March 18th – Political Naïveté or what are we to do about Maoism

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!).

Race

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

  1. MD On What Anarchists Can Say
  2. Tyranny of Structureless & Anarchist Response
  3. Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM)
  4. Van Jones
  5. More about VJ
  6. Reflections on STORM
  7. Context
  8. More Context
  9. Finance
  10. Roger White’s essay
  11. 10 Theses
  12. Response to 10 Theses
  13. National Question
  14. Recent commentary on NQ
  15. Unpacking the Knapsack

For 3/11: MIM Theory #8: Anarchist Ideal vs. Communist Revolution

Reading for next week is from the MIM Theory journal. For context I left in “What is MIM?”, Introduction, some of the ‘ads’ and iconography.

MIM_Theory_8_AnarchistIdealCommunistRevolution

Reading:

  1. Pitfalls of French Anarchism: May 1968
  2. MIM”s Anarchist Wind: Resisting the Wind Within
  3. Fifth Estate Hates MIM
  4. Review: Fifth Estate
  5. Review: Rage Against The Machine
  6. Review: Maximum Rock & Roll
  7. Review: Panther Advanced National Liberation
  8. EXTRA CREDIT: Politics of Denunciation by Kristian Williams

THIS IS WHAT RESPONSIBILITY LOOKS LIKE! The Means & Ends loop is secured!

 

reading for 3/3

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.

 

baby.bathwater reading 1

 

also – potluck! 7pm! FOOOOODDDDDD

 

presentation 2/25

lawrence will come and speak to us about maoism in the bay area and in general.

woo hoo!

Reading for Feb. 18

This week we will be reading excerpts from two of Nietzsche’s books (The Antichrist and On the Genealogy of Morality). What strange tales does he have to tell of identity politics? That is the epochal question we put to ourselves! Come to overcome yourself and become who you truly are.
 

reading for 2/11

part one is from nihilist communism.

 

Identity politics
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.

reading for 2/4

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’…

readings on maoism for 1.28

there are three readings listed here. sorry for messy presentation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maoist_Internationalist_Movement

and Weatherman, the Militant Diagram, and the Problem of Political Passion

January 21 – The Parthian Shot by Voyer

The Parthian Shot1

Jean-Pierre Voyer

But the essential of religion lies elsewhere. Religion belongs primarily to the realm of action. Beliefs are not fundamentally knowledge to enrich our minds; their principal function is to give rise to acts.”

Emile Durkheim, The Religious Problem and the Duality of Human Nature (1913)

mDJA8j4

Commerce is the only worldwide revolutionary movement—and proves it daily. President Bush summons the free world. He agrees completely with my view: truly a world is under attack and not just the U.S.A., and in so doing he acknowledges the existence of another world. Cover up that world, which I can’t endure to look on2—and if you can’t cover it up, then destroy it. Let’s invade Iraq.  Why mess around with all the riff-raff, given our megatons and especially our tactical nuclear weapons, so-far unused… How tempting. The world has become a film by Stanley Kubrick, and Iraq one by Tarantino.

There is democracy in Spain, isn’t there? So why aren’t the Spanish people issuing death sentences against the strategists who got them into this mess? Were those strategists expecting to go on defying the Arab nation with impunity, a nation humiliated for the past four centuries? Now, after so many centuries, we are witnessing the first victories of this old conquering nation. Further, since the official truth holds that Spain is a democracy, then, accordingly, aren’t the people sovereign, the Sovereign, proper noun? The Arabs aren’t fooled: unlike ordinary anarchists or Basque separatists, they don’t assassinate mere figureheads or puppet ministers (which would only delight everyone—obviously not the aim of these Arabs. They aim to displease and they accept responsibility for their wickedness. So praise them in this world of good-thinking people, where even the bad dare present themselves as good and respectable.) No, they attack the real sovereign, or the one so proclaimed by all the newspapers, radios and televisions of the Western world. The critique these Arabs apply is ad hominem (and also, alas, ad personam), for they take literally the openly stated claims of the free world. Among the sovereign people are some who are innocent (in the sense of simpleminded) and who wonder why Arabs are attacking the civilians of a country where peace reigns. But that country is making war on Iraq. How stupid to find those attacks surprising, given the loyalty of the Arabs who, like Hitler, clearly announce way in advance what they are going to do, and when the moment comes, they do it. They take no one by surprise (not even President Bush, so they say), from a strategic viewpoint that is. But they reserve the right of tactical surprise. That is all that they have, and what the U.S. does not.

