics follow from the strictest realism. The questions they ask are not easily dismissed. In the heroic age of 20th-century revolutions, for example, people could expect that
some large percentage of the means of production for consumer goods were ready to hand, and one could locate, in one’s own region, shoe factories and textile mills and steel refineries. A brief assessment of the workplaces in one’s immediate environs should convince most of us — in the US at least, and I suspect most of Europe — of the utter unworkability of the reconfiguration thesis. . . . Most of these jobs pertain to use-values that would be rendered non-uses by revolution. To meet their own needs and the needs of others, these proletarians would have to engage in the production of food and other necessaries, the capacity for which does not exist in most countries.
This antinormative stance is part of what makes Endnotes so fascinating: surely there has never been such a sober magazine of the ultraleft. Its pages are completely empty of exhortations, special pleading, and wishful thinking. The contrast with most political writing is clear, and reading the journal makes one aware of how much left-wing writing traffics in vague optimism. But in the very success of their criticism, the editors place themselves in a rigor trap, where it is hard to see how their own politics could survive the same kind of withering analysis they apply to others. Bernes writes quite reasonably, for example, that it is “politically non-workable” to expect that “15 percent or so of workers whose activities would still be useful [after the revolution] would work on behalf of others.” But he believes, with the Endnotes collective, that communism is somehow workable. It is as if someone has given you a dazzling lecture on the dangers of drinking coffee before offering you a line of coke.
BETWEEN ISSUES two (2010) and three (2013), the Arab world revolted. Huge crowds took over squares in Spain and Greece, while somewhat smaller crowds did the same across the US. Riots raged across England for almost a week, and the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. Endnotes deployed the concept of surplus populations to explore how this “intensification of struggle” could occur without “the return of a workers’ identity.” The crisis of class was evident in the masses of unemployed young people in the squares. It was also clear in the icons of the movements: Mohamed Bouazizi and Eric Garner weren’t striking workers but street vendors harassed by the police. Instead of prescribing a dose of Marxism to the protesters, the editors asked Marxists to take a lesson from the absence of workers’ rhetoric in the new movements.
According to Endnotes, the shape of the new struggles was determined by the ongoing decomposition of the working class into heterogeneous fractions. None of these fractions could plausibly present itself as representative of the common interest, as industrial workers had done. Rather, stagnant growth rates and regimes of austerity had sharpened the conflict between different kinds of proletarians. Pensioners and unemployed youth, “native” citizens and immigrants, public employees and nonunionized workers, all found themselves competing for shares in a shrinking pie. What they had in common — the need to earn a living — made them rivals, even enemies.
Endnotes called this predicament “the riddle of composition”: which class fractions might add up to a political threat? The movement of the squares answered the riddle by repressing differences under the sign of “the people” (as evidenced in slogans ranging from Occupy’s “Bail out the people” to the Arab Spring’s “The people demand the fall of the regime”). The populist rhetoric, as well as the characteristic refusal of programmatic demands, eschewed specificity in order to make room for as many groups as possible. Since the “people” ranged from downwardly mobile professionals to the destitute, they could not come together in “neighborhoods, schools, job centers, workplaces.” Their common identity existed only in the squares, where exacting democratic procedures supposedly heralded a new society. With physical presence as their only leverage, the movements evaporated when the squares were cleared.
Elsewhere in issue three, Endnotes addressed the rioting that swept England after the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, London, in August 2011. “It would take quite an optimist to find in all this any literal harbingers of revolution or of building class struggle,” they concluded. But riots and looting provided a glimpse of a future where repression by the police was more important than fights with the boss, and the fiercest struggles raged at sites of consumption rather than production. For Endnotes, this was not exploitation but “abjection” — the condition of being excluded from prevailing social forms of wealth and dignity but unable to exit the system. The abject is the opposite of the “affirmable” identity of the classical labor movement. Workers used to sing “without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel could turn,” or “we have been naught; we shall be all.” Today, the casualties of capital are better characterized by the title of Marc Lamont Hill’s recent book on Ferguson, Flint, and beyond: Nobody.
