Filed under: war-machine | Tags: against work, anti-work, general strike, history, may day, the future
From Anarchist News:
Teresa Panza is a small Brooklyn-based collective, taking its first awkward steps, before leaping from contemplative reflection into a protracted theoretical struggle with the State. Our definition of the State – not to mention our aesthetic – was shamelessly appropriated from a recently disbanded group; who nevertheless distinguished themselves as an unsurpassed vanguard during their all too brief existence. Taking their lead, we understand the State as a structural and strategic relation, with varying effects, each aimed at inhibiting and impeding the development of revolutionary re-composition and organization by conforming the latter’s independence and autonomy back into the uniform state of things. While this interpretation makes sovereignty, law, and repression obvious targets for our analytic weapons, the waking nightmare of social harmony prompts us to direct our ruthless critique more towards consensus, identity politics, embodied liberalism, and all other gentle forms of governance that promote a reconcilable synthesis. For us, White Terror is not a shocking and momentary deployment of reactionary violence that begins a period of restoration, but is instead the relentless stability, tranquility and unending calm of the present epoch-less time. Hell is not so much a brutal inferno, but rather it is the guarantee that nothing will ever happen, except endless ridicule and unavailing toil. The Kronstadt myth is, today, the myth of Sisyphus.
From the French Revolution to Hikmet’s prison poetry to Zapatismo’s Durito, Don Quixote has always been heralded as a heroic symbol of defiance in the face of an unforgiving reality. Yet, in the Hidalgo, we see nothing but defeatism; foreshadowing generations of rebels, who will, again and again, blindly run up against the same granite walls. We instead take our inspiration from Sancho Panza’s shrewd wife, Teresa. Never once lapsing into her husband’s malapropism, her proverbs display the sturdy, peasant wisdom necessary in order to make real decisions in an increasingly mystified and groundless age. In what has been considered the first modern novel, Teresa Panza is indeed the only character both able to avoid the knight and his squire’s delusions, while also, grasping the exceptional, just at the precise moment, when it propitiously appears. Today, we identify the same lucid peasant wisdom whenever the facade of serenity, the reign of placid subordination, the prevailing silence and neutrality is exposed for what it truly is: a primitive and permanent war. It is the recognition that an uninterrupted battle shapes peace, and that civil order – its basis, its essence, its essential mechanisms – is, at once, a bellicose order. As our motto, we revive the age-old proverb, which before Clausewitz famously inverted it, was once well known and widely understood:
“Politics [for us] is the continuation of war by other means.”
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: black bloc, capitalism, civil war, crime, identity, insurrection, non-identity, opacity, science, tactics, the streets, violence
Inquiry figure 1: The Black Bloc
Thesis: The black bloc is limited by obsolete aesthetic forms and reduced strategic imagination.
Hypothesis 1: The black bloc will spread antagonism more effectively if it can overcome these limits
Hypothesis 2: The black bloc should:
- Abandon identity
- Abandon predicates
- Develop collective intelligence
- Develop tactics
The black bloc is a method to prepare and hasten the clash. It is an anonymous way of being together, outmaneuvering police, and making attacks that radically alter the way we think about ourselves, power and our environments. Contrary to the critiques by those who fail to understand our contemporary situation, the black bloc is a long-term project engaged in a monastic work to develop undocile contagious practices.
The black bloc is a tension between insurgent identity and event. On the one hand, because the black bloc is a dynamic set of practices, it produces an unstable subject position: the black blocer. On the other hand, because the black bloc is also an event, rather than a fixed identity, it radically interrupts our functional roles as workers, citizens, students, etc. In this way the black bloc is always negotiating a tension between naming—and thus stabilizing—its subject position and becoming indistinguishable from the riot as a few antagonistic yet predictable gestures. While the latter claims an ethics of openness, it also limits how the black bloc can continue to stay unstable and tactically unpredictable.
At the heart of our self-analysis and critique is the question of the black bloc’s meaning. What does is it connote, describe, and do? For us the black bloc means: strategic antagonism.
