This evening we will be reading from Baeden 2 (not posted online cuz paper rules!). I’m sure the reading will be dramatic and about skool and knowledge and Benjamin.
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.
This is a call. That is to say it aims at those who can hear it. The question is not to demonstrate, to argue, to convince. We will go directly to what is already obvious. This is not primarily a matter of logic or reasoning. What is obvious is what is perceptible, the realm of reality.
There is an clarity to every reality. What is held in common or what sets things apart. After which communication becomes possible again, communication which is no longer presupposed, but which is to be built.
And this network of obvious things that make us up, we have been taught so well to doubt it, to avoid it, to conceal it, to keep it to ourselves. We have been taught so well, that we lack the words when we want to shout.
As for the order we live under, everyone knows what it consists of: the empire is staring us in the face. That a dying social system has no other justification to its arbitrary nature than its absurd determination — its senile determination — simply to linger on; that the global and national police have received a free hand to get rid of those who do not toe the line; that civilization, wounded in its heart, no longer encounters anything but its own limits in the endless war it has begun; that this headlong flight, already almost a century old, produces nothing but a series of increasingly frequent disasters; that the mass of humans accommodate themselves to this order of things by means of lies, cynicism, brutalization, or pills — no one can claim to ignore these things any longer.
And the sport that consists in endlessly describing the present disaster, with a varying degree of complaisance, is just another way of saying: “that’s the way it is”; the prize of infamy going to journalists, to all those who pretend every morning to rediscover the bullshit they only just noticed the day before.
But what is most striking, for the time being, is not the arrogance of empire, but rather the weakness of the counter-attack. Like a colossal paralysis. A mass paralysis, which will sometimes cause people to say that nothing can be done, but who will sometimes concede, when pushed to their limit, that “there is so much to do” — which isn’t any different. Then, at the margins of this paralysis, there is the “we really have to do something, anything” of the activists.
Seattle, Prague, Genoa, the struggle against GMOs, the movement of the unemployed; we have played our part, we have taken sides in the struggles of recent years; and of course not that of extraparliamentary (for now) coalition of Leftists from Attac or the Negrist antiglobalization militants of Tute Bianche.
The folklore of protests has ceased to amuse us. In the last decade, we have seen the dull monologue of Marxism-Leninism being regurgitated from the mouths of high school students. We have seen the purest anarchism negate what it cannot comprehend. We have seen the most tedious economism — that of our friends at Le Monde Diplomatique — becoming the new popular religion. And Negrism asserts itself as the only alternative to the intellectual rout of the global left.
Everywhere militantism has gone back to raising its rickety constructions, its depressing networks, until it is exhausted.
It took no more than three years for the cops, unions, and other informal bureaucracies to dismantle the short-lived Anti-Globalization Movement. To control it. To divide it into separate “areas of struggle,” each as profitable as it is sterile. In these times, from Davos to Porto Alegre, from the French bosses’ union Medef to the Spanish CNT, capitalism and anti-capitalism point to the same missing horizon. The same truncated prospect of managing the disaster.
What opposes this dominant desolation is nothing but another desolation, just less well-stocked. Everywhere there is the same idiotic idea of happiness. The same games of spastic power. The same defused superficiality. The same emotional illiteracy. The same desert.
We say that this epoch is a desert, and that this desert is incessantly deepening. This is no poetic device; it is obvious. This obviousness holds many others. Notably the rupture with all who protest, all who denounce, and all who ramble on about the disaster.
She who denounces exempts herself.
Everything appears as if Leftists were accumulating reasons to revolt the same way a manager accumulates the means to dominate. That is to say with the same delight.
The desert is the progressive depopulation of the world. The habit we have adopted of living as if we were not of this world. The desert exists in the continuous, massive, and programmed proletarianization of populations, just as in California suburbs, where distress lies precisely in the fact that no one seems to experience it.
That the present desert is not perceived only verifies its existence.
Some have tried to name the desert. To point out what has to be fought — not as the action of some foreign agent, but as an ensemble of relations. They have talked about the Spectacle, about Biopower, about Empire. But this only adds to the current confusion.
The spectacle is not an easy abbreviation for mass media. It lives just as much in the cruelty with which our own false image is endlessly thrown back at us.
Biopower is not a synonym for social security, the welfare state, or the pharmaceutical industry; but it pleasantly lodges itself in the care that we take of our pretty bodies, in a certain physical estrangement from oneself as well as from others.
Empire is not some kind of extraterrestrial entity, a worldwide conspiracy of governments, financial networks, technocrats, and multinational corporations. Empire is everywhere nothing is happening. Everywhere things are working. Everywhere the status quo reigns.
We continue to see the enemy as a subject that faces us — instead of experiencing it as a relationship that binds us — we confine ourselves to the struggle against confinement. We reproduce the worst relationships of dominance under the pretext of an alternative. We set up shops for selling the struggle against the commodity. We see the rise of the authorities of the anti-authoritarian struggle, macho feminism, and racist attacks by anti-fascists.
At every moment we are taking part in a situation. Within a situation there are no subjects and objects, I and the other, my desires and reality — only an ensemble of relationships, an ensemble of the fluxes that traverse it.
There is a general context — capitalism, civilization, empire, as you wish — a general context that not only intends to control each situation but, even worse, seeks a way to make sure as often as possible, that there is no situation. They have planned out streets and homes, language and emotions, even the global tempo that drives all of it, only for that purpose. Everywhere different realms are made to slide by each other and be ignored. The normal situation is this absence of a situation.
To get organized means: to get out of the situation and not merely challenge it. To take sides within it. Weaving the necessary material, emotional, and political solidarities. This is what any strike does in any office, in any factory. This is what any gang does. Any underground; any revolutionary or counter-revolutionary party. To get organized means: to give substance to the situation. Making it real, tangible.
Reality is not capitalist.
Our position within a situation determines our need to become allies, and for that reason to establish some lines of communication, some wider current or tendency. In turn those new links reconfigure the situation. We call the situation that we are backed into Global Civil War. Where there is no longer anything that can limit the confrontation between the opposing forces. Not even the law, which comes into play as one more form of the generalized confrontation.
The We that speaks here is not a definable, isolated We, the We of a group. It is the We of a position. This position is asserted currently as a double secession: first a secession from the process of capitalist valorization, then secession from all the sterility imposed by a mere opposition to empire (extra-parliamentary or otherwise); a secession therefore from the Left. Here secession means less a practical refusal to communicate than a disposition to forms of communication so intense that, when put into practice, they snatch from the enemy most of its power. To put it briefly, such a position borrows sudden force from the Black Panthers, collective dining halls from the German Autonomen, tree houses and the art of sabotage from the British neo-Luddites, the careful choice of words from radical feminists, mass self-reductions from the Italian autonomists, and armed joy from the June 2nd Movement.
For us there is no longer any friendship that is not political.
The unlimited escalation of control is a hopeless response to the predictable breakdowns of the system. Nothing that is expressed in the known distribution of political identities is able to lead beyond the disaster.
Therefore, we begin by withdrawing from them. We contest nothing, we demand nothing. We constitute ourselves as a force, as a material force, as an autonomous material force within the Global Civil War.
This call sets out its foundations.
In France a new weapon of crowd dispersal, a kind of wooden fragmentation grenade is being tested. In Oregon it is proposed that demonstrators blocking traffic receive twenty-five year sentences. The Israeli army is becoming the most prominent consultant in urban pacification; experts from all over the world rush to marvel at the latest discoveries, both formidable and subtle, in methods to eliminate subversives. It would appear that the art of wounding — injuring one to frighten a hundred — has reached new heights. And then, of course, there’s what gets called Terrorism. That is, “any offence committed intentionally by an individual or a group against one or more countries, their institutions or their populations, and aiming at threatening and/or seriously undermining or destroying the political, economic, or social structures of a country.” That’s the definition of the European Commission. In the United States there are more prisoners than farmers.
As it is reorganized and progressively recaptured, public space is blanketed with cameras. It is not only that surveillance is now possible, it is that is has become particularly acceptable. All sorts of lists of suspects circulate from department to department, and we can barely make out their probable uses. Protected by the police, gangs of paramilitaries replace the positions once held by gossips and snitches, figures of another era. A former head of the CIA, one of those people who, on the opposing side, get organized rather than get indignant, writes in Le Monde: “More than a war against terrorism, what is at stake is the extension of democracy to the parts of the [Arab and Muslim] world that threaten liberal civilization, the construction and the defense of which we have worked for throughout the 20th century, during the First, and then the Second World War, followed by the Cold War — or the Third World War.”
Nothing shocks us about this; nothing catches us unawares or radically alters our feeling toward life. We were born inside the catastrophe and we have established a strange and comfortable relation of habit with it. Almost an intimacy. For as long as we can remember there has been no news besides that of the Global Civil War. We have been raised as survivors, as machines of survival. We have been raised with the idea that life consists in continually going on; walking in indifference until crushed among other bodies who walk identically, who stumble and get crushed in turn. In the end, the only novelty of the present epoch is that none of this can be hidden anymore, that in a sense everybody knows it. Hence the most recent visible hardening of the system: its motives are exposed, it would be pointless to wish them away.
Many wonder why no part of the Left or far-Left, no known political force, is capable of opposing this course of events. “We still live in a democracy, right?” They can wonder for a long time: nothing that is expressed within the framework of traditional politics will ever be able to limit the advance of the desert, because traditional politics is part of the desert.
When we say this it’s not in order to advocate extra-parliamentary politics as an antidote to liberal democracy. The popular manifesto “We are the Left,” signed a couple of years ago by all the social justice collectives and social movements to be found in France, expresses well enough the logic that, for thirty years, has driven extra-parliamentary politics: we do not want to seize power, overthrow the state, etc.; really we want to be recognized as valid representatives.
Wherever the classical conception of politics prevails, the same impotence prevails opposite the disaster. That this impotence is widely distributed between a variety of eventually reconcilable identities changes nothing about it. The anarchist from the Federation Anarchiste, the council communist, the Trotskyist from Attac and the lawmaker start from the same amputation; they spread the same desert.
Politics, for them, is what is settled, said, done, and decided between men. The assembly that gathers them all, that gathers all human beings in abstraction from their respective realms, forms the ideal political situation. The economy, the economic sphere, follows logically: it is a both a necessary and impossible management of all that was left outside the assembly, of all that was determined to be non-political and which then becomes family, business, private life, leisure, pastimes, culture, etc.
That is how the classical definition of politics spreads the desert: by abstracting humans from their world, by disconnecting them from the network of things, habits, words, fetishes, emotions, places, solidarities that make up their world, their perceptual world, and that gives them their specific substance.
Classical politics is the glorious staging of bodies without a theater. But the theatrical assembly of political individualities poorly masks the desert that it is. There is no human society separated from the sum of human and non-human beings. There is a plurality of realms. Of realms that are all the more real because they are shared. And that coexist.
Politics, in truth, is the interplay between different realms, the alliance between those that are compatible and the confrontation between those that are irreconcilable.
Therefore we say that the central political fact of the last thirty years went unnoticed. Because it took place at such a deep level of reality that it cannot be called political without bringing about a revolution in the very notion of the political. Because this level of reality is also the one where the division is elaborated between what is taken for reality and what is not. This central fact is the triumph of Existential Liberalism. The fact that it is now considered natural for everyone to have a rapport with the world based on the idea that each person has her own life. That such a life consists in a series of choices, good or bad. That each person can define herself by an ensemble of qualities, of properties, that make her, through her continual balancing of those properties, a unique and irreplaceable being. That the contract adequately epitomizes relations between individuals, and that respect epitomizes all virtue. That language is nothing but a means of arriving at an agreement. That, in reality, the world is composed on one side of things to manage, and on the other of an ocean of self-absorbed individuals, who in turn have a regrettable tendency to turn themselves into things, letting themselves become managed.
Of course, cynicism is only one of the possible features of the infinite clinical diagnoses of Existential Liberalism. It also includes depression, apathy, immunodeficiency (every immune system is intrinsically collective), dishonesty, judicial harassment, chronic dissatisfaction, denied affection, isolation, illusions of citizenship, and the loss of all generosity.
Existential liberalism has propagated its desert so well that even the most sincere Leftists express their utopia with its very terms. “We will rebuild an egalitarian society in which each person makes her contribution and from which each person gets her needs met from it… As far as individual desires are concerned, it could be egalitarian if each person consumes in proportion to the efforts she is ready to contribute. Naturally it will be necessary to redefine the method of evaluating the efforts contributed by each person,” write the organizers of the Alternative, Anti-capitalist, and Anti-war Village against the G8 summit in Evian in a text entitled When Capitalism and Wage Labor Will Have Been Abolished! Here is a key to the triumph of Empire: managing to keep in the shadows, to surround with silence the very terrain on which it maneuvers, the field upon which it fights the decisive battle: that of manipulating feelings, of defining the limits of the perceptible. In such a way it preventively paralyzes any defense at the very moment of its operation, and ruins the very idea of a counter-offensive. The victory is won whenever the militant, at the end of a hard day of Political Work, slumps down in front of an action movie.
When they see us withdraw from the painful rituals of classical politics — the general assembly, the meeting, the negotiation, the protest, the demand — when they hear us speak about the perceptible realm rather than about work, IDs, pensions, or freedom of movement, militants give us a pitying look. “Poor guys,” they seem to say, “they are resigning themselves to minority politics, they have retreated into their ghetto, and renounced any widening of the struggle. They will never be part of a movement.” But we believe exactly the opposite: it is they who resign themselves to minority politics by speaking their language of false objectivity, whose gravity consists of nothing more than repetition and rhetoric. Nobody is fooled by the veiled contempt with which they talk about the worries of The People, and which allows them to go from the unemployed person to the illegal immigrant, from the striker to the prostitute without ever putting themselves at risk — their contempt is that obvious. Their will to widen the struggle is nothing but a way to flee from those who are already there, and, above all, from those they would dread living with. And finally, it is they who are loath to admit the political meaning of sensitivity, who have to rely on sentimentality as their pitiful driving force. All in all, we prefer to start from small and dense nuclei than from a vast and loose network. We are familiar enough with that spinelessness.