Abjection is bound up with racism — consider the exclusion marked in older phrases like “ghetto” and “the underclass.” In issue four (2015), Endnotes analyzed Black Lives Matter as an inheritor of the failures of Occupy Wall Street. “Black” described a group smaller than “the 99 percent,” but it reflected a more concrete social reality, and perhaps a more subversive potential. No one but the homeless had an existential stake in Occupy — something that could not be said of the movement for black lives. Despite the existence of class distinctions among black Americans, there was less distance between the black upper class and the black proletariat than there was between rich and poor whites. But as the movement grew, the distinctions would become harder to ignore. The authors pointed to a cleavage between those from the nationally prominent activist layer (who, whatever their origins, were likely to have attended college) and the lower-profile, more victimized, and possibly more active residents of places like Ferguson and Sandtown-Winchester, who first took the streets when their neighbors were killed.
Black Lives Matter did remarkable work suturing these divisions. For instance, DeRay McKesson, who went from Teach for America to Ferguson to a six-figure job as chief human-capital officer in the Baltimore public schools, has consistently refused to condemn rioting. In the terms of Endnotes’s Marxism, the class elasticity of blackness (a category stretching from Freddie Gray to Barack Obama) could not be dismissed if it was still able to “induce such large-scale dynamic mobilizations in the American population.” But the cleavage was real nonetheless, confirmed by the unsolved murder in September 2016 of Ferguson activist Darren Seals. After his death, national news outlets reported that Seals, who had been beside Michael Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, on the night of Darren Wilson’s nonindictment, had become a fierce, even violent critic of national BLM leaders like McKesson, whom Seals had accused in social-media posts of “making millions on top of millions because of the work we put in, in FERGUSON.”
Understanding the Endnotes position on race and gender requires grappling with the particular meaning they assign to the words capital and capitalism. For most Marxists, the working class is the protagonist of history. For Endnotes, the subject of recent history is capital. This is somewhat strange, since capital is not a person or a group of people with intentions or goals. Rather, capital here is a shorthand for the whole web of social relations among people living in capitalist societies. These social relations, viewed across historical time, have a distinct pattern of motion, whose course no individual could consciously choose or hope to master. The result of this motion has been the displacement of labor from production and the emergence of surplus populations. Class relations, such as those between workers and their employers, play a role in these developments. For example, when unions raise the cost of hiring workers, capitalists may choose to automate production; or when socialists seize power in an underdeveloped country, they may institute a five-year plan for industrialization. This makes class conflict a constituent part of capital, not a force capable of transcending it.
The workers’ movement imagined the development of capitalism would undermine nonclass identities by drawing more and more people into increasingly uniform factories. According to Endnotes, this assumption was always misguided. The number of people dependent on the market has always included many who never enter into a wage contract, such as housewives and slaves, to name two indispensable examples. With the onset of deindustrialization, the inadequacy of class as a unifying concept has become clearer than ever. Accordingly, Endnotes accords “gender, race, class and other misfortunes” equal importance.2 But this is not because they see different forms of oppression as plural and incommensurable. Capitalism is still a single integrated whole, but it depends on and generates many forms of social conflict.
In some cases, it is easy to see what this means: gender and race exist in historically specific forms, and today these forms are shaped by the unfolding of capitalist value production. To take just one example, Endnotes thinks capitalism could not exist without a separate, domestic sphere where human life is created and sustained without the direct mediation of the market. Without this separation, capitalists would be responsible for the upkeep of the working class, a contradiction in a system premised on the employer’s ability to free himself of workers by firing them. It works the other way, too: before capitalism there was no “domestic” sphere, as most production took place in households, with men commanding (rather than hiring) the labor of their wives and children.
So far, so good: two forms — class and gender — depend on each other for their existence. What is trickier to understand in Endnotes’s theory is how the forms of gender and race that exist under capitalism relate to the forms of gender and race that existed before it, or might exist after it. Since capitalism is treated as a systematic whole, the revolution must not only destroy class society but also — and simultaneously — destroy gender, race, et cetera. It’s easy to sympathize with Endnotes’s desire to resist a hierarchy of oppressions, but trying to imagine an instantaneous revolution in which every division between people is overcome at once strains both the historical and the utopian imagination. It seems far more plausible that forms such as race and gender develop unevenly, retaining aspects that predate capitalism even as they are constantly reshaped by new conditions. Likewise, it is easier to imagine a revolution that would dismantle interlocking social forms piece by piece, just as they were assembled.