Today, the Arab-Muslim nation is the world nation. Petit Robert Dictionary: “Nation: A human group, generally quite large (indeed!), characterized by the consciousness of its unity and a willingness to live together.” Precisely. According to V.S. Naipaul, non-Arab converts to Islam strive to be more Arab than the Arabs. They soon will be more Arab than Muslim.

What is the assassination of one archduke good for if not to trigger a world war among world powers? As for the archduke, there are plenty more fish in the sea. But to trigger a worldwide civil war, it’s preferable to assassinate civilians en masse. The State of the United States is intent on being the defender of the civilians of the free world, which means that free-world civilians are no longer able to defend themselves on their own, that they are not free, while Arab civilians can attack them with or without the complicity of pro-Muslim states or even the C.I.A. Arab civilians still have what free-world civilians have lost. The latter are now nothing more than human resources—a well-suited, cynical, but not very Kantian expression—Stalin still had the politeness to say “the most precious capital.” Consequently they are dealt with “en masse” and, obviously, not solely by their assassins. Mass man is treated everywhere and always as mass man. So there he is, held hostage to suffer for the sinister pranks of the strategists. When strategists goof, human resources go “poof”. Popu is forever being shit upon.3 Every day the television heaps insults upon him—why not? Poor Anders, who died in despair, observed as early as 1956 that this world conforms to the images it produces (matrix theory not in the mathematical sense but as in die casting).4 This very world induces the desire to bomb it. Arabs, even strict Muslims, go to see disaster films too. I regret that Anders did not live to see this splendor, to see his theory confirmed on a global scale. Further, since President Bush is a Texan, it’s more effective to wastehis free (as in free-range) cattle than to attack his person. A rancher’s cattle is sacred! But most of all it makes him look bad before the world cartel of cattle ranchers. What kind of a cowboy lets his cattle get wasted by outlaws? Arabs attacking human resources: an abominable crime. But the Arabs are not the only ones attacking them and, above all, it is not they who created them. They are innocent of that crime, which is much worse than their own. The point is that they do not want to become human resources themselves. How can they say that to be finally understood? As the Situationists used to say, in a world where submission is universal and glorified, freedom is necessarily criminal. What do those Arabs want to do? The greatest harm to the greatest number. But that’s exactly what the free world does to those who live in it, and the opposite of the official truth proclaimed by the English ideologues of the 18th century: the greatest good for the greatest number. The greatest harm for a human being is to be reduced to the state of a human resource.

Only a renewed “spirit of conquest”—the spirit that has always moved Islam (with a long dormancy period suited to its growing embitterment)—is today capable of standing up to the only worldwide revolutionary movement: commerce. Islam is therefore the only worldwide counter-revolutionary movement. It’s the re-reconquista. Consequently, Islam’s spirit of re-conquest is the only spirit of resistance today—this is sad to say, but true. The Arab-Muslims are neither “Negroes” nor Serbs5; they have the means to defend themselves, or at least to take cruel revenge. They are not innocent. They can do almost as much harm as their adversaries. In short, the “good people”6 reproach the Arabs for being able to defend themselves. What impertinence, don’t you agree? The Arabs are the redskins of the world. Will they end up the same way? Will mediocrity triumph over genius again? Victor Hugo was pessimistic because Waterloo was not the definitive victory of mediocrity over genius. Napoleon is no more, but Bin Laden is. Once again mediocrity has to worry about its future. Bush is bent on being done with the Muslims; he wants to inculcate those obscurants with a little commercial civilization—call it commerce at gunpoint or the rip-off of Arabia. There’s one hitch though: Arab or non-Arab, there are 1.5 billion of them. Will the hold-up of the century fail? “God exhausts the schemes of the deniers7; they lavish their resources to cut off the path to God (70 billion dollars already!). Let them lavish, for afterwards they will feel only bitterness, and worse, will be defeated.”

Naipaul reproaches the Muslims for having only faith and no technology. But at least they have faith, and they know marvelously well how to hijack for their own ends the technology that they could not invent. (They still have some problems with SIMM chips; they won’t make that mistake again.) One thing escapes Naipaul: Muslims constitute an international nation; they can strike whenever and wherever they want, which is something the Serbs cannot do no matter how strong their fervor. Under those conditions faith proves to be a formidable weapon. The Muslims are hopeless at taking out patents but exceedingly strong at wreaking vengeance on a world scale. A century ago Arab ferociousness was a literary cliché in the works of Balzac (Lost Illusions) or Flaubert (Madame Bovary). If the herds of human resources were not scandalously innocent, i.e., strictly incapable of doing harm, innocent due not to virtue but to inability, — La Rochefoucauld addressed that issue: “One cannot call someone good who lacks the ability to do harm.” — if they were not eternal minors, incompetent in the sense of Roman law; indeed if they were not like cattle (yet even cattle are capable of vengeance via the pranks of the prion),8 then that spirit of re-conquest would not be necessary; it would not even be possible.