Those who would respond to the urgency of the situation with the urgency of their reaction only add to the suffocation.
Their manner of intervention, of their agitation, points to the rest of their politics.
As for us, the urgency of the situation liberates us from all considerations of legality or legitimacy, which have, in any case, become uninhabitable.
That it might take a generation to build a victorious revolutionary movement in all its breadth does not cause us to retreat. We think about this with serenity. Just as we serenely recognize the criminal nature of our existence, and of our deeds.
We have known, and are still familiar with, the temptation of activism.
The counter-summits, the campaigns against evictions, against new security laws and the building of new prisons, the occupations, the No-Border camps; the parade of all of this. The progressive dispersion of collectives responding to the same dispersion of activity. Running after the movements.
Feeling our power on an ad hoc basis, but at the price of returning each time to an underlying powerlessness. Paying a high price for each campaign. Letting it consume all the energy that we have. Then moving to the next one, each time more out of breath, more exhausted, more saddened.
And little by little, through demanding, through denouncing, we become incapable of sensing what is supposed to be the basis of our engagement, the nature of the urgency that flows through us.
Activism is the first reflex. The standard response to the urgency of the present situation. The perpetual mobilization in the name of urgency is what our governments and our bosses have made us used to, even when we fight against them.
Forms of life disappear every day; plant and animal species, human experiences and countless relationships between living beings and ways of living. But our feeling of urgency is tied less to the speed of these extinctions than to their irreversibility, and even more to our inability to repopulate the desert.
The activist mobilizes herself against the catastrophe. But only to prolong it. Her haste consumes what little of the world remains. The activist answer to urgency remains faithful to the regime of urgency, with no hope of getting out of it or interrupting it.
The activist wants to be everywhere. She goes everywhere the rhythm of the breakdown of the machine leads her. Everywhere she brings her pragmatic inventiveness, the festive energy of her opposition to the catastrophe. Without a doubt, the activist gets shit done. But she never devotes herself to thinking about how to do it. How to hinder concretely the progress of the desert, in order to establish inhabitable worlds without waiting.
We desert activism. Without forgetting what gives it strength: a certain presence within the situation. An ease of movement within it. A way to apprehend the struggle; not from a moral or ideological angle, but technically and tactically.
Old militantism provides the opposite example. There is something amazing about the cluelessness of militants in various situations. We remember this scene from Genoa: about 50 militants of the Trostkyist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire wave their red flags labeled “100% on the Left.” They are motionless, timeless. They shout their pre-approved slogans, surrounded by peace-police. Meanwhile, a few meters away, some of us fight the lines of carabinieri, throwing back teargas canisters, ripping up paving stones to make projectiles, preparing Molotov cocktails with bottles found in the trash and gasoline from overturned Vespas. When compelled to comment on us the militants speak of adventurism, mindlessness. Their pretext is that the conditions are not right. We say that nothing was lacking, that everything was there — except them.
What we desert in militantism is this absence from the situation. Just as we desert the inconsistency to which activism condemns them.
Activists themselves feel this inconsistency. And this is why, periodically, they turn toward their elders, the militants. They borrow their strategies, terrains of struggle, slogans. What appeals to them in militantism is the consistency, the structure, the loyalty they lack. And so the activists revert to old-new disputes and demand — “citizenship for all,” “free movement of people,” “guaranteed income,” “free public transport.”
The problem with demands is that, by formulating needs in terms that make them audible to power, they say nothing about those needs, and what real transformations of the world they require. Thus, demanding free public transportation says nothing of our need to travel rather than be transported, of our need for slowness. In addition, demands often end up masking the real conflicts. Demanding free public transportation only slows the spread of fare-dodging techniques, at least for this specific milieu. Calling for the free movement of people merely means avoiding the issue of a practical escape from a tightening of control. Fighting for a guaranteed income is, at best, to condemn ourselves to the illusion that an amelioration of the worst of capitalism is necessary to get out of it. Whatever form it takes, the impasse is always the same: the subjective resources mobilized may be revolutionary, yet they remain imbedded in a program of (radical) reformism. Under the pretext of overcoming the alternative between reform and revolution we sink into a timely ambiguity.
The present catastrophe is that of a world actively made uninhabitable. A sort of methodical devastation of everything that remained liveable in the relations of humans with each other and with our environments. Capitalism could not have triumphed over the whole planet if it was not for techniques of power, specifically political techniques — there are all kinds of techniques: with or without tools, corporal or discursive, erotic or culinary, the disciplines and mechanisms of control, and it is pointless to denounce the reign of technics. The political techniques of capitalism consist first of all in breaking the attachments through which a group finds the means to produce, in the same movement, the conditions of its subsistence and its existence. In separating human communities from innumerable things — stones and metals, plants, trees that have a thousand purposes, gods, djinns, wild or tamed animals, medicines and psycho-active substances, amulets, machines, and all the other beings in their realms that co-exist with humans.
Ruining all community, separating groups from their means of existence and from the knowledge linked to them: it is political rationality that dictates the imposition of the commodity as the mediator of every relation. Just as it was necessary to liquidate the witches — which is to say their medicinal knowledge as well as the movement between the visible and invisible worlds which they promoted — today peasants have to renounce their ability to sow their own seeds in order to maintain the grip of multinational agribusinesses and other organizations of agricultural politics.
These political techniques of capitalism find their maximal point of concentration in contemporary metropoles. Metropoles are precisely the arena where, in the end, there is almost nothing left to reappropriate. A milieu in which everything is done so the human only relates to itself, only creates itself separately from other forms of life, bumps into or uses them without ever meeting them.
On the basis of this separation, and to make it durable, even the most minor, tentative, attempt at living outside commodity relationships has been made criminal. The field of legality has long been conflated with the multiple constraints that make life impossible — through wage labor or self-employment, charity work or militantism.
At the same time as this field becomes increasingly uninhabitable, everything that can contribute to making real life possible has been transformed into a crime.
Where activists claim that “No One is Illegal” we must recognize exactly the opposite: today an entirely legal existence would be an entirely submissive existence.
We have tax evasion, fictitious employment, insider trading, fake bankruptcies, welfare fraud, embezzlement, forgeries, and various other scams. There are trips across borders in airplane luggage compartments, trips without a ticket inside one city or within a country. Fare-dodging and shoplifting are the daily practices of thousands of people in the metropoles. And there is the illegal practice of trading seeds that has safeguarded many plant species. There are even more functional illegalities in the capitalist world-system. Some are tolerated, others encouraged, and others still that are eventually punished. An improvised vegetable garden on a wasteland has every chance of being flattened by a bulldozer even before its first harvest.
If we add up the sum of the special laws and customary regulations that govern all of the spaces that anyone can travel through in one day, there is not a single life that can be assured of impunity. Laws, codes, and juridical decisions exist that make every existence punishable; it would merely be a matter of applying them to the letter.
We are not ready to bet that where the desert grows there also grows something that can save us. Nothing can succeed that does not begin through a break with everything that makes this desert grow.
We know that building a power of any scale will take time. There are many things that we no longer know how to do. In fact, those of us who benefit from the modernization and the education dispensed in our developed lands barely know how to make anything ourselves. Even gathering plants for cooking or medicine — rather than merely for decoration — is regarded as archaic at best, at worst as a nice hobby.
We make a simple observation: everyone has access to a certain quantity of resources and knowledge made available by the simple fact of living in these lands of the old world, and we can communize them.
The question is not whether to live with or without money, to steal or to buy, to work or not, but how to use the money we have to increase our autonomy from the commodity sphere. And if we prefer to steal instead of working, or produce for ourselves instead of stealing, it is not due to a concern with purity. It is because the flows of power that accompany the flows of commodities, the subjective submission that conditions our access to survival, have become too expensive.
There would be many inappropriate ways to express what we envision: we neither want to leave for the countryside nor reappropriate and accumulate ancient knowledge. We are not merely concerned with a reappropriation of methods. Nor with a reappropriation of knowledge. If we put together all that knowledge, those techniques, and all the inventiveness displayed in the field of activism, we would still not get a revolutionary movement. It is a question of temporality. A question of creating the conditions where an offensive can sustain itself without fading away, of establishing the material solidarities that allow us to maintain it.
We believe there is no revolution without the constitution of a common material force. We do not ignore the anachronism of this belief. We know it is both too early and too late, which is why we have time. We have stopped waiting.
We set the point of reversal, the way out of the desert, the end of Capital, in the intensity of the link that each person manages to establish between what she thinks and how she lives. Contrary to the upholders of Existential Liberalism, we refuse to view this as a private matter, an individual issue, a question of character. On the contrary, we start from the certainty that this link depends on the construction of shared realms, of placing effective methods in common.
Every day each person is enjoined to accept that it is naive, out of date, a pure and simple absence of culture to ask about the link between ideas and actions. We consider this a symptom. This is nothing but an effect of the Liberal redefinition, so fundamentally modern, of the distinction between the public and the private. Liberalism has put forward the principle that everything must be tolerated, that everything can be thought, so long as it is recognized as being without direct consequences to the current structure of society, of its institutions, and of the power of the State. Any idea can be accepted; its expression should even be supported, so long as social and state rules are accepted. In other words, the freedom of thought of the private individual must be total, as must be her freedom of expression, in principle; but she must not desire the consequences of her thought as far as it concerns collective life.
Liberalism may have invented the individual, but it invented her mutilated from the get-go. The Liberal individual, who has never expressed herself better than in the pacifist and civil rights movements of today, is supposed to be attached to her freedom insofar as her freedom does not commit her to anything, and certainly does not try to impose itself upon others. The stupid precept “my freedom ends where that of another begins” is received today as an unassailable truth. Even John Stuart Mill, though one of the essential facilitators of the Liberal conquest, noticed that an unfortunate consequence follows: one is permitted to desire anything, on the sole condition that it is not desired too intensely, that it does not go beyond the limits of the private, or in any case beyond those of public free expression.
What we call Existential Liberalism is the adherence to a series of facts, which at their core, show an essential propensity toward betrayal. We have become accustomed to functioning at a sort of low gear in which we are relieved of the very idea of betrayal. This emotional lower gear is the guarantee we have accepted for our becoming-adult. Along with, for the most zealous, the mirage of an emotional self-containment as an unassailable ideal. Nevertheless, there is too much to betray for those who decide to keep those promises, no doubt carried since childhood, and which they continue to believe.
Existential Liberalism is the spontaneous ethics suitable for Social Democracy seen as a political ideal. You will never be a better citizen than when you are capable of renouncing a relation or a struggle in order to maintain your status. It will not always be without suffering, but that is precisely where Existential Liberalism is efficient: it even provides the remedies to the discomforts that it generates. The check to Amnesty International, the fair trade coffee, the demo against the last war, seeing the latest Michael Moore film, are so many non-acts disguised as gestures that will save you. Carry on exactly as usual; that is to say go for a walk in the designated spaces and do your shopping, the same as always. But on top of that, in addition, ease your conscience; buy No Logo, boycott Shell. This should be enough to convince you that political action, at bottom, does not require very much, and that you too are capable of engaging in it. There is nothing new in this buying and selling of indulgences, but the problem becomes palpable in the prevailing confusion. The invocatory culture of Another World Is Possible leaves little room to speak of ethics beyond consumer etiquette. The increase in the number of environmentalist, humanitarian, and solidarity associations opportunely channels general discontent and thus contributes to the perpetuation of this state of affairs, through personal valorization, official recognition and its first prize of honestly awarded subsidies; the worship, in short, of social usefulness. Above all, no more enemies. At the very most, problems, abuses seen as catastrophes — dangers from which only the mechanisms of power can protect us.
If the obsession of the founders of Liberalism was the neutralization of sects, it is because they united all the subjective elements that had to be banished in order for the modern State to exist. For a sectarian, life is exactly what is required for its particular philosophical truth and how it gets explained — a certain disposition toward worldly things and events, a way of not losing sight of what matters. There is an obvious overlap between the appearance of Society (and of its correlate: Economy) and the Liberal redefinition of the public and the private. The sectarian collectivity is, in itself, a threat to what is referred to by the pleonasm Liberal Society. This is due to it being a form of divisive organization. Here lies the nightmare for the founders of the modern State: a section of collectivity detaches itself from the whole, thus ruining the idea of social unity. Two things that Society can’t handle: 1) that a thought may be embodied, which is to say that it may have an effect on a person’s existence in terms of how she manages her life, or the manner in which she lives, and 2) that this embodiment may be not merely passed on to others, but also shared, communized. Any collective experience beyond control will be banally discredited as a so-called sect.
The pervasiveness of the commodity has inserted itself everywhere. This pervasiveness is the most effective instrument for disconnecting ends from means, to reduce everyday life to a living-space we are only required to manage. Everyday life is what we are supposed to want to return to; the acceptance of a necessary and universal neutralization. It is the ever-growing renunciation of the possibility of an unpostponed joy. As a friend once said, it is the average of all our possible crimes.
Rare are the collectivities that can escape the abyss that waits for them: mashing of the real into an extreme flatness, community as the epitome of average intensity, a slow disintegration clumsily filled with a bunch of banal and falsely sophisticated banter.
Neutralization is an essential characteristic of Liberal Society. Everybody knows the centers of neutralization, where it is required that no emotion stands out, where each person has to contain herself, and everybody experiences them as such: businesses (and what isn’t a business these days?), night clubs, bowling alleys and golf courses, museums, etc. Since everyone knows what these places are about, the real question is to know why — despite that — they can still be so popular. Why wish for, always and above all, that nothing happens that might provoke stirrings that go too deep? Out of habit? Because of despair? Because of cynicism? Or else: because you can feel the delight of being somewhere while not being there, of being there while being essentially somewhere else; because what we are at base would be preserved to the point of no longer even having to exist.