Everything is about capitalism, but class is nothing special. This is the distinctive Endnotes position on the perennial conflict between identity politics and Marxism. Another way of putting it is that capitalism is a real universal, but only in the negative sense. What can billions of people, different from one another in every way, have in common besides the fact that they all need to work for a living? The upshot, for Endnotes, is that we should no longer speak about class consciousness but “consciousness of capital” — an awareness that all our fates are shaped by a single system, even though its pressures, rather than crystallizing resistance, push to break things apart.
CONTINUING THIS LINE OF ARGUMENT, Endnotes devoted the bulk of its fourth, most recent, issue to a history of the workers’ movement as a form of identity politics. From the first issue, the journal had aimed “to undermine the illusion that [the workers’ movement] is somehow ‘our’ past, something to be protected or preserved.” Here, in nearly forty thousand words, they performed their most merciless demystification yet. As they had argued before, the workers’ movement was based on the premise that the development of capitalism would forge a “collective worker” in “a compact mass,” a future already visible in the factories inhabited by semiskilled male workers. When the collective did not arrive at the appointed hour, activists responded by constructing a moral community dedicated to the collective affirmation of a workers’ identity. In socialist parties and mutual-aid societies, at picnics and in union halls, “proletarians were made to forget they were Corsican or Lyonnais” and became bound to one another as workers.
The identity was fashioned in response to pressing material problems confronting the urban proletariat. Collective action such as striking was difficult among people who did not trust one another; the propagation of an ethic of mutuality was required to get people to take risks for strangers. Furthermore, the goals of the labor movement were constrained by the exclusion from political power of the popular classes, who (outside the United States) were denied the franchise well into the late 19th century. The culture of working-class organization was partly a tool in the fight for political power: by emphasizing the dignity of labor and promoting moral causes such as temperance, the leaders of the labor movement tried to demonstrate that they represented a class worthy of inclusion in the social order. Inevitably, this involved targeting deviants within — including the lumpenproletariat scorned by Rosa Luxemburg as a counterrevolutionary “school of sharks.” In opposing bourgeois contempt for the supposedly degenerate proletariat, the proponents of workers’ identity absorbed many of the values of the dominant society, stressing the respectability and propriety of working men as well as the ability of union leaders to maintain orderly production. Workers built a movement “only insofar as they believed, and convinced others to believe, in a shared identity: the collective worker.”
In other hands, this account of class formation would be a success story, proving that the willful construction of identities can be a way to achieve power. Antonio Gramsci, breaking in his own way with orthodox Marxism, understood that the working class would not mechanically come to dominate politics in the advanced capitalist countries, and so communists would need to articulate working-class politics in a coalition with other class fractions and reinforce straightforward economic arguments with an edifice of moral and cultural authority. The political indeterminacy of class politics was a project that socialists could overcome: by exploiting the ambiguity, they could construct a winning working-class bloc in any given historical moment. The base did not determine the superstructure: canny superstructural intervention could potentially transform the economy and society overall.
By contrast, Endnotes denies that the cultural construction of class identity can ever cut sharply enough to alter the long-term course of history. The figure of “the worker,” though constructed by activists, was powerful because the reality of factory production came close enough to the myth to make it plausible. All of it was undone when the factories closed. In fact, the workers’ movement, by promoting economic “growth” and becoming a partner in production, actually helped hasten the maturity of capitalist production and, with it, its own irrelevance. Class, in the final instance, is a dependent variable dragged behind the independent motion of capital. Even the most adept organic intellectuals could never bend history in a new direction; they could only mark time until objective necessity entered a new phase, one that no longer required workers or their identities.