The black bloc has the potential to connote “we who rebel intelligently.” However, it more often connotes “anarchism” because it is employed instrumentally to essentially advertise for that particular political identity. In most cases the narrative might go like this: there is a struggle, it has a dominant reformist discourse, anarchists feel marginalized and call for a black bloc in order to bring more radical ideas to the surface. In this way, the anarchists vote as bloc—the same way as other political groups—in order to be better represented in the struggle. However, the tactics deployed and the images produced create a heroic specter, whose glorious figure of revolutionary purity doesn’t correspond to the need for anonymity as a practical necessity of contemporary revolt. The use of the black bloc as such locates the figure of the anarchist, the criminal, and the militant all in one place. The black bloc’s objectives: contagiously reversing the operation of power on our bodies, taking back force, and elaborating practices of offensive opacity–are accomplished by diffusing these practices throughout the space and time of a struggle, not by consolidating them in single revolutionary subject. In this way, the very aesthetic that our anonymity rests upon currently works against us. The employment of all black everything separates us and functions to produce us as anarchist subjects with predictable motions and roles we fulfill. Even if a black bloc is composed solely of self-described anarchists, it must resist the ideological temptation to claim it as a terrain exclusive to anarchists. The black bloc should spread anarchy as a practice—not an idea or identity.
The challenge of resonance and contagion is exacerbated by the black bloc’s ahistorical ethical and aesthetic positions. The anarchist figure appears as a body detached from history, clinging instead to antiquated forms. Whereas each struggle to which we are bearing witness appears to itself as something new, the anarchist black bloc remains trapped by the image of Seattle ’99. This is not a problem of the techniques we use to destroy property—we’ve seen a lot of beneficial advancements in that—nor is this a problem in the techniques employed to confront the police. Here we have seen useful developments as well. The use of barricades, rocks and bottles, burning cars; the use of laser pointers to disorient the police; the use of Information Technologies to gather and disperse with greater speed and agility all amplify our tactical senses. The challenge we must overcome is the same challenge at the core of every struggle. How do we lose our predicates? How do we dissolve ourselves into a common?
Imagine the event of an insurrection as either a complex experimental symphony or a drawn out improvisational drama, with a touch of comedic elements and heroism. In either situation, all the participants will first begin with almost no plan or shared sense outside of their environment or their knowledge of their instruments—most times no one will have any intent on playing together. Something happens, someone begins to play, and when the rhythm touches others they join in. Or in the latter case someone speaks, asks a question, and others respond and build on the narrative. In each case the primary operation must be endowed with a force of seduction. This is not to say erotic or pleasurable even, but decisive in how it approaches its environment. The operation must pose a question that is irresistible to answer. An experimental composer once said “the hidden secret that makes this thing function is that the audience wants to be a part of the [...] plot” This originary operation, the gesture that repeats itself even as it grows in complexity, must solicit the response “Yes, and.” This is how we can measure the success of the black bloc. In the experimental symphony, this is how each musician adds their own layers of emotion and aesthetics to the structure, even by altering the initial rhythm. In the improvisation drama, this is how the narrative grows essentially from nothing, then departs and returns to different plot elements. “Yes, and” must be the answer to rhythmic question “We need this, do you?” How this question is posed defines the particular meaning of the black bloc.
As the crisis deepens, revolt spreads. 1+1. simple math. However, instability is a familiar sensation for an economy based on the assumption of scarcity and constant expansion. Capital is well calibrated to crisis, and the arguments that “it will get better, when it gets worse” don’t fare well historically. As the economy is thrown into crisis, control and repression also deepen. In order to integrate antagonisms into a manageable framework, the fields of social sciences, anthropology, and psychology are enlisted to research the finest details of life. Meanwhile others specializing in police science dutifully work to calculate and predict the movements of antagonism in general. Once these antagonisms can be reduced to qualities and data, governments can begin to regulate, distribute and circulate these antagonisms in a way that produces value or guards against any further disruptions. One thinks of both the subtle integration and circulation of identities, the brute force of imprisonment, elimination through police bullets, and reduction through war. This governmental technique, sometimes called “risk reduction”, in practice functions as preemptive counter-insurgency. Here we see that counter-terrorism—as a set of policing measures and juridical transformations—was a maneuver that foreshadowed this epoch of crisis, developing its science over the course of several decades to be perfected just in time to stop the next revolutionary surge. We can’t count on the simple math.