The Arabs have truly struck the guilty ones—guilty of servitude. If the Arabs do not say, in their brutal style, how contemptible the conditions of life are for the herds of human resources, who will? In this self-celebratory world, a world where praise is an industry, who will say it? What are the Muslims’ five daily prayers in comparison to the permanent auto-celebration—day in and day out, over the air and in the press—of this perfect world, so democratic, so free, so beautiful? Muslims submit to their god out of love or respect. In the free world, human resources are bribed into submission. In the free world, it is not the faithful who pray to their god but God himself who hustles them for cash. An entire caste is assigned to that task. In the free world, God is an industry. Die, bastards. If the Arabs hold the free world in contempt, it’s because it’s contemptible. At last some men have the means to say so, loud and clear, at the risk of their lives.

The problem is not with the Arabs, it is with the free world. The problem with this world is precisely that, being peopled by prisoners, it alone is free. Engels observed the same thing about England in 1840. The ineptitude, cynicism, vulgarity, money-grubbing, pettiness and brutality of this world is a permanent insult to humankind before being an insult to Allah. That is why the Arabs gave this world a lesson in generosity (“altruistic suicide” according to Emile Durkheim), as well as a lesson about the world. Today any American hayseed knows where Mecca and Madrid are, which was not the case a little while ago. The United States: a big island. A New York friend of mine describes his country in two words: myth and lies, which means that, for Americans, history no longer exists nor will it ever again exist. America forever. Myth and lies: those two words also fit well with the free world. The crime is enormous because the free world is an enormous, permanent insult to the human race, with its big, fat socialists dining in the finest Parisian restaurants and its stern, impeccably dressed WASPs attending countless board meetings. This world will not rest until it turns every man into a boor (kâfir in Arabic, translated by Berque as a “denier”): For God, the vilest of animals are the deniers, because they do not believe. “You who believe, if you encounter the deniers in battle formation, do not turn your backs to them.” And … it will grow (the world or the punishment, we don’t know yet), it will grow and grow … because it’s Spanish.9

So it is precisely because of the strength and perfection of U.S. weapons that only civilians can do what those Arab civilians are doing. A state that would do likewise would be immediately annihilated, something Kadhafi clearly understands. A world has begun to resist and, what is remarkable, has done so for purely human, i.e., spiritual, reasons. Spirit is with them. I suppose that the “Muslims of France” and elsewhere will agree to begin “a radical critique of their view of the world” when the herds of human resources begin their own radical critique of their view of the world, which in their case is not their view at all but their masters’, one they get from Le Monde and the New York Times. All that human resources know how to do is obey, complain, moan, vote (for Charybdis or Scylla),10 moralize, and rant and rave against Le Pen—that convenient scarecrow. As during the time of the Turkish occupation and the Haidouks,11 when the master is at his balcony and lets his chechia 12 fall into the courtyard, startling the human resources, the rollerbladers fall on their faces and the married queers go limp. Long live the Haidouks, those terrible bandits! Gentlemen Human Resources, you, who feel complete solidarity with one another because you are totally separate from one another (cf. Marx and Durkheim), shoot first! Criticize yourselves first! Visibly, the Muslims—and not just the Arabs—shit on “your” democracy, which is only your masters’ democracy, the buddy democracy, the democracy of rogues and rollerbladers, a democracy of lofty moral standards and a single motto: “If I catch you, I’ll screw you” (stricto sensu in Iraq). I, too, shit upon it. That, by the way, is the only thing I share with the Arabs, other than faith, obviously. Simply put, our religions differ but our faith is the same. There are many religions but only one faith, because there is only one object of faith, whatever name you give it. That object has many names and, in fact, the only thing we know about it is its names. They all have the same meaning. They are synonyms. On the other hand, as the insightful Tocqueville pointed out, how can you ask a religion that interferes in politics to be open and tolerant? One might as well have asked the Christian State of the King of Prussia in the time of Marx—a state that meddled in religion, in religious politics, and gave a religious character to political matters—to be open and tolerant. We know what followed: Bismarck, a fist of iron in an iron glove, German unity, coal, steel, war (then, the encore, a new fist of iron in a new iron glove, mixed with madness and Keynesian ministers). The spirit of conquest, right? It’s fortunate that a world based on mass prostitution should fare so poorly. There would be no morality if it were to fare well.