These are so-called ethical questions which must of course be asked and above all, they are those that we find at the very heart of the political: how to respond to emotional neutralization and to the potential effects of decisive thoughts? And also: how do modern societies work with these neutralizations, or rather, how are they made into essential cogs in its continual functioning? How does the material effectiveness of the empire relate to our predisposition toward giving up, regardless of our collective experiences?
The acceptance of these neutralizations can of course go hand in hand with great creative efforts. You can experiment up to the point of madness, on condition that you are a single creator, and that you produce the proof of this singularity in public (your works). You can still know what the stirrings are, but only on condition that you experience them alone, and that you are limited to passing them on indirectly. You will thereby be recognized as an artist or as a thinker, and, perhaps if you are politically engaged, you will be able to toss as many bottles into the ocean as you like, with the clear conscience of one who sees farther and who has warned others.
Like many, we have experienced that emotions stuck internally turn out badly: they can even turn into symptoms. The rigidities we observe in ourselves come from the partitions that every person believes herself obliged to put up in order to define her own limits, and to contain within her self what must not burst forth. When, for some reason or other, these partitions happen to crack and break, then things come up that might be unpleasant, which may even appear frightful — but it is a fright capable of freeing us from fear. Calling into question both our individual limits and the borders drawn by civilization can be a life-saver. The existence of any real community necessitates a certain physical danger: when emotions and thoughts are no longer ascribable to any one person, when interactions are recovered in which feelings, ideas, impressions, and emotions are exchanged carelessly. It must be understood that community per se is not the solution: it is its disappearance, everywhere and always, that is the problem.
We do not perceive humans to be isolated from each other or from the other beings of this world; we see them bound by multiple connections that we have learned to deny. This denial allows the blocking of emotional exchanges through which these multiple connections are experienced. This blockage, in turn, is necessary to make us accustomed to the most neutral, the most lifeless, the most average feelings; that which makes us long for vacations, lunch-breaks, or evenings out as a godsend — that is to say something just as neutral, average, and lifeless — but freely chosen. The imperial order, which is particularly Westernized, is nourished through this boredom.
We will be told: by advocating the experience of sharing intense emotions, you go against what living beings require to live, namely gentleness and calm — quite expensive these days, like any scarce commodity. If what is meant by this is that our point of view is incompatible with authorized leisure, then even winter sports junkies might admit that it would be no great loss to see all ski resorts burn and to return that environment to the marmots. On the other hand, we have nothing against the gentleness that any living being, as a living being, carries within itself. “It might be that living is a gentle thing.” Any blade of grass knows this better than all the citizens of the world.
To any moral preoccupation, to any concern for purity, we substitute the collective elaboration of a strategy. Only that which impedes the increase of our strength is bad. It follows from this resolution that economics and politics are no longer distinguishable. We are not afraid of forming gangs; and can only laugh at those who will decry us as a mafia.
We have been sold this lie: that what is most particular to us is what distinguishes us from the common. We experience the contrary: every singularity is felt in the manner and in the intensity with which a being brings into existence something common.
At root it is here that we begin, where we find each other. What is most singular in us calls to be shared.
But we note this: not only is what we have to share obviously incompatible with the dominant order, but this order strives to track down any kind of sharing for which it does not lay down the rules. For instance, the barracks, the hospital, the prison, the asylum, and the retirement home are the only forms of collective living allowed in the metropole. The normal condition is the isolation of everyone in their private cubicle. This is where they return endlessly, however strong the repulsion they feel, however great the encounters they make elsewhere.
We have known these conditions of existence, and we will never return to them. They weaken us too much. Make us too vulnerable. Make us waste away.
Isolation, in primal cultures, was the harshest sentence that could be passed on a member of the community. It is now the common condition. The rest of the disaster follows logically. It is on account of this narrow idea that everybody has of their own home that makes it seem natural to leave the street to the police. The world could not have been made so uninhabitable, nor sociality so controlled — from malls to bars, from boardrooms to backrooms — had not everyone been previously granted the shelter of private space.
In running away from conditions of existence that mutilate us, we found squats; or rather, the international squat scene. In this constellation of occupied spaces where, despite many limits, it is possible to experiment with forms of collective assembly outside of control, we have known an increase of power. We have organized ourselves for elementary survival: scrounging, theft, collective work, common meals, sharing of skills, equipment, loving inclinations — and we have found forms of political expression: concerts, demos, direct actions, sabotage, leaflets.
Then, little by little, we have seen our surroundings turn into a milieu and from a milieu into a scene. We have seen the enactment of a moral code replace the elaboration of a strategy. We have seen norms solidify, reputations develop, metaphors begin to function; and everything become so predictable. The collective adventure turned into a gloomy cohabitation. A hostile tolerance grasped all relations. We adapted. And in the end what was believed to be a counter-world amounted to nothing but a reflection of the dominant world: the same games of personal valorization in the realm of theft, fights, political or radical correction — the same sordid liberalism in emotional life, the same spats over access and territory, the same split between everyday life and political activity, the same identity paranoia. And for the luckiest, the luxury of periodically fleeing from their local poverty by introducing it elsewhere, someplace still exotic.
We do not impute these weaknesses to the squat form. We neither deny nor desert it. We say that squatting will only make sense again for us on the condition that we clarify the basis of the sharing we engage in. In the squat, like anywhere else, the collective creation of a strategy is the only alternative to retreating into an identity, either through assimilation or the ghetto.
On the subject of strategy, we have learned all the lessons from the tradition of the defeated. We remember the beginnings of the labor movement. The lessons are near to us.
Because what was put into practice in its initial phase relates directly to how we are living, to what we want to put into practice today. The building up of what was to be in force called the labor movement first rested on the sharing of criminal practices. The secret strike funds, the acts of sabotage, the secret societies, the class violence, the first forms of unemployment insurance seen in the recovery of individual clearheadedness, that were developed with the consciousness of their illegal and antagonistic nature.
In the United States the overlap between forms of workers’ organization and organized crime is most tangible. The power of the American proletarians at the beginning of the industrial era stemmed from the development, within the community of workers, of a force of destruction and retaliation against Capital, as well as from the existence of clandestine solidarities. The perpetual transposition of worker into criminal called for systematic control: the moralization against any form of autonomous organization. Anything that went beyond the ideal of the honest worker was marginalized as gangsterism. Ultimately, there was the mafia on the one hand and the unions on the other, both products of a reciprocal amputation.
In Europe, the integration of workers’ organizations into the state management apparatus — the foundation of social democracy — was paid for with the renunciation of the least ability to be a nuisance. Here too the emergence of the labor movement was a matter of material solidarities, of an urgent need for communism. The Maisons du Peuple were the last refuges for this confusion between the need for immediate communization and the strategic requirements of a practical implementation of the revolutionary process. The labor movement then developed as a progressive separation between the co-operative current, an economic niche cut off from its strategic raison d’être, and the political and union forms working on the terrain of electoralism or joint management. It is from the abandonment of any secessionist aim that this absurdity was born: the Left. The climax is reached when unionists denounce any resort to violence, loudly proclaiming to all who wish to hear it, that they will collaborate with the cops to control rioters.
The recent increase of policing functions of the State proves only this: that Western societies have lost all ability to cohere. They are only able to manage their inexorable decay. That is to say, essentially, to prevent any re-consolidation, to crush anyone who stands out. Anyone who deserts. Anyone who gets out of line.
But there is nothing to be done. The condition of inner ruin of these societies allows an increasing number of cracks to appear. The continual renovation of appearances can achieve nothing: there, worlds form. Squats, communes, groupuscules, barrios, all try to extract themselves from capitalist desolation. Most often these attempts come to nothing or die from autarky, for lack of having established contacts, appropriate solidarities. Also for lack of conceiving of themselves as full-time partisans in the Global Civil War.
But all of these attempted re-consolidations are still nothing compared to mass desire, with the constantly deferred desire to drop out. To leave.
In ten years, between two censuses, a hundred thousand people have disappeared in Great Britain. They have boarded a truck, bought a ticket, dropped acid, or gone underground. They have disaffiliated. They have left.
We would have liked, in our disaffiliation, to have had a place to rejoin, a side to take, a road to follow.
Many who leave get lost. And never arrive.
Our strategy is therefore the following: to establish and maintain a series of centers of desertion, of poles of secession, of rallying points. For runaways. For those who leave. A series of places where we can escape from the influence of a civilization that is headed for the abyss.
It is a matter of giving ourselves the means, of finding the methods whereby all those questions can be resolved; questions which, when addressed separately, can drive us to depression. How to dissolve the dependencies that weaken us? How to organize ourselves so we no longer have to work? How to settle beyond the toxicity of the metropole without going Back To Nature? How to shut down nuclear plants? How not to be forced to resort to psychiatric pulverization when a friend goes mad; or to the crude remedies of mechanistic medicine when she falls ill? How to live together without mutual suppression? How to take in the death of a comrade? How to ruin Empire?
We know our weaknesses: we were born and we have grown up in pacified societies, dissolved. We have not had the opportunity to acquire the strength that moments of intense collective confrontation can provide. Nor the knowledge that is linked to them. We have a political education to develop together. A theoretical and practical education.
For this, we need locations. Places where we can organizes ourselves, where we can share and develop the required techniques. Where we can learn to handle all that may prove necessary. Where we can co-operate. Had it not renounced any political perspective, the experimentations of the Bauhaus, with all the materiality and the rigor it contained, would evoke the idea that we can create for ourselves space-times dedicated to the transmission of knowledge and experience. The Black Panthers equipped themselves with such places, to which they added their politico-military capacity, the ten thousand free lunches they distributed every day, and their autonomous press. Before long, they formed a threat so tangible to Power that the Feds had to be sent in to massacre them.
Whoever constitutes themselves as a force knows that they become partisans of the global course of hostilities. The question of the resort to or the renunciation of what is called violence does not arise in such a partisan. And pacifism appears as a supplementary weapon in the service of Empire, along with the contingents of riot police and journalists. The considerations that concern us are the conditions of the asymmetrical conflict which has been imposed on us; we must consider the modes of appearance and disappearance suitable for each of our practices. The demonstration, the action with our faces unmasked, the indignant protest: these are all unsuitable forms of struggle against the current regime of domination. They even reinforce it, feeding up-to-date information into the systems of control. It would seem to be judicious, in any case, given that the flakiness of contemporary subjectivity extends even to our leaders (but also from the perspective of a lachrymose pathos in which we have succeeded in burying the least important citizen), to attack the material devices rather than the men that give them a face. This is for purely strategic considerations. Therefore, we must turn to the forms of operation distinctive to all guerrillas: anonymous sabotage, unclaimed actions, recourse to easily copied techniques, targeted counter-attacks.
This is not a moral question about the manner with which we provide ourselves with the means to live and fight, but a tactical question of the means we give ourselves and the use we make of them.
“The expression of capitalism in our lives is sadness,” a friend once said.
The point now is to establish the material conditions for a shared receptivity toward pleasure.
On the one hand, we want to live communism; on the other, to spread anarchy.
We are living through times of the most extreme separation. The depressing normality of the metropole, its lonely crowds, expresses the impossible utopia of a society composed of atoms.
The most extreme separation reveals the sense of the word communism.
Communism is not a political or economic system. Communism can manage without Marx. Communism doesn’t give a damn about the USSR. And we cannot explain the fact that every decade for the past fifty years some have pretended to rediscover Stalin’s crimes, crying “look at what communism is!” if they did not have the feeling that in reality everything pushes us there.
The only argument that ever stood against communism was that we did not need it. And certainly, until recently and here and there, as limited as they were, there were still things, languages, thoughts, and places that were shared and that endured; at least enough of them not to fade away. There were worlds, and they were inhabited. The refusal to think about, the refusal to bring up, the question of communism had practical arguments. Those have been swept away. The ’80s, as much as they endure, remain the traumatic point of reference of this ultimate purge. Since then all social relations have become suffering. To the point of rendering preferable any anesthesia, any isolation. In a sense, by the very excess of its triumph, Existential Liberalism is what is driving us to the brink of communism.
The communist question is about figuring out our relationship to the world, to other beings, to ourselves. It concerns the elaboration of the interplay between different worlds, about the communication between them. Not about the unification of global space, but about the institution of what is perceptible, that is to say the plurality of worlds. In that sense communism is not the extinction of all conflict; it does not describe a final condition of society after everything has been said and done. For it is also through conflict that worlds interact. “In bourgeois society, where the differences between men are only differences that do not relate to Man himself, it is precisely the true differences, the differences of quality that are not retained. The communist does not want to create a collective soul. He wants to create a society where false differences are eliminated. And those false differences being eliminated, all their possibilities open to true differences.” Thus spoke an old friend.
It is obvious, as they claim, that the question of what suits me, of what I need, of what makes up my world has been reduced to the legally enforced fiction of private property, of what belongs to me, of what is mine. Something belongs to me insofar as it joins the realm of my usage — not by virtue of any juridical title. Ultimately, private property has no other reality than the forces that protect it. So the question of communism is, on one hand, to do away with the police, and on the other, to elaborate modes of sharing and uses, among those who live with each other. It is the question that is avoided everyday with “give me a break!” and “whatever, dude!” Communism of course is not given. It has to be considered, it has to be made. Almost everything that opposes it boils down to an expression of exhaustion: “But you’ll never make it… It can’t work… Humans are what they are… And it’s already hard enough to live your own life… Energy is finite; we can’t do everything.” But exhaustion is not an argument. It is a condition.
So communism starts from the experience of sharing. First, from the sharing of our needs. Needs are not what capitalist rule has accustomed us to. Needs are never about needing things without at the same time needing worlds. Each of our needs links us, beyond all shame, to everyone who experiences that link. Need is just the name of the relationship through which a particular perceiving being gives meaning to such or such an element of its world. That is why those who have no worlds — metropolitan subjectivities for instance — have nothing but whims. And that is why capitalism, although it satisfies the need for things like nothing else, only spreads universal dissatisfaction: in order for it to do so it has to destroy worlds.