As the environment of struggle shifts, so should our strategy. The contemporary sites of struggle are no longer demarcated spaces of confrontation—summits of the elite where our discourse congeals around a critique of financial capital and around a moral rejection of state violence. Revolt is now found in a delimited environment, more closely aligned with nightmarish war theory, where everything and everywhere is a potential terrain of conflict. There is an increasing need to develop common techniques that are easily appropriated. No one would have predicted that by 2010 a specter of university occupations would hang over the US, much less that a movement of occupations would erupt across the globe by 2011. But given the circumstances we believe this will spread, mutate and deepen. For our own safety locally and to contribute to the historical struggles emerging at a global level, black blocs must be able to pose the question: “We need anonymity, do you?” And as the lulzy hacker group Anonymous proves, the response “Yes, and” may not take the form we expect.
At the moment when struggles were cohering as a convergence of the antagonistic remnants of culture—the cycle of struggles that included environmentalism, third-wave feminism, anti-death penalty, anti-war, and anti-globalization—all black everything attacking the symbols of financial capital was clearly contemporary. The black represented a conscious sense of the way these ethical practices were excluded from capital, and financial capital was the example of shameless entrepreneurship par excellence. However, today our anti-social media darlings no longer conjure a meaning exterior to capital—mostly because these forms (culture) could be, and were, integrated into the general circulation of commodities. The black bloc and corresponding meaning that was linked to a set of subcultural identities is empty. There may remain a caricature in some newspaper making reference to one of our more loud participants–the anarchist punk–but as we all know, there is no longer a world for such a creature. Some may feel a sense of depressing nostalgia for how capitalism has drained our subcultures of what was living, but the emptiness of the black bloc—its abyss of potential chaos—is precisely what makes it more relevant than ever. The black bloc drained of identity has the potential to become open in ways impossible when it was only the practice of a limited set of subcultures. Strategic antagonism in a world increasingly composed solely of hostility now has the potential to shed its veneer and experiment.
* * *
What follows is a set of experiments to be immediately put into practice. The results should be examined, and analyses should be shared through our internal circuits of communication.
This text, although in public forums, is an example of how our communication works. We can say there is something, but there is no need to speak of its content. Thus, a cypher is put into public spheres. The cypher codes that a black bloc is called. The call speaks to those who hear it. It happens. If it happens well, if would appear that there was never a black bloc at all, only the event. However, the real of the event is not pure spontaneity, but the ease with which antagonistic techniques are able to spread and mutate.
* * *
Experiment 1. Street clothes is the new black. Plain colors on the first layer, prints, stripes or plaids for the second layer. Jeans for bottoms.
In some occasions, when the entire struggle is already located as criminal or revolutionary, all black makes sense—that is, it generates a certain meaning, a certain attention to our surroundings. “Black” for us should connote speed and intensity of attack, not ideology. Anonymity can be gained collectively through means other than the color of our clothing. Hats and scarves alone work quite well to make a surveillance camera less effective. An outer layer can be disposed. Shoes can be changed. A large crowd on its own also helps. If a few people in black are throwing rocks, they are easily isolated; if what appears to be “anyone” is throwing rocks, they are concealed by the contagion of the practice. A slow riot, drawn out street fights, the spread of undocile practices. These can be achieved when it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the law abiding citizen from the annotated figures of protest and revolt.
Experiment 2. Slogans and signs are a thin barrier between us and the police—use them accordingly.
Banners, yes; black flags, sometimes.
Black bloc has meant a different way of engaging in struggle. It has meant the advancement of tactical anti-police and property damage sciences. When shedding our facade, we need not lose the tactical intelligence of banners and flags. Banners call attention. Contemporary struggles do not cohere over “ideas,” and we first came to this realization through the black bloc. Like the myth of “free speech” under the reign of democracy, banners provide a thin barrier between us and police. Use them accordingly.
Here the movement of occupations has been very clever and instructive. The first wave of student occupations against austerity measures saw the use of shields painted as books—a tactic appropriated across an ocean and a few continents. In New York instead of the demand “Never work!” or slogans that cohere over ideas such as “against capitalism” banners, we see the intelligent use of an ambiguous narrative “I will never get a job in this economy.” While our creativity remains captive until we are emancipated from the regime of value, our use of slogans and text should be charged with the same meaning as our defensive technologies.