In a brief coda to issue four, Endnotes finds a blunt illustration of their thesis in the former Yugoslavia.3 Global capital may be largely uninterested in exploiting labor in the Balkans, but the theology of the workers’ state remains in living memory, so that “regardless of it standing idle for years, the local factory remained a place of identification and pride.” Without power over production — and facing indifferent investors — employees lose access to the conventional forms of labor conflict. When the “workers” occupy factories, to demand back wages or the resumption of production, they resort to tactics reminiscent of prison rebellions: “hunger strikes, self-mutilations and suicide threats,” including laying their bodies on train tracks. They are not bringing to birth a new world but desperately seeking a way out.
Endnotes is reluctant to suggest what might replace the workers’ movement, and constantly protests — perhaps too much — the assumption that the surplus population might be the new subject of history. But the editors strongly suggest that the basis for new forms of solidarity and struggle will be a general tendency for things to get worse. There were many college students occupying plazas, but they did so knowing they no longer represent an elite in waiting. Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were killed in “suburb[s] in transition,” hollowed out by the housing crisis. Economic decline was reflected within the movements, which frequently saw “the worse-off entering and transforming protests initiated by the better-off” — occupations and demonstrations giving way to homeless camps and lumpen riots. The entrance of poorer people often revealed that the new participatory structures were not an alternative model of meeting basic necessities. In the past, or at least this stylized rendering of the past, the involvement of more groups of people meant a revolution was growing in strength, swelling until it seemed to represent a universal cause. Today, in the absence of unifying institutions and ideas, the diversification of the protest movement only poses problems.
Endnotes’s stress on “descending modulations” leads to a pessimism that strangely converges on conservative conventional wisdom. For example, it dismisses the hope “that the state can be convinced to act rationally, to undertake a more radical Keynesian stimulus.” Even before the crisis, sovereign-debt levels had soared (reaching levels much higher than they had been in 1929, before the Great Depression). Governments, in this story, had borrowed money during bad times, intending to pay it back during the recovery. But falling growth rates meant that even when recessions ended, states had trouble finding revenue to settle their debts. These high levels of debt, carried over into the crisis, limited states’ ability to borrow more. Keynes (and his followers today, like Yanis Varoufakis) thought they could save capitalism from itself by demonstrating the folly of austerity. But for Endnotes, there is no alternative, at least until the revolution — a position disconcertingly close to right-wing dogma.
Just as they scorn antiausterity hopes, Endnotes rejects activists who think “communities would do just fine if the police stopped interfering.” The editors emphasize “a very real crime wave beginning in the late 1960s” and insist that police bring “a semblance of order to lives that no longer matter to capital.” Their account of the Ferguson experience emphasizes, to a degree uncommon outside far-right news sources, chaos and violence: the “small but significant number of guns on the streets, often fired into the air,” the nights of “shooting at police, looting, and a journalist . . . robbed,” the fact that many victims of police violence may not have been “innocent” in the straightforward sense demanded by moralizing liberals. The point is not to defend police — banished along with the rest of the state in the Endnotes ideal — but to point out the ugly realities of a decaying capitalism. Unmanageable chaos, on this reading, is one of the causes of division among supporters of BLM, drawing out some of the class contradictions already latent in it.
If the techno-utopian, accelerationist Marxism can resemble Silicon Valley dreams of pure automation, Endnotes’s Marxism bears traces of survivalist pessimism. As the laws of capitalist development take their course, we’re told, more and more people will own nothing but their labor, and find that their labor is worth nothing. Having no alternative, some of them will discover ways to “destroy the link between finding work and surviving.” Jacques Camatte, a founder of communization theory and inspiration to Endnotes, eventually became a leading anarcho-primitivist. Endnotes disavows this later Camatte, but given their insistence that communism dispense with markets and states (not to mention other capitalist mediations such as “nation [and] species”), it’s unclear what the editors think would prevent a collapse in living standards. They concede that it is “entirely possible to imagine that hating one another, and ensuring that no one gets slightly better than anyone else, will take precedence over making the revolution.” This is a staggering understatement. It’s hard to imagine global economic decline unchecked by large-scale political institutions leading to anything but Hobbesian disaster. What needs justification is the hope that Endnotes retains: that the revolution is still possible, even if “the actual means of reconnecting individuals to their capacities, outside the market and the state, are impossible to foresee.”