By communism we mean a certain discipline of paying attention.
The practice of communism, as we live it, we call The Party. When we overcome an obstacle together or when we reach a higher level of sharing, we say that we are “building the Party.” Certainly others, unknown to us at present, are building the Party elsewhere. This call is addressed to them. No experience of communism at the present time can survive without getting organized, tying oneself to others, taking sides in crises, waging war. “For the oases that dispense life are wiped out when we seek refuge in them.”
As we understand it, the process of instituting communism can only take the form of a collection of acts of communization, of making common such-and-such space, such-and-such contraption, such and-such knowledge. That is to say, the elaboration of the mode of sharing that attaches to them. Insurrection itself is merely an accelerator, a decisive moment in this process. As we intend it, the Party is not an organization — where everything becomes insubstantial by dint of transparency, and it is not a family — where everything smells like a con by dint of opacity.
The Party is a collection of places, infrastructures, communized methods, and the dreams, bodies, murmurs, thoughts, desires that circulate among those places; the use of those methods, the sharing of those infrastructures.
The notion of the Party responds to the necessity of a minimal formalization, which makes us accessible as well as allowing us to remain invisible. It belongs to the communist way that we explain to ourselves, to formulate the basis of our sharing. So that the most recent arrival is, at the very least, the equal of the eldest.
Looking closer at it, the Party could be nothing but this: the formation of intuition as a force. The deployment of an archipelago of worlds. What would a political force be, under Empire, that didn’t have its farms, its schools, its arms, its medicines, its collective houses, its editing desks, its printing presses, its delivery vans, and its bridgeheads in the metropole? It appears more and more absurd that some of us still have to work for Capital — aside from the usual work of infiltration of course.
The offensive power of the Party derives from the fact that it is also a power of production; however, in essence, those relationships are only incidentally relationships of production.
In the final analysis, capitalism consists of nothing more than a reduction of all relations into relations of production. From business to the family, consumption itself appears as another episode in the general production, the production of society.
The overthrowing of capitalism will come from those who are able to create the conditions for other types of relations.
Therefore the communism we are talking about is the exact opposite of what has been historically termed “communism,” which was mostly nothing but socialism, a form of monopolist state capitalism.
Communism is not made throught the expansion of new relations of production, but rather in their abolition.
Not having relations of production within our milieu or among ourselves means never letting the search for results become more important than paying attention to the process, bankrupting all conventions of value, and watching that we do not disconnect affection and co-operation.
Being attentive to worlds, to their perceptible configurations, is exactly what renders the isolation of something like relations of production impossible. In the places we open, around the means we share, it is this favor that we seek, that we experience. To name this experience, we often hear about everything being free. Instead of free, we prefer to speak of communism — for we cannot possibly forget what the practice of this freedom implies in terms of organization, and in the short term, of political antagonism.
So, the construction of the Party, in its most visible aspect, consists of the sharing or communization of what we have at our disposal. Communizing a place means this: setting free its use, and on the basis of this liberation, experimenting with refined, intensified, and complexified relations. If private property is essentially the discretionary power of depriving any person of the use of the possessed thing, communization can only mean depriving the agents of Empire of that possession.
From every side we oppose the extortion of having to choose between the offensive and the constructive, negativity and positivity, life and survival, war and the everyday. We will not respond to it. We understand only too well how this dismembering alternative splits and re-splits all existing collectives. For a force which is deployed, it is impossible to say if the annihilation of a device that harms it is a constructive or offensive matter, if achieving dietary or medical autonomy constitutes an act of war or subtraction. There are circumstances, like in a riot, in which the ability to heal our comrades considerably augments our ability to wreak havoc. Who can say that arming ourselves would not be part of the material constitution of a collectivity? When we agree on a common strategy, there is no choice between the offensive and the constructive; obviously there exists, in every situation, what increases our power and what harms it, what is opportune and what is not. And when the evidence is lacking, there is discussion, and in the worst case, there is gambling.
In a general way, we do not see how anything else but a force, a reality able to survive the total dislocation of capitalism could truly attack it, up to the very moment of its dislocation.
When that moment comes, it will be a matter of actually turning the generalized social collapse to our advantage, to transform a collapse (like the Argentine or the Soviet) into a revolutionary situation. Those who pretend to separate material autonomy from the sabotage of the Imperial machine show that they want neither.
It is not an objection against communism that the greatest experiment of sharing in the recent past was the phenomenon of the Spanish anarchist movement between 1868 and 1939.
Communism is possible at every moment. To date what we call History is nothing but a set of roundabout means invented by humans to avert it. The fact that this History has for a good century now come down to nothing but a varied accumulation of disasters shows how the communist question can no longer be put off. In turn it is this deferment that we cannot postpone.
“But what do you actually want? What are you proposing?” This kind of question may appear to be innocent. But unfortunately these are not questions. They are operational issues.
Referring to every We that expresses itself to an unfamiliar You means first warding off the threat that this We somehow names me, that this We passes through me. Thereby constituting the one who merely writes down particular terms — that cannot be attributed to anyone — as their owner. So, in the methodical organization of the currently dominant separation, terms are allowed to circulate only on condition that they can show proof of an owner, of an author. Without which they risk being in the public domain, and only that which is expressed by Them is permitted anonymous diffusion.
And then there is this mystification: that caught in the course of a world that displeases us, there would be proposals to make, alternatives to find. That we could, in other words, extricate ourselves from the situation we’ve been put in, by discussing it in a dispassionate manner, with reasonable people.
But no, there is nothing apart from the situation. There is no outside to the Global Civil War. We are irremediably there.
All we can do is elaborate a strategy. Share an analysis of the situation and elaborate a strategy within it. This is the only possible revolutionary We: a practical We, open and diffuse, of whoever acts along the same lines.
As we write this, in August 2003, we can say that we face the greatest offensive of Capital of the last twenty years. Anti-terrorism and the abolition of the last gains of the defunct labor movement have created the prevailing mood of a population in lockstep. Never have the managers of society known so well from which obstacles they are emancipated and which means they hold. They know, for instance, that the planetary lower middle-class that currently (and from now on) lives in the metropole is too disarmed to offer the slightest resistance to its programmed annihilation. Just as they know that from now on the counter-revolution they lead is inscribed in millions of tons of concrete, in the architecture of so many new towns. In the longer term it seems that the plan of Capital is to separate out a network of high-security zones on a global scale, continuously linked up with each other, and where the process of capitalist valorization would encompass all the expressions of life in a perpetual and unhindered way. This Imperial comfort zone, comprised of deterritorialized citizens, would form a kind of policed continuum where a more or less constant level of control would prevail, politically as well as biometrically. As they advance the process of its pacification, the rest of the world could then flourish as a foil and, at the same time, as a gigantic Outside to civilize. The savage experiments of forced cohabitation between hostile enclaves as it has been taking place for decades in Israel would be the model of social management to come. We do not doubt that the real issue for Capital in all this is to reconstitute society in its own image from the ground up. No matter what form, and however high the price.
We have seen with Argentina that the economic collapse of a whole country was not, from Capital’s point of view, too high a price to pay.
In this context we are allied with all those who feel the tactical necessity of these three campaigns:
- To prevent, by any and all means, the recomposition of the Left.
- To advance, from natural disaster to social movement, the process of communization, the construction of the Party.
- To bring secession right into the vital sectors of the Imperial machine.
1. Periodically the Left is routed. We enjoy it, but it is not enough. We want its rout to be definitive. Irremediable. May the specter of a reconcilable opposition never again arise to cloud the minds of those who know themselves to be incompatible with capitalist functions. What everybody admits today (but will we still remember it the day after tomorrow?) is that the Left is an integral part of the mechanisms of neutralization peculiar to liberal society. The more the social implosion proves real, the more the Left invokes Civil Society. The more the police exercise their arbitrary will with impunity, the more the Left declares itself to be pacifist. The more the State throws off its last judicial formalities, the more they become obedient citizens. The greater the urgency to appropriate the means of our existence, the more the Left exhorts us to wait and beg for the mediation, if not the protection, of our masters. It is the Left which enjoins us today, faced with governments which stand openly on the terrain of social war, to speak truth to power, to write up our grievances, to form demands, to study political economy. From Léon Blum to Lula, the Left has been nothing but that: the party of Humanity, of the Citizen, and of Civilization. Today this program coincides with a fully counter-revolutionary program. That of maintaining the ensemble of illusions that paralyze us. The vocation of the Left is therefore to expound the dream of what only Empire can afford. It represents the idealistic side of Imperial modernization, the necessary steam-valve to the unbearable pace of capitalism. It is even shamelessly written in the very publication of the French Ministry of Youth, Education, and Research: “From now on, everyone knows that without the concrete help of its citizens, the State will have neither the means nor the time to carry on the work that can prevent our society from exploding” (Longing to Act: the Guide to Commitment).
Defeating the Left, which means keeping the channel of social disaffection continuously open, is not only necessary but is also possible today. We witness, while the Imperial structures become increasingly stronger, the transition from the old workerist Left (gravedigger of the Labor movement though born in it), to a new global, cultural Left, of which it can be said that Negrism is the most advanced point. This new Left is still imperfectly established on the recently neutered Anti-Globalization Movement. The new lures they hold out are not yet effective, while the old ones are long gone.
Our task is to ruin the global Left wherever it becomes manifest, to sabotage all of its formative moments methodically, meaning in theory as well as in practice. Thus our success in Genoa lay less in the spectacular confrontations with the police, or in the damage inflicted on the organs of State and Capital, than in the fact that the spreading of the practice of confrontation peculiar to the Black Bloc to all the parts of the demonstration scuttled the expected triumph of the Tute Bianche. Even so, our failure was not to have known how to extend our position in such a way that this victory in the streets would become something other than a specter raised systematically since then by pacifists.
The retreat of this global Left into the Social Forums — a withdrawal due to the fact that it was defeated in the streets — is now what we must attack.
2. From year to year the pressure increases to make everything function. As social cybernetization progresses, the normal situation becomes more urgent. As a consequence, situations of crisis and malfunction multiply in a completely logical way. From the point of view of Empire, a power failure, a hurricane, or a social movement are all the same. They are disturbances. They must be managed. For now, meaning on account of our weakness, these situations of interruption appear as moments in which Empire pops up, takes its place in the materiality of worlds, experiments with new managerial procedures. It is precisely there that it attaches itself more firmly to the populations it claims to assist. Empire always devotes itself to being the agent of returning the situation to normal. Our task, conversely, is to make the situation of exception livable. We will genuinely succeed in blocking corporate society only on condition that such a blockage is filled with desires other than those for a return to normal.
What takes place during a strike or during a natural disaster is, in a way, quite similar: a interruption of the organized stability of our dependencies. The existence of need (the communist essence) — that which essentially binds us and essentially separates us — is laid bare during each of them. The blanket of shame that normally covers it is torn up. Receptiveness for encounters, for experimentation with other relations to the world, to others, to oneself, as it manifests in these moments, is enough to sweep away any doubt about the possibility of communism. About the need for communism as well. What is now required is our ability to self-organize, our ability (by immediately organizing ourselves on the basis of our needs) to prolong, extend, and ultimately render the situation of exception effective, against the terror upon which Imerial power rests. This is particularly striking in social movements. Even the expression social movement seems to suggest that what really matters is what we are moving towards, rather than what’s happening here and now. Up till now in all social movements, there has been a prejudice to avoid seizing the time, which explains why they are never able to get together; rather they seem to chase each other away. Hence the particular texture, so volatile, of their sociality, where any commitment appears revocable. Hence also their invariable dramatic arc: a quick ascent thanks to some popular resonance highlighted in the media; next, due to this hasty aggregation, a slow but inevitable erosion; and finally, the dried up movement, the last handful of diehards who get a card from this or that union, found this or that association, thereby hoping to find an organizational continuity to their commitment. But we are not looking for such continuity: having premises where we might meet, and a photocopier to print leaflets. The continuity we seek is the one which allows us, after having struggled for months, not to go back to work, not to start working again as before, to keep doing harm. And this can only be built during movements. It is a matter of putting into place an immediate, material sharing, the construction of a real revolutionary war machine, the construction of the Party.
We must, as we were saying, organize ourselves on the basis of our needs — to manage to answer in turn the collective questions of eating, sleeping, thinking, loving, creating forms, coordinating our forces — and conceive all this as an opportunity in the war against Empire.
It is only in this way, by inhabiting the disturbances of its very program, that we will be able to counter that economic liberalism which is only the strict consequence, the logical application, of the Existential Liberalism that is accepted and practiced everywhere. To which each one is attached as if it were the most basic right, including those who would like to challenge Neo-Liberalism. This is the way the Party will be built; as a trail of habitable places left behind by each situation of exception that Empire encounters. We will not fail to notice, then, how the subjectivities and the revolutionary collectives become less flakey, as they show what they’re really made of.
3. Empire is nowadays manifest through the constitution of two monopolies: on the one hand, the scientific monopoly of so-called objective descriptions of the world, and of techniques of experimentation on it, and on the other hand the religious monopoly of techniques of the self, of the methods by which subjectivities elaborate themselves — a monopoly to which psychoanalytic practice is directly related. On the one hand a relation to the world purified of any relation to the self — to the self as a fragment of the world; on the other hand a relation to the self purified of any relation to the world — to the world as it goes through me. So it happens that science and religion, in the very process of tearing each other apart, have created a space in which Empire is perfectly free to move about.
Of course, these monopolies are distributed in various ways according to the zones of Empire. In the so-called developed lands, where religious discourse has lost this ability, the sciences constitute a discourse of truth to which is attributed the power to formulate the very existence of the collectivity. It is therefore precisely here where we must begin to prompt secession.