Flags on the other hand have a history which links them to identity, to nations, to a People. Being that there is no longer any People outside the global citizen-producing project of Empire, even those flags waved by the citizens of anarchism and communism are but an empty threat. Just as the Red and the Black flew next to the Serbian flag during the strike to oust Milošević, just as the Black Flag flew next to the Mexican Flag during the Immigrant general strike of ’06, these symbols no longer carry meaning.
Flags also have a different history, a technical history in both combat, and festival. Flags can be used to signal just about anything—a charge, a way of moving together, a certain time in which its good to disperse; they need not be black. And of course, flags are sticks with piece a of cloth attached. Here we would do best to not care if the image is a masked youth waving a black flag in front of a cloud of teargas or a surly old man swinging the stars and stripes at some cops, bellowing about taxation.
Experiment 3. Spread the disease.
Conspiracy means strategize together. The sense of a different way of being together, of getting organized, is one of the paramount achievements of the black bloc. We need to find ways to spread this sense across new fields of struggle. With confidence in our experience, we need to humbly experiment with applying our tactical knowledge to different conflicts, with people otherthan just seasoned riot-tourists.
The first wave of occupations in the US, from the Newschool in NYC to the University of California, saw quite a bit of this experimentation. A line of power grew from a house discussion, a classroom, a bar, a rooftop, and multiplied.
In the western territories, one saw the insulation of cliques formed through these struggles grow with experiment, not without the accompanying pangs and mistakes. The intensity leading up to the March 4th UC-wide student strike proved to be a misplaced nostalgia for summit demonstrations of yore. However, events which followed the fizzled climax generated a certain intelligence about how to engage with Marx’s maxim “Men make history but not in conditions of their choosing.”
The summer of ’11 saw an interventionary strategy, composed of “anti-cut” events revolving around a discourse of anti-austerity by a group called Bay of Rage. While the actions—mostly smaller street parties-cum-confrontations with the police—never generated the results that the initial Bay of Rage participants wanted, they did consolidate a shared sense between them, and recreate their environment as a laboratory of subversion. Moreover, the shared space to practice developed a certain endurance, sense memory, and refining of muscular and mental energy, that, when something happened, was tuned to the rhythm of struggle. Here the normal situation of someone murdered by police quickly took on new meaning as Bay of Rage went from a few hyped actions of die-hards to becoming host to riotous demonstrations of a few hundred. The shift against the Bart police also added to this chorus. The anti-policing sense gave birth to new rhythms and these resonated with others beyond those closest to the Bay of Rage. Anonymous, street youth, and an array of many other worlds joined this choir. The situation continued to build on itself, as more people responded with “yes, and.” We might see the impressive developments with Occupy Oakland in this light.
A small song booklet theorized how this taste for strategic thought might spread outside of our milieu. “When a couple of angry bus drivers, or grocery store workers encounter some of us in this or that place, and we say: ‘there are fifty of us, we have these means, and we want to fight.’ The rest is silence.”
Through practice we develop the means, consistent numerical capacity, and qualitative knowledge and techniques. When our practice effectively re-inscribes the meaning of an environment’s signs, architecture and geography, our presence is undeniable. In such a situation, the ease with which practices can cross-germinate and mutate also establishes the necessary condition of communication—translation, and audibility.
Nearing the end of March 2012 a wild fare strike subtly assaults the subway fare apparatus in New York. A proper action, smoothing the line between our well known clandestine figures and that of an everyman mass worker. The attack targets some 20 stations during the morning’s busiest hours and is claimed by the Rank and File Initiative, a collection of #occupiers and Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union. Of course the union’s leadership denies involvement in any such thing. In the an anonymous interview posted on the Village Voice website, the Rank and File Initiative says there were around 3-4 people in each station all disguising their identities, and that union members were paramount to the logistical elements. While the action doesn’t immediately give birth to mourning shop owners, it does function to create rupture in the normal flow of metropolis precisely because those who didn’t pay were all complicit. Here we see the practical mutation and intelligent application of complicity, resonance, and opacity.
The anonymity we need isn’t limited to the streets. Zones of opacity must be established. We need intimate meetings where we can discuss, make plans, and sort out the real material solidarities and resources to achieve our objectives, without the threat of the police. We need to elaborate a system of deciding what levels of trust are required, and how to practically implement this. Perhaps we need a different culture than that of security. Perhaps we need a multiplicity of possible forms of trust. We may not need to know each other for a million years to engage in a collective criminal attack against capital—such as the Port of Oakland blockade—but we need to spread a fluency in this illicit dialect.
