April 15th 2014 – Six Theses on Anxiety

From We Are All Very Anxious

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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.
Footnotes
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.
Related articles

→ 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)

reading for tonight! (eek)

oops – too fucking late but here it is anyway

http://endnotes.org.uk/en/endnotes-spontaneity-mediation-rupture

April 1st 2014 – Tyranny of Structurelessness

POTLUCK!!! 7pm
Reading Group 8pm

1) Tyranny of Structurelessness – Jo Freeman
2) Tyranny of Tyranny – Cathy Levine
3) A review of ToS – by Jason McQuinn

March 25th – Decompression

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.

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.