ENDNOTES, TOGETHER WITH similar collectives in other countries, publishes Sic: international journal of communization. Around spring 2014, Manos Manousakis, a Greek communizer who wrote for Sic about riots, began complaining to his reading group that “everything is over” and “nothing matters any more since this cycle of struggles leads nowhere.” The depth of his disillusion became clear in early 2015, when he joined the new Syriza government as Minister of Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping, and Tourism. His tenure lasted until July of that year, when along with much of Syriza’s left he resigned in protest of the government’s acceptance of humiliating terms imposed by the European Union.
Manousakis’s journey, which scandalized the international ultraleft, encapsulates the dilemma leftists face today. Rejecting the abstract antistatism of communist reading groups, he joined the parliamentary left in taking state power, only to discover the hard limits the system placed on even modest reform. Are there any other choices? It might be worth considering the central Endnotes metaphor of the “horizon” — a vision that frames all motion but that can never be reached, something that despite its omnipresence does not objectively exist. In the Endnotes critique of the workers’-movement horizon, real trends were extrapolated too far: the temporary explosion in industrial employment in Western Europe was taken to augur the transformation of global society into one big factory. The classical socialists were right that wage labor and industrial organization were reshaping society, and the strength of their analysis allowed them to achieve concrete victories: the enfranchisement of the working class across Europe, the establishment of national health services, the erosion of deference on the streets and in the workplace. But the final industrial triumph did not occur, and we face a new horizon.
But what if this new horizon, leading to class decomposition and immediate communization, is accurate in some respects but exaggerated in others? The future according to Endnotes draws attention to central trends of our time: the breakdown of capitalism’s link between work and survival, the displacement of human labor from production. A move away from the factory can be seen already in movements and discussions around the environment, guaranteed minimum income, mass incarceration, and women’s unwaged labor. But perhaps Endnotes has overcorrected. Just as the dream of the unified working class has always been haunted by its actual incoherence, the new picture of an insuperably fractured proletariat ignores the ways in which the working class is still unified and meaningful.
Many socialists share much of Endnotes’s understanding of capitalist reality without accepting their millenarian conclusions about strategy. Robert Brenner’s 2006 analysis of intercapitalist competition, The Economics of Global Turbulence, underwrites Endnotes’s claim that the global economy has been stuck in a long downturn since the 1970s. If you take their word for it, Brenner’s graphs of steadily declining manufacturing profits point a straight line to communization. But his own political comments suggest that he continues to hew to the post-Trotskyist labor radicalism he first embraced in the late 1960s: radical potential remains in the hands of the working class, provided the rank and file can shake off union bureaucrats and the Democratic Party. Workers in the global supply chain (longshoremen, warehouse workers, truck drivers) may still have the leverage once enjoyed by workers in basic industry.
Fredric Jameson, another NLR stalwart, was moved by Endnotes to proclaim that “Capital is a book about unemployment” — endorsing their central claim about surplus populations. But his recent book, An American Utopia, returns to Leninist basics to imagine how capitalism could be transcended through the transformation of existing institutions. His conclusion, that the road to revolution runs through universal military service, is self-consciously provocative and less important than the broader message:
I prefer the word socialism to communism in discussions today, because it is more practical than the latter and actually raises questions of party formation as well as transitions, privatizations, nationalizations, finances, and the like, which the loftier regions of communism allow us to avoid.
Words to make an Endnotes editor reach for the revolver: socialism, party, finance, nation, and, above all, transition. It is difficult to give up on the idea that there might be intermediate measures connecting the world we live in to the world we would prefer. The notion that the increasing complexity and interdependence of the economy points toward “the abolition of capital as private property within the boundaries of capitalist production itself” (Capital III) has always been the most exciting part of Marxism, the quality setting it apart from religious chiliasm or existential rebellion. Another world is not only possible, it is already taking form — unevenly, incompletely — around us all the time.