The practice of conspiracy, of strategic thought, of breathing together, must be a commons of skills and new forms that we all draw from. Here it is important to reflect on the NYC fare strike interview that followed the release of the communique because it highlights how they did it. Instead of just privileging propaganda to explain our actions through the matrix of social critique, we should explain how to participate—as if it were a game with simple rules. This, above all else, must be developed in the coming years.
Experiment 4. Determine our own terrain of struggle; become unpredictable.
Our enemies deeply examine the geography, duration, and intensity of struggles, and develop their techniques of policing from this. Recognizing that we cannot count on pure numerical superiority and spontaneity means we must elaborate a practice of unpredictable movements and gestures. A central contribution of the black bloc to the summit riots was its refusal to have its movements bared by conventional limits—police, fences, architecture, and protest marshals. A certain fluidity gave it decisive agency. We need to reorient ourselves to this intelligence. Our environments can change based on how we act within them. We don’t have to stay together as a unit, linking arms and marching as a bloc. This is true for a demonstration and the entire space and time of a struggle. We can move through a smooth field. The same techniques employed for communicating where to gather to march and where to regather can be used within the entire terrain of a social struggle and a gathering point doesn’t have to lead in a linear path to an objective. A flashmob could converge within a march at a precise moment, and a precise location (for example: behind the Teachers against Budget Cuts banner) and then disperse and reemerge once we reach this building, this line of cops, or some other sign which we endow with meaning through our self-organization. This could be extended based on our capacity and levels of organization. Using a higher level of technology to achieve a circuit of communication is not the only way to accomplish this, but today’s struggles from the Banlieue riots to the Flashmobs across the US to the Arab Spring prove that contemporary revolt has a penchant for collective intelligence. Spreading and refining these techniques may not be as troublesome as some might think. There may be ways that don’t require everyone involved having a trashphone, or smartphone with a secure text app; its up to us to experiment.
Experiment 5: Or if we really want to experiment with being unpredictable:
Imagine a game spread through the same message and image boards that generate the phantom, Anonymous, except it elaborates the “doing it for the lulz” project in real time. Simple rules: you have to be invited to play, and if invited, you have to play.
Through the spread of #occupy, one can’t help but notice those “live feeds.” With UStream, one can watch and hear the events unfold, and even communicate through IRC in real time with others watching and the person who’s broadcasting the live stream. Imagine some players on the ground, in a demonstration or something else, as avatars, while their friends literally direct their movement. The on=ground player might always decide to do different than what she is told, but it might also be more fun to be whatever, and lose one’s self. Such a game would generate complicities capable of producing a far more terrible practice of offensive opacity by bringing the logic of spectacle to its hyperreal threshold. While certain questions of how to establish the necessary trusting environment, or completely anonymous environment, for such a game are yet to be answered, the technological and social conditions are quite ripe. We see now the spread of YouTube videos highlighting both social struggles and absurd criminal acts of youth for pornographic consumption. Such a game might catch on with far more seduction and malleability than our old game of dignified militant struggle.
For almost a decade, for three rounds of struggles, an assemblage of anti-control sciences has been tinkering with techniques, environments, and dispositions of struggle. While its clear that the black bloc is not the single methodology of contemporary struggle, we privilege it as a site of development because of its easy entry-points, relative flexibility and by the way our conditions continue to summon it. Some have theorized a mythical Plan B in order to supersede the limits of the black bloc at demonstrations. Occasionally, this has been practiced as the black bloc’s ferocity and intelligence, deployed outside of the large demonstration arena. Plan B has also been “attacking your enemy where he is not” within demonstrations, and as smaller gatherings that make dramatic public attacks—using speed and anonymity to escape capture, rather than the cover of a large crowd. While these experiments are conjured by the same spirit, we believe the current situation–a growth of strange and impressive struggles–is not the time to focus on how to intensify struggle, but how to alter our environments in ways that expand the territory of struggle. To us, the musical question is more one of duration and frequency than intensity. Intensity will follow, providing that initial question is posed in a way to solicit “Yes, and.”