Prompting secession from the sciences does not mean pouncing on them as if on a citadel to conquer or raze, but increasing the prominence of the fault lines than run through them, siding with those who emphasize these lines, who attempt to unmask them. In the same way that rifts constantly plague the false density of the social, every branch of the sciences forms a battlefield saturated with strategies. For a long time the scientific community has managed to give itself the image of a large united family, consensual for the most part, and anyway respecting the rules of courtesy. This was even the major political operation attached to the existence of the sciences: concealing the internal splits, and exerting, from that smoothed over image, an unequaled influence of terror. Terror towards the outside: the deprivation of the status of truth for any and all discussion that is not recognized as scientific. Terror towards the inside: the polite but fierce disqualification of potential heresies. “Esteemed colleague…”
Each science implements a series of hypotheses; these hypotheses are so many decisions regarding the construction of reality. Today this is widely admitted. What is denied is the ethical significance of each of these decisions, in what way they involve a certain life-form, a certain way of perceiving the world (for instance, experiencing the evolution of various beings as the unwinding of a genetic program, or joy as a question of serotonin).
Considered in this way, scientific language games seem made less for establishing communication between those who use them, than for excluding those who ignore them. The airtight equipment in which scientific activity is ensconced — laboratories, symposiums, etc. — carries in itself a divorce between experiments and the worlds they may describe. It is not enough to describe the way the so-called core research is always connected in some way to military-commercial interests, and how, reciprocally, these interests define the contents, the very parameters of research. To the extent that science participates in Imperial pacification it is firstly by carrying out only those experiments, testing only those hypotheses that are compatible with the maintenance of the prevailing order. Our capacity to ruin Imperial Order is conditioned upon opening spaces for antagonistic experiments. For these experiments to produce their related worlds, we need such cleared spaces, just as the plurality of these worlds is needed for the smothered antagonisms of scientific practice to be expressed.
It is important that the practitioners of the old mechanistic and Pasteurian medicine rejoin those who practice what might be called traditional medicine — all new age confusion aside. The attachment to research needs to cease being confused with the judicial defense of the integrity of the laboratory. Non-productivist agricultural practices need to develop beyond organic labels. Those who endure the insufferable contradictions of public education, between the defense of good citizenship and the workshop of the diffuse entrepreneuriat, need to become more and more numerous. Culture should no longer be able to boast about the contributions of a single inventor.
Alliances are possible everywhere.
In order to become effective, the perspective of breaking the capitalist circuits requires that secessions multiply, and that they consolidate.
We will be told: you are caught in an alternative which will condemn you in one way or another: either you manage to constitute a threat to Empire, in which case you will be quickly eliminated, or you will not manage to constitute such a threat, and you will have once again destroyed yourselves.
There remains only to gamble on the existence of another outcome, a thin ridge, just wide enough for us to walk on, just enough for all those who can hear to walk on it and live.
Six Theses on Anxiety and Why It is Effectively Preventing Militancy, and One Possible Strategy for Overcoming It 1
Reposted with the kind permission of the Institute for Precarious Consciousness
1: Each phase of capitalism has its own dominant reactive affect. 2
Each phase of capitalism has a particular affect which holds it together. This is not a static situation. The prevalence of a particular dominant affect 3 is sustainable only until strategies of resistance able to break down this particular affect and /or its social sources are formulated. Hence, capitalism constantly comes into crisis and recomposes around newly dominant affects.
One aspect of every phase’s dominant affect is that it is a public secret, something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. As long as the dominant affect is a public secret, it remains effective, and strategies against it will not emerge.
Public secrets are typically personalised. The problem is only visible at an individual, psychological level; the social causes of the problem are concealed. Each phase blames the system’s victims for the suffering that the system causes. And it portrays a fundamental part of its functional logic as a contingent and localised problem.
In the modern era (until the post-war settlement), the dominant affect was misery. In the nineteenth century, the dominant narrative was that capitalism leads to general enrichment. The public secret of this narrative was the misery of the working class. The exposure of this misery was carried out by revolutionaries. The first wave of modern social movements in the nineteenth century was a machine for fighting misery. Tactics such as strikes, wage struggles, political organisation, mutual aid, co-operatives and strike funds were effective ways to defeat the power of misery by ensuring a certain social minimum. Some of these strategies still work when fighting misery.
When misery stopped working as a control strategy, capitalism switched to boredom. In the mid twentieth century, the dominant public narrative was that the standard of living – which widened access to consumption, healthcare and education – was rising. Everyone in the rich countries was happy, and the poor countries were on their way to development. The public secret was that everyone was bored. This was an effect of the Fordist system which was prevalent until the 1980s – a system based on full-time jobs for life, guaranteed welfare, mass consumerism, mass culture, and the co-optation of the labour movement which had been built to fight misery. Job security and welfare provision reduced anxiety and misery, but jobs were boring, made up of simple, repetitive tasks. Mid-century capitalism gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life; it was a system based on force-feeding survival to saturation point.
Of course, not all workers under Fordism actually had stable jobs or security – but this was the core model of work, around which the larger system was arranged. There were really three deals in this phase, with the B-worker deal – boredom for security – being the most exemplary of the Fordism-boredom conjuncture. Today, the B-worker deal has largely been eliminated, leaving a gulf between the A- and C-workers (the consumer society insiders, and the autonomy and insecurity of the most marginal).
2: Contemporary resistance is born of the 1960s wave, in response to the dominant affect of boredom.
If each stage of the dominant system has a dominant affect, then each stage of resistance needs strategies to defeat or dissolve this affect. If the first wave of social movements were a machine for fighting misery, the second wave (of the 1960s-70s, or more broadly (and thinly) 1960s-90s) were a machine for fighting boredom. This is the wave of which our own movements were born, which continues to inflect most of our theories and practices.
Most tactics of this era were/are ways to escape the work-consume-die cycle. The Situationists pioneered a whole series of tactics directed against boredom, declaring that “We do not want a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation is bought by accepting the risk of dying of boredom”. Autonomia fought boredom by refusing work, both within work (using sabotage and go-slows) and against it (slacking off and dropping out). These protest forms were associated with a wider social process of countercultural exodus from the dominant forms of boring work and boring social roles.
In the feminist movement, the “housewife malaise” was theorised as systemic in the 1960s. Later, further dissatisfactions were revealed through consciousness raising, and the texts and actions (from “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm” to the Redstockings abortion speak-out) which stemmed from it. Similar tendencies can be seen in the Theatre of the Oppressed, critical pedagogy, the main direct-action styles (carnivalesque, militant, and pacifist), and in movements as late as the 1990s, such as the free party movement, Reclaim the Streets, DIY culture, and hacker culture.
The mid-century reorientation from misery to boredom was crucial to the emergence of a new wave of revolt. We are the tail end of this wave. Just as the tactics of the first wave still work when fighting misery, so the tactics of the second wave still work when fighting boredom. The difficulty is that we are less often facing boredom as the main enemy. This is why militant resistance is caught in its current impasse.
3: Capitalism has largely absorbed the struggle against boredom.
There has been a partial recuperation of the struggle against boredom. Capitalism pursued the exodus into spaces beyond work, creating the social factory – a field in which the whole society is organised like a workplace. Precarity is used to force people back to work within an expanded field of labour now including the whole of the social factory.
Many instances of this pursuit can be enumerated. Companies have adopted flattened management models inciting employees to not only manage, but invest their souls in, their work. Consumer society now provides a wider range of niche products and constant distraction which is not determined by mass tastes to the same degree as before. New products, such as video-games and social media, involve heightened levels of active individual involvement and desocialised stimulation. Workplace experiences are diversified by means of micro-differentials and performance management, as well as the multiplication of casual and semi-self-employed work situations on the margins of capitalism. Capitalism has encouraged the growth of mediatised secondary identities – the self portrayed through social media, visible consumption, and lifelong learning – which have to be obsessively maintained. Various forms of resistance of the earlier period have been recuperated, or revived in captured form once the original is extinguished: for instance, the corporate nightclub and music festival replace the rave.
4: In contemporary capitalism, the dominant reactive affect is anxiety.
Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious. Anxiety has spread from its previous localised locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety. It has become the linchpin of subordination.
One major part of the social underpinning of anxiety is the multi-faceted omnipresent web of surveillance. The NSA, CCTV, performance management reviews, the Job Centre, the privileges system in the prisons, the constant examination and classification of the youngest schoolchildren. But this obvious web is only the outer carapace. We need to think about the ways in which a neoliberal idea of success inculcates these surveillance mechanisms inside the subjectivities and life-stories of most of the population.
We need to think about how people’s deliberate and ostensibly voluntary self-exposure, through social media, visible consumption and choice of positions within the field of opinions, also assumes a performance in the field of the perpetual gaze of virtual others. We need to think about the ways in which this gaze inflects how we find, measure and know one another, as co-actors in an infinitely watched perpetual performance. Our success in this performance in turn affects everything from our ability to access human warmth to our ability to access means of subsistence, not just in the form of the wage but also in the form of credit. Outsides to the field of mediatised surveillance are increasingly closed off, as public space is bureaucratised and privatised, and a widening range of human activity is criminalised on the grounds of risk, security, nuisance, quality of life, or anti-social behaviour.
In this increasingly securitised and visible field, we are commanded to communicate. The incommunicable is excluded. Since everyone is disposable, the system holds the threat of forcibly delinking anyone at any time, in a context where alternatives are foreclosed in advance, so that forcible delinking entails desocialisation – leading to an absurd non-choice between desocialised inclusion and desocialised exclusion. This threat is manifested in small ways in today’s disciplinary practices – from “time-outs” and Internet bans, to firings and benefit sanctions – culminating in the draconian forms of solitary confinement found in prisons. Such regimes are the zero degree of control-by-anxiety: the breakdown of all the coordinates of connectedness in a setting of constant danger, in order to produce a collapse of personality.
The present dominant affect of anxiety is also known as precarity. Precarity is a type of insecurity which treats people as disposable so as to impose control. Precarity differs from misery in that the necessities of life are not simply absent. They are available, but withheld conditionally.
Precarity leads to generalised hopelessness; a constant bodily excitation without release. Growing proportions of young people are living at home. Substantial portions of the population – over 10% in the UK – are taking antidepressants. The birth rate is declining, as insecurity makes people reluctant to start families. In Japan, millions of young people never leave their homes (the hikikomori), while others literally work themselves to death on an epidemic scale. Surveys reveal half the population of the UK are experiencing income insecurity. Economically, aspects of the system of anxiety include “lean” production, financialisation and resultant debt slavery, rapid communication and financial outflows, and the globalisation of production. Workplaces like call centres are increasingly common, where everyone watches themselves, tries to maintain the required “service orientation,” and is constantly subject to re-testing and potential failure both by quantitative requirements on numbers of calls, and a process which denies most workers a stable job (they have to work six months to even receive a job, as opposed to a learning place). Image management means that the gap between the official rules and what really happens is greater than ever. And the post-911 climate channels this widespread anxiety into global politics.
5: Anxiety is a public secret.
Excessive anxiety and stress are a public secret. When discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation.
Indeed, the dominant public narrative suggests that we need more stress, so as to keep us “safe” (through securitisation) and “competitive” (through performance management). Each moral panic, each new crackdown or new round of repressive laws, adds to the cumulative weight of anxiety and stress arising from general over-regulation. Real, human insecurity is channelled into fuelling securitisation. This is a vicious circle, because securitisation increases the very conditions (disposability, surveillance, intensive regulation) which cause the initial anxiety. In effect, the security of the Homeland is used as a vicarious substitute for security of the Self. Again, this has precedents: the use of national greatness as vicarious compensation for misery, and the use of global war as a channel for frustration arising from boredom.
Anxiety is also channelled downwards. People’s lack of control over their lives leads to an obsessive struggle to reclaim control by micro-managing whatever one can control. Parental management techniques, for example, are advertised as ways to reduce parents’ anxiety by providing a definite script they can follow. On a wider, social level, latent anxieties arising from precarity fuel obsessive projects of social regulation and social control. This latent anxiety is increasingly projected onto minorities.
Anxiety is personalised in a number of ways – from New Right discourses blaming the poor for poverty, to contemporary therapies which treat anxiety as a neurological imbalance or a dysfunctional thinking style. A hundred varieties of “management” discourse – time management, anger management, parental management, self-branding, gamification – offer anxious subjects an illusion of control in return for ever-greater conformity to the capitalist model of subjectivity. And many more discourses of scapegoating and criminalisation treat precarity as a matter of personal deviance, irresponsibility, or pathological self-exclusion. Many of these discourses seek to maintain the superstructure of Fordism (nationalism, social integration) without its infrastructure (a national economy, welfare, jobs for all). Doctrines of individual responsibility are central to this backlash, reinforcing vulnerability and disposability. Then there’s the self-esteem industry, the massive outpouring of media telling people how to achieve success through positive thinking – as if the sources of anxiety and frustration are simply illusory. These are indicative of the tendency to privatise problems, both those relating to work, and those relating to psychology.
Earlier we argued that people have to be socially isolated in order for a public secret to work. This is true of the current situation, in which authentic communication is increasingly rare. Communication is more pervasive than ever, but increasingly, communication happens only through paths mediated by the system. Hence, in many ways, people are prevented from actually communicating, even while the system demands that everyone be connected and communicable. People both conform to the demand to communicate rather than expressing themselves, and self-censor within mediated spaces. Similarly, affective labour does not alleviate anxiety; it compounds workers’ suffering while simply distracting consumers (researchers have found that requirements on workers to feign happiness actually cause serious health problems).
The volume of communication is irrelevant. The recomposition – reconnection – of liberatory social forces will not happen unless there are channels through which the public secret itself can be spoken. In this sense, people are fundamentally more alone than ever. It is difficult for most people (including many radicals) to acknowledge the reality of what they experience and feel. Something has to be quantified or mediated (broadcast virtually), or, for us, to be already recognised as political, to be validated as real. The public secret does not meet these criteria, and so it remains invisible.