If nothing else, this philosophy allows for the possibility that current struggles could be successful, something Endnotes has trouble imagining. At one point, they concede that protest could “renegotiate the terms on which the crisis is being managed” through redistributive political reforms like a financial-transactions tax or a new wave of worker militancy. These are the things that most people on the left, including most Marxists, hope for and are working toward, and Endnotes does not claim they are strictly impossible. But the journal still dismisses those possibilities as akin to creating “a workers’ council on the deck of the Titanic.” Here Endnotes’s pessimism persists beyond what rigor and logic call for. If we can force a change in the terms of the crisis, why can’t we imagine those proximate victories linking up with longer-term goals, through which things like the state, markets, and money (all of which existed before capitalism did — something Endnotes acknowledges) could be made to do things besides immiserate and exclude?
Endnotes unapologetically narrates the fortunes of the working class as the rise and fall of the industrial worker. Back then, labor was “engaged in building a modern world.” Today’s workers, however, are “employed in dead-end service jobs” and “see no purpose in their work.” But “service” is a broad category. Growing numbers of health-care workers, largely women and nonwhite, suffer from exploitation and may hate their jobs with good reason. But the purpose of care work is easier to identify with, and harder for society to dispense with, than working retail. However communism turns out, people will continue to be born, get sick, and die; if for no other reason than this, many existing kinds of work will continue to be socially necessary. Why couldn’t this kind of labor be affirmed the way industrial development once was? Couldn’t it ground a program that demanded universal guarantees of health and human services alongside the abolition of differential racial and gendered responsibility for the care of others?
Endnotes benefits from the undeniable lack of success leftists have had in achieving either reform or revolution anywhere in the world recently. The experience of Greece’s Syriza should trouble everyone who entertains hopes about taking state power and imposing a program. Most left-wing writing tries to cover these deep uncertainties with optimism of the will; it is proper, or at least inevitable, that radical politics involve some suspension of disbelief. Even the rigorous hopelessness of Endnotes gives way to a certain dreamlike quality when it imagines our long-run prospects. “Struggle can be endlessly generative,” the editors rhapsodize, potentially generating even “the unification of humanity” and the end of “gender, race, class, nation, species.”
Every political writer must balance groundless hope against deflating realism. Endnotes excels at the latter because it transfers all hope to a distant future. They write with the undisenchanted energy of someone who believes deeply in radical possibility, while refusing to take any unwarranted consolation from the way things are now. They offer the rest of us, who I believe are correct to place our hopes in programs and transitions, challenges that will not be answered easily. Perhaps, despite its cunning and erudition, the politics of Endnotes is no more serious than glib forms of anarchism. But on what grounds are our “realistic” politics any less fanciful?
Endnotes occasionally publishes essays with individual bylines, like Bernes’s, which they call “intakes.” The most remarkable thing about these pieces is how closely, in tone and in politics, they resemble the official, unbylined essays. ↩
An interesting effect of the collective authorship is that a reader never knows which sentences have been written by white men. The Endnotes member most publicly associated with gender theory is Maya Gonzalez. ↩
An important source for the history of the workers’ movement in the issue is an essay titled “Telling the Truth About Class” by Hungarian philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás, who had been a dissident in socialist Hungary. Endnotes, like Tamás, sees little difference between capitalist development and Eastern Bloc revolutions that empowered “technocratic communists to focus on the developmental tasks at hand—namely, breaking up peasant communities and displacing peasants to the cities, where they could be put to work in gigantic mills.” ↩
Inspired by the weeks of hate that more or less happened, we look at ISIS this week.
Basic ISIS Logistical Facts(ish):
- The have on the order of 50,000 fighters.
- They control 20,000 square miles of land, close to the size of Maine.
- A millionish people live on that land.
- They have a budget of $1Billion.
ISIS had a propaganda magazine called Dabiq from July 2014 to July 2016. Dabiq is a place in Syria that is supposed to be the location for one of the final battles according to certain Muslim myths about a final apocalypse. They published 15 issues. It is self described as “a periodical magazine focusing on the issues of tawhid (unity), manhaj (truth-seeking), hijrah (migration), jihad (holy war) and jama’ah (community). It will also contain photo reports, current events, and informative articles on matters relating to the Islamic State.” Then in October 2016 Turkey(+allies) took control of the town Dabiq.