We will more than likely be forced to continue this work for another decade. This monastic work of building a long term project of street confrontation and undocile practices is not in order to prepare for an event in the future. It is monastic precisely because the time in which this project takes place is a time contingent on but external to the time of the work-day. Our victory will come not by messenger, nor by the final orgasm of history. Rather, revolution will be the complex unfolding of billions of relations of domination, accented and accelerated by insurrection. From the time we entered this project to the present, the general geography of everyday struggle has condensed and multiplied, continuously paving the urban and suburban human environment in revolt against this society. There is increasingly less time between capitalist normality and moments of rupture. We expect our victory will be the slow, painful saturation of this world in such ruptures. The task set before us is how we will develop the necessary endurance, means, and vitality to be able to make these ruptures inhabitable.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, canada, monteal, red, riot, students, the color red, tuition, violence
Filed under: Milwaukee area | Tags: anarchism, anti-austerity, books, class war, communism, crisis, intervention, interview, madison, milwaukee, posters, wisconsin
An interview with an individual involved in Burnt Bookmobile, a blog out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin run by some people influenced by various anti-authoritarian tendencies, including insurrectionary anarchism, left communism, and nihilism, among others.
During the spring of 2011, when the ‘Wisconsin Uprising’ or ‘#wiunion movement’ was in full swing, they put out a number of flyers, leaflets and posters that pushed the occupation or general strike concept forward and contributed to the more militant atmosphere that Madison saw traces of. When I was still in Madison, I tried to stay in touch with at least one person who was involved in running the site, sending updates and perspectives back and forth. Recently I had the chance to make a trip to Milwaukee where they agreed to do an interview.
When was Burnt Bookmobile started and what were the initial thoughts behind it? Have they changed since then?
The Burnt Bookmobile was first started as a distro around 2004 and at the time spent the majority of its activity intervening in the hardcore, punk and counter cultural scenes revolving around the subjects of veganism, a kind of inarticulate post-left anarchism and anti-civ trends of thought. This was an orientation that was largely moral in character, but it would more and more come to reject this for a focus on the question of what constitutes living within capitalism and strategic concerns situated within the struggles which we had found ourselves, such as the end of the anti-globalization era, the anti-war era, consumer politics, alternative identity, and the more general anti-capitalist movement.
Since then the Burnt Bookmobile has been present at wine and cheese festivals, occupied campus buildings, neighborhood block parties, film screenings, lectures, poetry readings, shows, etc. Its mode of intervention has always been primarily through the text, offering things as much as we could for free in the form of zines and posters, and books sold for as much as it costs to restock.
Certainly the content of these texts has gone through different phases reflective of different questions we were thinking through, ideas and practices which resonated with us and which we experimented with. These phases articulated themselves in insurrectionary anarchism, left communism, illegalism, egoism, nihilism, Situationist theory, critical theory and the partisan cannon of philosophy, fiction and poetry. Though obviously contradictory, these traditions form a nexus of ideas that have been useful to us in an effort to think and act out a general antagonism against capitalism.
Do you think the blog has helped introduce local people to communist positions or benefited the projects the local milieu has taken on?
Without a doubt the character of the local projects and the critical tools they employ are indebted to years and years of establishing a more critical and articulate discourse. Whether people read the texts or see the posters, it has produced a certain standard of critical thought within the anti-authoritarian, anarchist, and communist milieu, that must in some way be responded to.
I know this is a big question, but for those unfamiliar, what is Milwaukee like and how does the local situation influence or determine your projects and activity?
I’m no expert on the history of Milwaukee, so these are my reflections. Milwaukee is a Rust Belt city much like other Rust Belt cities and like these cities is a site of former industrial centers of production, the labor of which has been either made redundant through automation, outsourced for cheaper often less skilled labor, or been the subject of more general capitalist restructuring. Milwaukee is also one of the most segregated of the major cities in the US. These are the major dynamics at play within the city. Development in spacial terms certainly happens in Milwaukee, but it happens at a pace much slower than many other cities where value circulation attains a much more ruthless speed. It has a large surplus population pushed into crime and then into the apparatus of law (jail, prison, courts, criminal history, criminalization) that appears extremely racialized.
The Bookmobile responds mostly from the point of the shared positions as points of departure, coming from largely white, heterosexual, middle class, male, student, service industry subjectivities. The project bases its activity within the processes of undoing and active confrontation with these positions in material and symbolic terms. We most easily relate to others who feel ill at ease within these subject positions.