6: Current tactics and theories aren’t working. We need new tactics and theories to combat anxiety.
During periods of mobilisation and effective social change, people feel a sense of empowerment, the ability to express themselves, a sense of authenticity and de-repression or dis-alienation which can act as an effective treatment for depression and psychological problems; a kind of peak experience. It is what sustains political activity.
Such experiences have become far rarer in recent years.
We might here focus on two related developments: pre-emption, and punishment by process. Pre-emptive tactics are those which stop protests before they start, or before they can achieve anything. Kettling, mass arrests, stop-and-search, lockdowns, house raids and pre-emptive arrests are examples of these kinds of tactics. Punishment by process entails keeping people in a situation of fear, pain, or vulnerability through the abuse of procedures designed for other purposes – such as keeping people on pre-charge or pre-trial bail conditions which disrupt their everyday activity, using no-fly and border-stop lists to harass known dissidents, carrying out violent dawn raids, needlessly putting people’s photographs in the press, arresting people on suspicion (sometimes in accord with quotas), using pain-compliance holds, or quietly making known that someone is under surveillance. Once fear of state interference is instilled, it is reinforced by the web of visible surveillance that is gridded across public space, and which acts as strategically placed triggers of trauma and anxiety.
Anecdotal evidence has provided many horror stories about the effects of such tactics – people left a nervous wreck after years awaiting a trial on charges for which they were acquitted, committing suicide after months out of touch with their friends and family, or afraid to go out after incidents of abuse. The effects are just as real as if the state was killing or disappearing people, but they are rendered largely invisible. In addition, many radicals are also on the receiving end of precarious employment and punitive benefit regimes. We are failing to escape the generalised production of anxiety.
If the first wave provided a machine for fighting misery, and the second wave a machine for fighting boredom, what we now need is a machine for fighting anxiety – and this is something we do not yet have. If we see from within anxiety, we haven’t yet performed the “reversal of perspective” as the Situationists called it – seeing from the standpoint of desire instead of power. Today’s main forms of resistance still arise from the struggle against boredom, and, since boredom’s replacement by anxiety, have ceased to be effective.
Current militant resistance does not and cannot combat anxiety. It often involves deliberate exposure to high-anxiety situations. Insurrectionists overcome anxiety by turning negative affects into anger, and acting on this anger through a projectile affect of attack. In many ways, this provides an alternative to anxiety. However, it is difficult for people to pass from anxiety to anger, and it is easy for people to be pushed back the other way, due to trauma. We’ve noticed a certain tendency for insurrectionists to refuse to take seriously the existence of psychological barriers to militant action. Their response tends to be, “Just do it!” But anxiety is a real, material force – not simply a spook. To be sure, its sources are often rooted in spooks, but the question of overcoming the grip of a spook is rarely as simple as consciously rejecting it. There’s a whole series of psychological blockages underlying the spook’s illusory power, which is ultimately an effect of reactive affect. Saying “Just do it” is like saying to someone with a broken leg, “Just walk!”
The situation feels hopeless and inescapable, but it isn’t. It feels this way because of effects of precarity – constant over-stress, the contraction of time into an eternal present, the vulnerability of each separated (or systemically mediated) individual, the system’s dominance of all aspects of social space. Structurally, the system is vulnerable. The reliance on anxiety is a desperate measure, used in the absence of stronger forms of conformity. The system’s attempt to keep running by keeping people feeling powerless leaves it open to sudden ruptures, outbreaks of revolt. So how do we get to the point where we stop feeling powerless?
7: A new style of precarity-focused consciousness raising is needed.
In order to formulate new responses to anxiety, we need to return to the drawing board. We need to construct a new set of knowledges and theories from the bottom up. To this end, we need to crease a profusion of discussions which produce dense intersections between experiences of the current situation and theories of transformation. We need to start such processes throughout the excluded and oppressed strata – but there is no reason we shouldn’t start with ourselves.
In exploring the possibilities for such a practice, the Institute has looked into previous cases of similar practices. From an examination of accounts of feminist consciousness raising in the 1960s/70s, we have summarised the following central features:
Producing new grounded theory relating to experience. We need to reconnect with our experiences now – rather than theories from past phases. The idea here is that our own perceptions of our situation are blocked or cramped by dominant assumptions, and need to be made explicit. The focus should be on those experiences which relate to the public secret. These experiences need to be recounted and pooled — firstly within groups, and then publicly.
Recognising the reality, and the systemic nature, of our experiences. The validation of our experiences’ reality of experiences is an important part of this. We need to affirm that our pain is really pain, that what we see and feel is real, and that our problems are not only personal. Sometimes this entails bringing up experiences we have discounted or repressed. Sometimes it entails challenging the personalisation of problems.
Transformation of emotions. People are paralysed by unnameable emotions, and a general sense of feeling like shit. These emotions need to be transformed into a sense of injustice, a type of anger which is less resentful and more focused, a move towards self-expression, and a reactivation of resistance.
Creating or expressing voice. The culture of silence surrounding the public secret needs to be overthrown. Existing assumptions need to be denaturalised and challenged, and cops in the head expelled. The exercise of voice moves the reference of truth and reality from the system to the speaker, contributing to the reversal of perspective – seeing the world through one’s own perspective and desires, rather than the system’s. The weaving together of different experiences and stories is an important way of reclaiming voice. The process is an articulation as well as an expression.
Constructing a disalienated space. Social separation is reduced by the existence of such a space. The space provides critical distance on one’s life, and a kind of emotional safety net to attempt transformations, dissolving fears. This should not simply be a self-help measure, used to sustain existing activities, but instead, a space for reconstructing a radical perspective.
Analysing and theorising structural sources based on similarities in experience. The point is not simply to recount experiences but to transform and restructure them through their theorisation. Participants change the dominant meaning of their experience by mapping it with different assumptions. This is often done by finding patterns in experiences which are related to liberatory theory, and seeing personal problems and small injustices as symptoms of wider structural problems. It leads to a new perspective, a vocabulary of motives; an anti-anti-political horizon.
The goal is to produce the click — the moment at which the structural source of problems suddenly makes sense in relation to experiences. This click is which focuses and transforms anger. Greater understanding may in turn relieve psychological pressures, and make it easier to respond with anger instead of depression or anxiety. It might even be possible to encourage people into such groups by promoting them as a form of self-help — even though they reject the adjustment orientation of therapeutic and self-esteem building processes.
The result is a kind of affinity group, but oriented to perspective and analysis, rather than action. It should be widely recognised, however, that this new awareness needs to turn into some kind of action; otherwise it is just frustratingly introspective.
This strategy will help our practice in a number of ways. Firstly, these groups can provide a pool of potential accomplices. Secondly, they can prime people for future moments of revolt. Thirdly, they create the potential to shift the general field of so-called public opinion in ways which create an easier context for action. Groups would also function as a life-support system and as a space to step back from immersion in the present. They would provide a kind of fluency in radical and dissident concepts which most people lack today.
Anxiety is reinforced by the fact that it is never clear what “the market” wants from us, that the demand for conformity is connected to a vague set of criteria which cannot be established in advance. Even the most conformist people are disposable nowadays, as new technologies of management or production are introduced. One of the functions of small-group discussions and consciousness raising is to construct a perspective from which one can interpret the situation
One major problem will be maintaining regular time commitments in a context of constant time and attentive pressure. The process has a slower pace and a more human scale than is culturally acceptable today. However, the fact that groups offer a respite from daily struggle, and perhaps a quieter style of interacting and listening which relieves attentive pressure, may also be attractive. Participants would need to learn to speak with a self-expressive voice (rather than a neoliberal performance derived from the compulsion to share banal information), and to listen and analyse.
Another problem is the complexity of experiences. Personal experiences are intensely differentiated by the nuanced discriminations built into the semiocapitalist code. This makes the analytical part of the process particularly important.
Above all, the process should establish new propositions about the sources of anxiety. These propositions can form a basis for new forms of struggle, new tactics, and the revival of active force from its current repression: a machine for fighting anxiety.
1. The discussion here is not fully relevant to the global South. The specific condition of the South is that dominant capitalist social forms are layered onto earlier stages of capitalism or pre-capitalist systems, rather than displacing them entirely. Struggles along the axes of misery and boredom are therefore more effective in the South. The South has experienced a particular variety of precarity distinct from earlier periods: the massive forced delinking of huge swathes of the world from global capitalism (especially in Africa), and the correspondingly massive growth of the informal sector, which now eclipses the formal sector almost everywhere. The informal sector provides fertile terrain for autonomous politics, as is clear from cases such as the city of El Alto (a self-organised city of shanty-towns which is central to social movements in Bolivia), the Zapatista revolt (leading to autonomous indigenous communities in Chiapas), and movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo (an autonomous movement of informal settlement residents in South Africa). However, it is often subject to a kind of collectivised precarity, as the state might (for instance) bulldoze shanty-towns, dispossess street traders, or crack down on illicit activities – and periodically does so. Revealingly, it was the self-immolation of a street trader subject to this kind of state dispossession which triggered the revolt in Sidi Bouzid, which later expanded into the Arab Spring. Massive unrest for similar reasons is also becoming increasingly common in China. It is also common for this sector to be dominated by hierarchical gangs or by the networked wings of authoritarian parties (such as the Muslim Brotherhood).
2. Affect: emotion, bodily disposition, way of relating
3. When using the term dominant affect, this is not to say that this is the only reactive affect in operation. The new dominant affect can relate dynamically with other affects: a call-centre worker is bored and miserably paid, but anxiety is what keeps her/him in this condition, preventing the use of old strategies such as unionisation, sabotage and dropping out.
→ We Are All Very Anxious
→ March Round-up
→ Accelerate this: Leeds Plan C discusses the Accelerationist Manifesto
→ Plan C MCR: Do You Remember The Future?
→ France: ‘We want sex, not gender’ (note on the alarming rise of the ‘gender theory’ resistance front and their neo-fascist chums)
We will eat cake and enjoy each others company in the glow of the end of Eight Days of Anarchy.
- What did we learn?
- What did we enjoy?
- What did we detest?
- Who did we meet?
- The annual reading of the surveys!
Did I mention cake?
If we get bored with all of that we will read Kristen Williams Politics of Denunciation which might provoke commentary.
We will reading and discussing anarchist politics in the context of other political tendencies.
From Aragorn! blog
One of the reasons that anarchism has become a popular political perspective is because in many contexts (for instance mass mobilizations or broad direct action campaigns) we seem open, friendly, and nonsectarian. This is in great contrast to visible (and visibly) Marxist or Leftist organizations, which either seem like newspaper-selling robots or ancient thorny creatures entirely out of touch with the ambivalence of the modern political atmosphere. Anarchists seem to get that ambivalence and contest it with hope and enthusiasm rather than finger-wagging.
The public face of anarchism tends towards approachability and youth: kids being pepper sprayed, the general assemblies of the occupy movement, and drum circles. These are the images of the past five years that stand in contrast to the image of anarchists as athletic black clad window breakers. Both are true (or as true as an image can be) and both demonstrate why a criticism of anarchists continues to be that (even at our best) we are politically naïve.
Of course very few window breakers believe that breaking windows means much beyond the scope of an insurance form or a janitorial task, but that is beside the point. What matters is that the politics of no demands makes the impossible task of intelligent political discourse in America even more complicated (by assuming that discourse is a Pyhrric act). To put the issue differently, the dialectical binary of both engaging in the social, dialogic, compromising act of public politics while asserting that there is no request of those-in-power worth stating or compromising on isn’t possible. It is cake-and-eat-it thinking that is exactly why Anarchists must do what Anarchist must do1.
This rejection of how the game is played while participating in it hasn’t shown itself to be a long term strategy– impossible never is. For lessons on playing the game we have to turn to the winners of politics and revolution: neoliberalists, sure, but also statist Marxists, reactionaries (from racist populists to nationalist Know Nothings or their descendants in the Tea Party), and what remnants exist of the old and new Left. Just to make the point crystal clear I’ll restate it. On the one hand you have the ridiculous non- or even anti-strategy of anarchist political theater that cannot achieve the impossible goal of everything for everybody forever. On the other hand you have realpolitik: the pragmatic application of power in the political sphere. This simplistic dualism is why most intelligent people abandon politics altogether and retreat to NIMBYism (at best) or the quiet solitude of screaming at a television screen as the only expression of engagement with the outside world.
In this light, a discussion about maoism might seem outrageous and it is! Maoism isn’t a relevant political tendency or movement in America. It isn’t leading guerrilla forces in the hills, it has no leaders-in-waiting just outside the border (unless you count Avakian which you should in no way do), but it isn’t further from the mainstream of American political thought than Anarchism is (anarchist big tent populists to the contrary) and is arguably much closer (in an often cited example, the mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, is a former Maoist). More pointedly, Maoism and Anarchism have been cross-pollinating for decades. Our task here is to shine a light on that history and challenge what benefits anarchists have garnered from this little-discussed pollination.
A defense of anarchism
One may pause here to consider the goal of defending anarchism against Maoism (or any other ideology of the left). Why bother? Isn’t anarchism exactly as irrelevant as these other 19th century ideas? Yes and no. If you are talking about the fights within the First International about what form the revolutionary party will take (secret or public), or the composition of the most advanced working class groups (craftsmen or factory), than yes, absolutely. Even if you are talking about the integrated partisans of the Spanish Civil War, then the term has declined into the merely historical. Of interest perhaps, primarily because of the optimism and ferocity of it’s partisans, but really a demonstration of a good liberal university education and not much else.
If, on the other hand, anarchism is the term used to describe an open-ended theory that will not, cannot, be set in stone until the day of days, because it isn’t named after a man, because it is named after negation, because it is impossible, then no. In its hostile negative anarchism is a well suited expression of our time.