Because people often leave school these days unable to read (they were taught to “sight read”), to preclude any misunderstanding I want to make clear that when I attack married gays it’s not the gays I’m attacking but bourgeois marriage, the most ridiculous institution there is, paired in this case with aggressive militancy and presented as the pearl of the Occident. Gay marriage: what a huge step forward for freedom and humanity. In demanding the right to bourgeois marriage gays repudiate themselves (supposedly “proud” but evidently ashamed of not being like everyone else, they make their shame official. That’s really the last straw: militant conformism, have your cake and eat it too. “Mommy, help!”13), and they offend the memory of Alan Turing, who was atrociously martyred by English bourgeois prejudice. Let it be known too that I am for the legalization of marijuana and of bestiality, but also for the formal prohibition, upon penalty of death, of roller-skating by anyone older than twelve. Why such a draconian punishment? Because public safety is at stake. Everyone knows how prickly the Arabs are, so we must avoid doing anything that may irritate them. They might bomb Paris Plage14 (I don’t mean Le Touquet, that charming village that, in addition to charm, possesses an airport where one can land a plane normally if one has learned how to land). Furthermore, it would be counterproductive to lead them to believe that they’re dealing with children, though it’s too late now, they already know. Bush Junior never grew up. He wants to play with and break his tactical nuclear toys no matter what. Why didn’t his daddy finish the job ten years ago and deliver the Iraqis from their terrible, jocular dictator? Because he feared an alliance between the Shiites of Iraq and the Shiites of Iran. Frustrated by all that, the C.I.A. (always up to no good) laid a trap for the poor Iraqi Shiites, as we all know. I hope the Shiites will make their so-called liberators pay dearly for that. Ten years ago the Sunnis were rich, moderate, respectable, bourgeois, westernized. But nobody was paying attention to the Wahabites (who are behind the Saudi fortune) and particularly to the Salafists. In those ten years the Sunnis thoroughly earned their bad reputation, equaling that of their Shiite enemy brothers. Praise them. Bad reputations are the consequence of having displeased the C.I.A. and the president of the United States. The American leaders are trying to use in Iraq the same methods (myth and lies) that they’ve used so successfully with their own human resources “at home.” Iraq has no human resources, but it still has men. The United States is a desert—not Iraq, at least not yet.

I swear by the time, most surely man is in loss, except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.”

1 La Flèche du Parthe, first posted on Le Site de Jean-Pierre Voyer http://perso.wanadoo.fr/leuven/ under “Le Knock-blot de Mr Ripley” in March of 2004.

2 Molière’s Le Tartuffe: “Cover up that bosom, which I can’t endure to look on. Things like that offend our souls, and fill our minds with sinful thoughts.”

 

3 Popu: Céline’s neologism in his pamphlet Mea Culpa, written on his return from Russia, to refer to “the people” (in French: population, populace, populo).

4 Günther Anders (1902-1992), philosopher and essayist, author of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (“The Obsolescence of Mankind”). Cf. Le Site de Jean-Pierre Voyer : « Debord est un homme que je corrige toujours » ; also the Web page of Harold Marcuse http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/anders.htm.

5 Meaning that the Arab-Muslims are not in a state of submission, contrary to the other two groups. (The original French term, nègres, is translated here as “Negroes”, the term also used by Malcolm X and other black rebels to refer to blacks, and people of color in general, in a state of submission.)

6 Bush’s “good people of America” with a play on words: gens bons (good people) and jambon (ham).

7 Those who deny, who do not believe (“les dénégateurs”)

8 The infectious agent in mad cow disease

9La Périchole by Jacques Offenbach: « Il grandira car il est Espagnol. »

10 Sailors navigating the narrow Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy fell victim to either of two sea monsters: Charybdis on one side or Scylla on the other.

11 Courageous resistance fighters in the Bulgarian people’s struggle for freedom from their Ottoman oppressors, 15th-18th centuries.

12 A distant cousin of the European beret, from Andalusian times.

13 « Allô maman, bobo », song by Alain Souchon about a sad young man with very low self-esteem.

14 Paris Plage: Name of both the well-known beach in Normandy near the town of Le Touquet and, only recently, of the banks of the Seine in Paris during the summer months when they are off-limits to automobiles.

January 14th – The end of Demotivational Training

We are finishing Demotivational Training (chapter 6). We will also have a guest speaker.