Certainly the question of how to approach those who share a similar disposition of hatred for their conditions and who share similar gestures to respond to them is very pressing. One must assess the risk of vulnerability in exposing one’s antagonistic intentions and activities to a general population to find the active minorities that these practices may resonate with. We agree with others who have said that a shared language is built through shared struggle, as counter to the forced relations which already constitute the language of capital. Certain moments with enough force behind them allow for the space of extreme exposure necessary to breakdown barriers of subjectivity allowing for such a language to develop.
We would love to communicate with those who resort to flash mobs out of boredom, who resort to collective crime as mode of resistance to their conditions. Perhaps we’ll meet someday in the streets warmed by a burning bank building, but until then a great many things prevent such a convergence.
Madison was (and is) sort of a bubble. I kind of had an idea of what was going on in Milwaukee last spring but could you describe what was going on?
Much of what I was involved in was centered on the UW-Milwaukee campus, the prospect of shutting it down to spread the occupations and aid in or initiate a wildcat general strike. The possibility of such a strike seemed more possible than any other time in my life because of all the seemingly unexpected and unprecedented (at least for my time in Milwaukee) activity that was already happening.
The first student initiated rallies were 20 times bigger than anything else I had seen on campus. Many students stopped going to classes, TAs were doing spontaneous sick outs, and everyone was caught in a flurry of going back and forth between the occupation in Madison and Milwaukee. Some teachers, most TAs, and school staff all had the talk of striking or some kind of workplace activity on their lips. The question being posed and discussed by many made the possibility of such a strike and what would be after and beyond a strike all the more tangible. The strategic and immediate importance of what we were doing seemed to carry so much more weight during this moment. It appeared to matter what a couple of extremists were suggesting.
Many people in Milwaukee had already initiated the conversation about campus occupations and had been discussing it since being inspired by the events in California in 2009. Because of this, when the time came to possibly employ occupations here it was mostly a question of strategy and not whether the idea would be accepted by the minority of students and non-students who would initiate it. Student leaders made every attempt to not let the situation get out of their control, but it started out of their control, would have never become what it was if it was in their control, so they found themselves further obsolete. Then, reacting to their obsolescence with further control they were made blatantly absurd by open collective criticism. Out of this occupation would come large discussions on topics ranging from the role of the police to how to support and further strikes, dance parties, many nights spent with little sleep on hard floors, calls for and the planning of other demonstrations, a general sharing of resources and maybe most importantly the collective experience of taking and sharing space. The rest of the occupation was fairly complicated throughout the sixty some days of its stay, and it would take up a lot of room to discuss it, so I won’t. What was important was that it was attempted as an effort to spread the occupations and define space on its own terms different from the pacifying “Madison model.”
Certainly I can’t claim to know much more of what was happening in Milwaukee than what I was in some way connected to or had my ear out for. Other than the university occupation, there was some activity surrounding the end of Good Time within the legislation1, which included an unruly prison demo at which fireworks were shot at the jail in downtown Milwaukee, people chanted anti-prison slogans and made noise for those inside, then minor property damage was done to the building. Afterwards a big swath of wheatpasting covered mostly the east side of the city with a communique of the action. There was a general assembly, in the Riverwest neighborhood where I live, to address the question of how to support strike and workplace activity. There were multiple larger scale lock gluings of the university and other places connected to important dates, as well as other sporadic acts of vandalism and sabotage. Posters and slogans where everywhere. Strangers talked to strangers about what was happening throughout the state. People involved were constantly in communication, meeting, assembling, etc.
At the time, some of the propaganda you all were putting out seemed to me to be 10 steps ahead of the movement. However, since then, I’ve changed my mind about this and think one can “meet people where they are at” and introduce what seem like extremely militant ideas. What are your thoughts on accomplishing this?
Compared to what we felt was necessary and what we desired, we were quite restrained in our interventions into he situation in Madison in particular and there was therefore an obvious tension in placing ourselves within discourses and events that were frankly, shameful. The terms with which to engage in struggle were so vapid that all that had never been problematized within the old workers movement (that of workers identity, progressivism, programatism, etc) was still acting as a web of restraint defining the conditions of activity. We felt at the same time a need to act within these events in order to push them to define divisions and limits within what was said and done, then to act against those limits and further the necessary divisions. We wanted to present and proliferate a collective capacity to do this, however minimal our own capacity for proliferation was.