As anarchism is the theory that we are the ones who directly engage with life, not representatives (whether politicians, NGOs, or community leaders), not systems of control (statistical, bureaucratic, or functional), and not specialists in freedom (authors, etc), then we embrace it. We doubly embrace it if somehow this engagement with life also means the absolute destruction of the system-as-it-is but we know that this destruction–whether called revolution, evolution, or communization–is not guaranteed or even likely in our lifetime. This means that our theory interfaces with the reality of politics and other people every day but without the burden of the correct revolutionary ideology that has in no way been more successful than anarchism, just more bloody.
A little history
I’ll leave it to others to do an accurate and deep review of the history of Maoism in the US since the end of the Vietnam War and how it has melted into the firmament of Cultural Studies programs and the counter-cultural left (by way of Refuse and Resist, No Business As Usual, the October 22 Coalition Against Police Brutality, Not In Our Name, the World Can’t Wait, etc). My task is to show that there is a weave of relationships rather than to make something functional out of that weave. In the Bay Area the vigor of Maoism as a viable political ideology is entirely due to two factors: the Black Panther Party and the RCP.
While the depth of Maoist politics in the BPP is largely locked up in unreported meetings and allegations that the BPP did a bang up business selling Little Red Books in the late 60s, the Maoist trappings of the BPP aren’t in question. We have to contend with the BPP (a relatively small and historical group) currently almost entirely because of their representation in movies and visual media. The BPP continue to be among the most cited predecessors of modern political movements. We all have an image seared into our mind of ourselves, as radicals, engaging with the straight world (whether in the halls of the Legislature or the streets of our towns) wearing visually striking attire, with weapons over our shoulders. Obviously the direct action work (from neighborhood armed defense to feeding and schooling the kids) of the BPP is beyond reproach (if the history of such is to be believed) but this is an entirely different topic than the ideas of The Party per se or the stories of the heroes of the BPP. This is the story of grassroots organizing by any other name; this name just has a solid mythology surrounding it.
It is worth mentioning that I don’t in fact have strong feelings about the BPP. The social and political atmosphere that they derive from are so entirely different than ours that I am in no way qualified to make categorical statements about them. They are a historical artifact that can be, and is, debated as such, but by-and-large this debate isn’t an anarchist one (either in name, sentiment, or aesthetic). For many people, recognizing the significance of the BPP (as in the differences between the perceived work of the BPP and the work of radical politics today) is a necessary part of political development. Recognizing the differences between the work of the BPP in the 60s and our work today is how we determine our own project, and that has nothing to do with political ideologies.
The RCP can be more cleanly dealt with. No caveats need apply to this hack organization that should be utterly reviled by any anarchist. Moreover the concept that building up the theory or personality of Bob Avakian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Communist_Party,_USA#Activities) as important, revolutionary, or even notable is entirely preposterous .
That said, the practice of rebranding oneself, of spinning up front groups as quickly as new single issues come to the fore, is obviously a smart and pernicious idea. It allows a political organization to control its messaging, gating new members through specific interests rather than through an entire, decades-long political program. It provides a way to show rather than to talk (which is a significant anarchist weakness). It builds relationships through “common struggle” rather than through debate, coercion, or brow-beating. While the result is still the same, this multi-form and layered approach to inculcating new members is persuasive and confusing, exactly the goal of groups that do it.
Mentioning these two groups isn’t intended to say that the influence of Maoist ideas, or those of other historical political traditions, can be constrained by these two data points. Modern Maoist thought has become much more diffuse than either of these historic reference points would lead one to believe. We’ll get into examples later but when people used to use terms like Imperialism, Revolution, and the Party, they now use terms like gentrification, insurrection, and organization: softer, less disagreeable terms that reflect our time. The point is that political approaches have evolved from specific times and places, and that to understand that genealogy is necessary to defend ourselves from taking these approaches at face value.
A little about ideas
The reason that anarchists should study and reflect on Maoism, in particular, is because (in the words of MIM, an RCP split that dissolved a few years ago) “Maoism and real anarchism have the same long-run goals.” (Avakian has said similar things in his critiques of anarchism). MIM (and other explicit Maoists) believe that the only fundamental difference between their perspective and that of anarchists is that Maoists have a plan to implement this shared goal, so their revolutionary program is authentic rather than anarchists’ expression of bourgeois ideology. Right ideas + leadership = revolutionary moral authority?
We live in a post-party era, where the traditional left–whether of unions or alphabet groups–has largely disappeared, and the terrain of anarchistic political discourse cannot be dismissed with the typical anarchist wave of the hand and a decry against “authoritarianism.” By and large, everyone (activists, Occupy, organizers) is willing to say they are anti-authoritarian. The rub is to describe exactly what that means.
The most common place where this discussion is happening couldn’t be older, or more historical. It surrounds the concept of the National Question and how one or another perspective has a solution to it. This concept has its origin in Stalin’s working definition of a nation: “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up, manifested in a common culture.” The Maoist revision includes an addendum that “internal colonies” of nations, exist within the belly of countries like the US (or in the rings of French cities). In either case the National Question is a way to frame the issue of how to organize the shock troops of the next social unrest and how to articulate the program of what the fight is about.
In a useful recent exchange about this between two Maoist groups (the Fire Next Time Committee and Signalfire), here is a summary from Signalfire:
To sum up our stance…it is sufficient to say one step forward, two steps back. In attempting to deal with the real problematic of the ‘people of color’ discourse and identity politics, it seeks to establish an analysis of race coupled with an analysis of class. In doing so, rather than producing an adequate critique and substantive class analysis, the author simply gives us generalities which interrogated at a basic level are superficial and useless in satisfying the need for a real class analysis of the United States.
Rather than seeking truth from facts, it telescopes the particularity of experiences into universalities,and simply doesn’t have an analysis of class that actually corresponds with the existing class structure. It has rather engaged in another sort of “identity politics” of a Brown/Yellow guilt type in relationship to Black oppression, centering it as a fulcrum for the articulation of white supremacist ideology and class structure.
Obviously the National Question still looms large for Maoists and this terminology should be familiar to anyone who is active in big city radical politics. Understanding these two paragraphs is sufficient to function well in the Bay Area political scene.
To draw the linkage between Mao-eque approaches and anarchist thinking we should talk a little bit about Imperialism, Colonialism, and Gentrification. Obviously, according to a dictionary definition, these three things occur. Colonialism leads to Imperialism (or is it the other way around) and from within Empire the shifting of the economic landscape takes on a similar character that is described as Gentrification. These are descriptive terms to the economic, political, and social character of where we live and how we got here.
What they are not are vectors. They don’t trace a line from some historical moment (for example, of primitive purity) on through our current horrorshow into a dystopia/utopia. Descriptors are often confused for causes and this is nowhere more clear than from political perspectives that Have Answers, answers that can be argued for, that are believed to be only capable of winning if others are convinced, and finally, ones that create a logical whole, something coherent (as if this world is coherent).
While many anarchists are convinced by this logical procedural thinking, anyone who is opposed to authoritarianism should break with this trajectory when it comes to a history of Imperialism or Colonialism (or even gentrification) that doesn’t see the state as a necessary part of the genealogy. A monopoly on violence is entirely necessary to invade, control, and genocide a people. It is only to the extent to which capitalism has taken on this monopoly (if it has) that it has taken center stage as the villain for communists and anti-authoritarians.
For anarchists these questions are much simpler. As soon as monopolistic impulses are discovered the hackles of most anarchists are raised. This means that party discipline or even toeing an ideological line tends to be impossible in most anarchist circles. If you accept the Leninist/Blanquist (vanguard/small cadre) model of revolution then anarchists make poor cadre (but so does everyone else!).
Where does this leave us in terms of the most American of all questions: what about race? How is it separable and inseparable from the National Question as framed by Communists in general, and Maoists in particular? Simply put, it leaves us nowhere. The history of racism generally, and slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc in particular, is an integrated part of the story of Imperial America. As residents, and as victims, of that place we should feel obligated to understand that story but we have no power to change it. Revolutionary aspirations to the contrary we cannot manage, dictate, or smash our way out of it, but we also don’t have to own it.
Privilege theory places agency on those who have privilege. If one is determined to hold together a pluralist democratic society this kind of thinking is absolutely necessary but what if you don’t? What if you are hostile to the conceptual framework that holds together a society of 300 million people (which you can do even while recognizing that this framework is the structure that society itself is built on)?
Respecting the self-determination of a group of people, from an anarchist perspective, should look a lot less like listening to the leaders or elders of a group you aren’t a part of, than like finding common cause against those that constrain self-determination in the first place. Primarily this is the state but it’s also the economic relationships that subjugate all of us. Respect doesn’t mean friendship or agreeing. It means recognition, boundaries, and qualified solidarity.
One common hostility I have towards many anarchists is the general attitude I find that anarchists tend to be for good things and against bad things. It is a kind of modified kindergarten attitude that makes sure everyone sees each other for the good-intentioned beautiful snowflakes that they are, rather than doing much with all that intention and beauty. At its worst, this attitude makes discussions about personal, emotional issues intolerable, because everybody has to demonstrate to everybody else that they, in fact, are paragons of multi-racial purity. But in fact, everybody, without exception, are bigoted, prejudiced, close-minded idiots. Getting this essential truth out early allows the eventual name-calling of racist, sexist, transphobe, kyriarchiest to be framed appropriately.
We are against bad things, therefore we are also against ourselves.
The Wisdom of Fools
As long as anarchists do not inform ourselves about the myriad of forces that seek to intentionally confuse their project for an anarchist one, we will continue to be fooled by them. More problematically, and over a long enough timeline, this confusion becomes reality. “Anti-authoritarian” becomes a soft way to obscure that you are a Maoist whose “revolutionary program” is what makes you a true anti-antiauthoritarian. “Anti-Imperialist” becomes a way to describe hostility to American foreign policy and not an adherent of the three worlds theory of Maoism. “Decolonization” becomes code for an urban aspiration for an impossible culture instead of a problematic term relating to everything from native resistance to resource extraction, the dismantling of older Empires, or a project of the United Nations.
Perhaps it is too late, at least in the US, at least for my lifetime. We are a culture that has abandoned not just reading but critical thinking on the whole. Watching language morph into its opposite used to be something associated with the totalitarianism of the USSR or Newspeak of Orwell’s fictional universe. Debord’s spectacle updated this dialectical perversion by demonstrating how capitalism has buttressed the monopoly of violence that used to be a prerequisite for this violence to language. Our meme-tastic, utterly superficial engagement with even political questions like how to live, how to do it together, and who am I in relationship to others, seems to show that pointing to Maoists as a political problem is about as useful as talking about aliens and pyramid power. Anarchy as conflict with the existing order, both state and capital and also the its conceptual framework, is an infinite endeavor.
Hesitations aside I know that someone out there will hear me. They will recognize a political pedigree in the rhetoric of some local blowhard and will be tempted to stand alone in a room, point a finger, and shout J’accuse! I would warn you against this line of thinking. If the post-left has anything to teach us it is that being right, and informing others of it, isn’t nearly enough. It may be preferable to maintain the affect of the happy fool, the politically naïve, while tilling the soil for the seeds to feed those who will engage in the challenges of how to engage (as anarchists) with politicians. Decrying their badness polarizes the point too early in the relationship. Timing means recognizing that the first moment one understands a situation isn’t the moment to act. Anarchy means attack and attack means patience.
Links related to text
- MD On What Anarchists Can Say
- Tyranny of Structureless & Anarchist Response
- Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM)
- Van Jones
- More about VJ
- Reflections on STORM
- More Context
- Roger White’s essay
- 10 Theses
- Response to 10 Theses
- National Question
- Recent commentary on NQ
- Unpacking the Knapsack
a small section of the baby and the bathwater, by bob black.
this is a long paper, so we’re only providing 12 pages of it for now.
also – potluck! 7pm! FOOOOODDDDDD
part one is from nihilist communism.
We do not know what anyone means when they describe the proletariat as a social category. If they are implying
that members of the working class as a social body have something between themselves other than their experience of work then we utterly reject this. MD have a penchant for champagne and Tarkovsky movies whereas our neighbours prefer White Lightning and WWF wrestling, our economic position, however, is identical. We refute all identity politics as ideology and we absolutely refuse to view the proletariat as a political/sociological constituency equivalent to ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference. The proletariat has no existence independent of capitalism.
There is no space in the world that is not ultimately dominated by capitalism – the proletariat is always collectively
determined by capitalist pressures. When/if the proletariat abolishes capitalism it will be driven into that position by capitalist imperatives. There is nothing outside the dominion of capital, perhaps occasional fleeting moments, but not culture nor social form, how could there be? To assert, as Autonomists do, that there are other processes by which value is generated independent of capital is to mystify the nature of exploitation. Activists go looking for signs, they create narratives whereby discreet events are connected together in a totalised movement towards revolution, they tend towards an uncritical acceptance of liberationist politics which they see as part of that movement. Such fateful soothesayings lead negation back into contained forms of engagement.
What there is in the world that is not determined by capitalism is the entirely mute but donkey-stubborn ahistorical
resistance of human flesh; it is the body and its desire not to be productive that resists capitalism. Ok, this is a completely negative formulation, but we have seen how pro-consciousness values always end by flipping into their opposite. The body remains unchanged, enslaved but fundamentally unhelpful. Bodyresistance is a drag on maximisation; in its unmediated form it cannot become articulate other than in times of crisis. When production stops then the body speaks and production stops when the body speaks; all other representations of the working class in political form serve only to keep productivity going – one way or another improving messages arrive always from above. The proletariat is a mute and ugly body that has been electricprodded into existence; it has no worth other than its integration into the productive machinery from which capital is generated. It is this integration of the human body (and its tendency towards rest) with the productive form (and its tendency towards maximisation) that gives the proletariat its revolutionary thrill. The body’s impulse is to shrink from the machine and the machine’s impulse is to shrink from the body, no other intimacy was ever so frigid. Only the proletariat has the capacity to engage so up-close with the productive process and feel no love for it. All other social movements and categories end by floundering in the drying mudflats under the burning rays of a merciless sun.