So they started a new magazine called Rumiyah after that, which is the currently runing one. Rumiyah means Rome in arabic, gesturing to that which ISIS intends to capture. They’ve published 9 issues of this, the last one released this month in May 2017. They translate it into Arabic, English, German, French, Indonesian, Turkish, and Uyghur.
I skimmed through all 24 issues and picked out a few articles to read. I’ve uploaded just the pages you need to save you the scattered images of them executing non-believers/criminals.
The main article we’ll be reading is in the 15th and last issue of Dabiq: Why We Hate You And Why We Fight You. A second reading from the same issue, one instance of a running segment titled In The Words Of The Enemy.
Some things you might think about when reading:
- What sounds legit about their criticisms?
- What rhetoric is similar to anarchistish rhetoric?
- ISIS is grounded in Islam and the quran, so it’s not Christian, but what sounds Christian about them?
- Damn the design of this magazine is clean!
Next I’ll just drop some quotes, notes, and images I found interesting/funny from going through all this shit.
The second reading was one of many in a running segment by the same name: In The Words Of The Enemy. This usually is just quoting Western politicians(/intelligence chiefs/private corporations like RAND) when they say that ISIS is strong and has made real gains, and some minor comments on the quotes. For example
“ISIS is no longer a state in name only. It is a physical, if extra- legal, reality on the ground.”
Another example serves to prop up their binary mode of thinking:
“The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam”
Along that same line of thinking (in an unrelated article talking about tribal groups and how they can stay somewhat culturally intact but they need to be loyal and partially assimilate):
“So we warn the tribes, that any tribe or party or assembly whose involvement and collaboration with the crusaders and their apostate agents are confirmed, then by He who sent Muhammad with the truth, we will target them just as we target the crusaders, and we will eradicate and distinguish them, for there are only two camps: the camp of truth and its followers, and the camp of falsehood and its factions. So choose to be from one of the two camps.”
They also have a running segment titled “Among The Believers Are Men” where they do a short bio of one of their men, maybe have a few quotes from his friends about how pious/funny/brave he was, and then tell how he was martyred and ask that Allah accept him. Sometimes they die in a suicide bombing, or just uninterestingly in the course of war. I read one where the man bravely ran to try to save a suffering comrade who was dying slowly from sniper wounds (bait) and got sniped in the process.
They also had three instances of a segment called #JustTerrorTactics (really [Just Terror] Tactics) where they talk about the logistics of committing terror attacks in Crusader Countries. They stress (and make a compelling case) that it’s extremely easy to carry them out successfully, especially if you’re not trying to live through it. They have one on knife attacks and give knife buying tips. They have one on arson (make sure to really cover the stairs and exists). They also have one on vehicle attacks. In the vehicle attack article,they use parades as an example of a way to get lots of kills.
(Click any of these images to enlarge)
This was the first moment that I realized that they very intentionally were not depicting women in any of their images. In all of the magazines there wasn’t a single image of a woman, and here they’ve blurred out every woman.
Muslims currently living in Dar al-Kufr must be remind- ed that the blood of the disbelievers is halal, and killing them is a form of worship to Allah, the Lord, King, and God of mankind. This includes the businessman riding to work in a taxicab, the young adults (post-pubescent “chil- dren”) engaged in sports activities in the park, and the old man waiting in line to buy a sandwich. Indeed, even the blood of the kafir street vendor selling flowers to those pass- ing by is halal to shed – and striking terror into the hearts of all disbelievers is a Muslim’s duty. There is no shar’i re- quirement to target soldiers and policemen nor judges and politicians, but all kuffar who are not under the covenant of dhimmah are fair game. How can the disbelievers ever dream of safety and security while Muslims suffer anywhere in the world and while the rule of Allah is mockingly replaced by manmade monstrosities of democracy?
Handful more images to end the ISIS show.
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