In its resistance to work , the proletariat will not be motivated by political values but by its selfish interest to assert its species being; its bodily desire to be human floods across the barriers of its separation. There is nothing nice or noble or heroic about the working class – it is essential to the productive process which constitutes the structure of our reality and therefore essential to revolution and the abolition of reality based upon production.
Militants and otherness
As mere anecdotal evidence, and briefly touching on the matter of pro-revolutionary consciousness which we understand to be a proposed solution to the problem of engagement and organisation, we should like it to go on the record that we have met with several workplace militants and for the most part they have no political consciousness. Many of these militants are very antipolitical; we would say they were post-political. But how did they become militants if they did not receive political instruction? Their condition is one of absolute refusal of the legitimacy of the manager, an absolute intransigence over specific workplace issues and a kind of terrifying site-specificity – producing in them an absolute refusal to look at the wider picture (like Ahab on the back of the white whale they are consumed with a madness for not escaping). We do not endorse such militants; we see them as being stuck in a loop of restricted gestures which their identity seems to depend upon. What would they do if they had not their struggle? It is a fact of our experience that most workplace militants are quite mad and/or not especially nice people to know; it is important not to get wrapped up in their personal feuds but still we would argue that these mad-eyed prophets are in advance of those who are politically motivated, in advance and waiting in the desert, gone mad with waiting, gnawing at locusts, sitting on poles. Some of them, and of a certain age, cite Pink Floyd, and not Marx, as the biggest influence on their lives. They required only a narrative of otherness, something that was not contained in the usual cause and effects of everyday life to legitimise their dispute. Will the misty master break me, will the key unlock my mind? For such people, the A to B thinking of most pro-revolutionary activists is too basic and not even appropriate to the situation. To them it means nothing to ”speak in a language the workers understand” because nobody has ever spoken such a language.
Political priorities and consciousness
The absurdity of pro-revolutionary consciousness is its content (its beautiful form, a cloud softly crackling as it passes behind the eyes, and behold: enlightenment!). If it were a commodity of high use value then those who possessed
it would have a capacity for establishing political priorities and getting to the heart of the matter – and yet they faff about, getting nowhere. All those who pursue consciousness are completely at odds with one another over its content and the means of its transmission; those who have no power and continue to pursue political consciousness fail to understand that political consciousness is something deployed, by those who have power, as a mask of their power.
If the workers were to have consciousness, then what would its content be in non-revolutionary situations?
What precisely is the most radical position for workers to take on Northern Ireland, to support the UFF, or the Real IRA, or the Peace Process, or not to get involved at all? What is the most radical position for workers to take on the recent riots in the north of England, to support the ethnic identity of the Pakistan nationalists, to understand the riots as working class resistance to fascism and not, say, the entrenchment of the leadership of particular forms of primitive accumulation (drug gangs, the expulsion of Hindus, protection rackets, etc, accumulation of national capitals in Pakistan), to support the integration of both so-called communities in a harmony of different identities, to support the white working class who have no political representation, or not to get involved at all? What is the most radical position the working class could take on asylum seekers and how would this be demonstrated?
What is the most radical position the working class could take on policing, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, CCTV,
and how should that be demonstrated? How would the working class express these politics if it decided on them?
If these questions could be parachuted into the workplace by activists as ideological issues then at best it could wind
everybody up into camps of conservatives and radicals, with the radicals being no more revolutionary than the conservatives, but it is more likely that most people would continue to be uninterested.
It is a simple fact that the working class have no power over these issues and therefore to hold opinions on them would be a form of self-tantalising torture. It is impossible to know what is the most radical opinion to be held, because every opinion may be undermined by further facts. Just as feminism, black power, and gay rights have been de-radicalised by a capitalism that has not only tolerated them but fostered them as niche markets.
As private individuals we have our ethical opinions and values but in our public guise as Monsieur Dupont we have learnt that it is a waste of energy to hold ecological, anti-fascist, or anti-nuclear opinions. We have no power over these things and even if we could mobilise enough support for them we think the apparent radicality of such causes is very suspect and possibly less radical than the current situation of instability of pressures and forces – possibly less radical but we don’t really know, so it is better for us to stick to what we do know until someone comes along with a model of urgent consciousness that really works.
It seems as nice as pie to advocate the transmission of revolutionary ideas to workers in struggle so that they have a wider perspective on the world and are therefore more prepared to engage with society at a higher level, but when you get to the nuts and bolts of it – the actual details of how it should be done – then there are immediate problems.
The most glaring of which is that in this transmission of ideas and goals, the pro-revolutionary party also imports into the very heart of the revolutionary project a reproduction of the capitalist social relation: workers organised by revolutionary experts. We see this missionary work, this hierarchical relation, replicated in everything from the support for rebellion in Chiapas to the handing out of leaflets by activists visiting picket lines. We see it in the vague pronouncements that usually appear at the end of such leaflets; where calls are made to the working class, or it is stated that some kind of leap of intellectual faith and working class solidarity (consciousness) is needed before capitalism can be threatened: “When will you workers wake up?” We see it also in the cosy social and political world that the revolutionary experts and activists have built for themselves, where they can create their own importance through their political activism.
On economic determinism and autonomism
One comrade writes to us, in opposition to our mechanistic concepts, which he characterises as “economic determinism that denies the complexities of social processes etc,” and attempts to supersede by advocating “the development of the class struggle and the autonomous organisation of the class in it, a condition for the consciousness of the possibility [for revolution]”. Harry Cleaver writes in Reading Capital Politically, “With the working class understood as being within capital yet capable of autonomous power to disrupt the accumulation process and thus break out of capital, crisis can no longer be thought of as a blind ‘breakdown’ generated by the mysteriously invisible laws of competition”.
There is a lot of dust blown up in these statements and nothing is very clear, but what is common to them is the use of the term ”autonomous,” which we find very interesting. We would like to expand the discussion of consciousness to include both these ideas on the ”complexity of social processes” and the use of the concept of autonomy.
Many of the arguments we have come up against from communists are stated in Cleaver’s book (which we recommend very highly but with which we disagree in almost every detail beginning with the title and its Phd thesis style), however there is no reference in the otherwise complete index for the concept of autonomy. So, how can the working class be both inside and autonomous of capitalism (if by “autonomous of” we mean not determined by)? Cleaver appears to argue that the proletariat becomes autonomous when it becomes politicised, which we immediately and emphatically disagree with because we think politics is always a manoeuvre away from the [question of the] ownership of production. But then he goes even further and says that reality is not simply imposed by the ruling class but is a matter of response and counter-response within the class struggle. This seems fair enough on one level until we remember that we still live in capitalism, and that all of the reforms won in the political struggles of the working class have helped capitalism run more effectively.
The idea of a world that is not simply imposed from above is quite appealing at first but then we have to address the idea of escape from that dialectic. The model Cleaver argues for is one in which working class struggle wins its victories on the terrain of the ruling class. In other words it is a dialectic in which the antithesis operates as a function of the way things are: every resistance feeds into domination and allows it to penetrate further and more effectively.
Every victory of this apparent autonomy is manifested in the world of capitalist determination. Perhaps Cleaver is,
in effect, making a case for the autonomy of political values and principles that float free of economics. He wants to salvage the political ideals of the 1960s; it is the same kind of argument used by those who advocate “real democracy,” like Castoriadis or Bookchin. The questions begin with: is autonomy an ideological mirage generated by capital in the heads of its rebels; how does this politicised set of practices, called autonomy, escape economic determination? How should the working class be organised when they are already organised by capital?
Capitalism itself has given the revolutionary role to the working class, so what need is there for another tier of middle management politicos? The autonomist mode of struggle seems to argue for acts that will register only in the world the way it is. How is it possible to judge them as advances for the revolutionary tendency when they also become weapons of the ruling class against us (equal opportunities policies, for example, which have facilitated the idea of worker participation in management, touchy-feely personnel strategies, and antiracist and anti-sexist capitalism). How is it possible to escape the conditions set by the unofficial dialogue that this sort of struggle becomes?
Much of the argument from communists against us has come from this autonomist direction. We think it would be helpful if some of these claims were made more explicit. For example one communist has argued to us that white workers must come to respect black workers before there can be a revolution. This is the sort of position Cleaver takes in his book, where he argues white workers’ racism oppresses black workers and impedes the communist movement. We think this mistakes the symptom for the cause. If all the symptoms are put right, that is, if all the nastiness in capitalism is removed, would that in any way affect capitalism itself? It is a question that takes us right back to the origin of this discussion on consciousness. If it is truly believed that before revolution can occur certain political-institutional reforms have to be set in place then there is no purpose in being a pro-revolutionary.
Better to work to get the reforms done first. We should not hold onto illusions about the nature of capitalist power; capitalism is fundamentally not racist, sexist, or prejudiced in any form. Anti-racism is now a specific project of all capitalist political institutions. Autonomists would argue that this is because militant self-organisation has forced this reform onto the capitalists; in fact such militancy has merely opened up possibilities for the breaking free of capitalism from traditional social forms. Prejudice and bigotry impedes the smooth running of production. It, like national borders, must be altered to serve capital more efficiently (the reduction of people to ethnic identities, which has been the project of identity militants, is a new form of racism which works much more effectively within the distributive, state-funded, sphere).
It is not the role of pro-revolutionaries to take up a political position on prejudice. It is not for us to improve life conditions within the capitalist form and obscure with side issues the tyranny of the commodity which goes unchallenged in the competition of identity markets (for funding). However, as individuals of course it is our ethical responsibility to oppose bigotry whenever we encounter it. We must not confuse our personal ethics with Revolutionary Movements.
Another communist has said that, “the socialist revolution has to be a conscious act which could be described as the people involved as having ‘socialist consciousness’”.
We certainly agree that the working class are conscious, that is, awake for 16 out of 24 hours a day.
We agree that the people involved in the revolution are likely not to be asleep. But to be conscious and to have
socialist consciousness is not the same thing. To be conscious means to have your senses fully engaged with your brain and your mind filled with any old nonsense. Socialist consciousness implies the implementation of a shared set of principles. We think there are practical problems with this implementation, because we look at the history of revolution and we see a history of failure. If consciousness were enough then the revolution would have happened a century ago when many millions were socialists.
At the moment, it could be argued, only a tiny minority has this consciousness. If the revolution must be initiated
by the participation of the working class, then the absence of their socialist consciousness is cause for comment.
We, on the contrary (based on our tiny experiences and our readings of the histories of these failed revolutions), think it likely that the revolution will spread like insects caught in the wind. We think that many people involved will not know what they are doing beyond the practical task at hand, which will be an impulse to take power, to take control of their immediate working environment. It is likely that there will be many causes and ideas running through people’s heads at this moment: reformist political, religious fervour, trade unionist, this revolutionary party, that revolutionary tendency, revengist against the boss or society, whatever. As the working class takes power there will be any number of ideas appearing in their heads and these will be echoes of the capitalist form. Many of these ideas will be seriously discussed
and will seem to have the utmost urgency. But as soon as occupation of the factories is fully secured then a new material base will begin to configure and at that point new ideas, the ideas appropriate to collective ownership and collective dictatorship over events, will begin to form.
What matters is the event itself, the seizure of production, and not the idea that motivates it, because the act itself, if
it is on sufficient scale, will collapse capital. From that moment other forces take hold.
The revolutionary subject
We recognise the industrial proletariat as the revolutionary subject not because we are romantically attached to its way of life, we do not think in terms of salt of the earth, or even that, in some dark way, the workers know how society really works. We are not interested in setting our gladiator against the pet subjectivities of other theorists; we have simply reached our conclusions because we can see no other. For us, everything political is contained; politics as a practice is itself a technique for relating the social back to the economic without antagonism.
The questions we have asked have been hard for us: ”How are women, organised as women, going to stop capital?” “How are blacks, organised as blacks, going to stop capital?” “How are women or Blacks organised as workers going to stop capital?” Many theorists have tried to expand the definition of the working class to include political elements within it. Thus the struggle of women by themselves for their position in the workplace is viewed positively because they are struggling consciously, that is, politically, for a defined political end. We, contrarily, see in this politicisation of struggle precisely the route by which it will be utilised to improve productivity, because political consciousness is precisely the factor that tricks workers into forgetting where their real power lies. Women do not harm capitalism by establishing themselves as equals to men in the workplace, blacks do not harm capitalism because they establish themselves as equals to whites. Equal opportunity legislation is a source of great pride in capital’s civilisation of itself. The ongoing victory of women and of blacks in this area is proclaimed by capital as its own victory, its own selfcivilising
progress towards a free, happy, equal society.
Political demands may be satisfied under capitalist terms and used as a ground for further exploitation. This is the
function of politics, and radical politics in particular. The truth of the workers’ struggle against capital is not political, it is the truth of capitalism itself: the capitalist economy depends upon the exploitation of workers to reproduce itself and its conditions. Therefore the workers alone, because of their centrality to the productive process, have the capacity to stop production. Only they can reach past the roaring engines and press the off switch. It may seem that they would never desire to do this, and it is true they may never want to stop capitalism; they may never even conceptualise what capitalism is. But desire and consciousness do not come into it; the workers are forced into struggle by the very conditions in which they work; it is in their interest to go against capital because although capital is dependent on them, it is also hostile to them. That is, it is driven to cut their wages in real terms (either by redundancies, relocations, or increased productivity deals). To survive, workers have to improve or simply maintain their interest within production, so they are forced into conflict with capital, which has the opposite intention. This blind pursuit of interest, if followed to its limit, is enough to bring capital to a crisis.
continuing our study of maoism, definition and consequences and implications of, defense against, etc…
settlers chapter 5 by j. sakai
this is also the first reading group of the month. people sometimes like to bring food at 7pm and share it with other reading group attendees. just sayin’…
there are three readings listed here. sorry for messy presentation.