It has been important for us to realize that there was no movement in particular. This idea which acts to enforce and impose the most empty, vague identity, “We Are Wisconsin“, upon the mass of angry people who were affected by the event in Wisconsin acted as a means to curtail and defer any modes of resistance beyond the most pacified symbolic acts, calls for legitimacy, family values, and other normative frameworks that are generally always more operative for capitalism than they are for any resistance. A lot more could be said about the function of such an imposition. More than just within the specific event of the Madison occupation we felt a need to provoke and communicate in a way that opened up means of acting rather than defining and containing them; not being any model in particular, but instead spreading that disposition to act and take collectively. This was generally the intention with the posters and activity we were involved in. More so, what we wrote and said was lost in the suppression of event or erased by the victors of the struggle which appear now to be democratic politics. At the time we attempted to offer critical tools to understand and surpass barriers to self-organization outside of the limits of syndcalism, “politics”, democracy, work, etc etc. Amidst the now apparent failure of our interventions, they now appear to us to be far too mild and timid.
From far off, it seems Occupy has either not taken off much in Wisconsin or has been absorbed into the recall effort of the Governor. Is this accurate? What has Occupy been like in comparison to what you know of other places?
I’m unfamiliar with what is happening or has happened in Madison regarding the occupy movement, but this has been accurate for Milwaukee, and I assume much more so for Madison. The specter of the recall campaign continues to haunt Wisconsin with counter revolution at a time when much of the rest of the country is experiencing the awkward becomings of open contestation of space and a more generalized resistance to the crisis.
What future ‘ruptures’ or openings do you see in Milwaukee or the state as a whole?
Frankly I don’t see anything interesting coming out of Milwaukee or the state as a whole that resembles anything like what happened in Madison. It will be a surprise when it does, just as the event last spring. It wouldn’t have been an event if we would have expected its coming. But the series of crises that are coming won’t be resolved easily, won’t be swallowed we hope without a fight, so for now we’re forced to keep our ear to the ground and be ready for the next round.
Thanks for making time for an interview.
Definitely. Thanks for asking.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anti-cuts, anti-police, barricades, montreal, police, riot, students
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anti-capitalism, general strike, may day, strike, wildcat strike
3) The general strike and wildcat strike are not typologies but tendencies. A strike’s general tendency is its capacity to expand, transgressing sectoral, national, and jurisdictional boundaries. Its wild tendency is its capacity to become disorderly and unmanageable, especially from the perspective of organized labor and the state.
4) Each of these tendencies is present, to a greater or lesser extent, in every strike, whether or not it receives the designation “general” and/or “wildcat”. During a routine strike, the general and wild tendencies are supressed, whether through coercion, consent, or habit. Yet these tendencies remain present, not necessarily at the “moment of origin”, but as an atemporal undercurrent that both precedes and exceeds the strike chronological trajectory.
5) The general strike is impossible. The myth of the general strike appears as an unattainable goal, a receding horizon, an absolute rupture that can only be approximated, never achieved. The formal declaration of the general strike necessarily emerges as an afterthought, confering official status on a general-strike-in progress. The authorization of the general strike by union bureaucrats merely codifies the general strike whose manifestation is already manifestly manifest.
6) The wildcat strike is unintelligible. It cannot be called into account, for It does not account for itself., nor can it be accounted for. The wildcat strike is anathema to any trade union for it flouts the contractual logic of collective bargaining, particularly the premise of formal transparency.
Here the wildcat strike tendency is inclusive of the time honored strategies of shopfloor resistance: slow-down, sick-out, the “checkerboard” strike, sabotage, work-to-rule. The wildcat strike speaks through code, a hidden transcript beneath the plane of discourse.
7) Both the general strike and the wildcat strike defy the incremental logic of Politics. A strike’s growth is not additive, but viral, infectuous. A strike’s wilding is not a planned deviation but spontaneous, unpredictable.
8) If the magnitude of a routine strike is measured in units of time (i.e. man hours lost), the general strike measures its success in terms of its scope, while the measure of a wildcat strike is its intensity.
9) While the general and wild aspects of a strike always co-exist, they tend to operate at cross purposes. That is, the full realization of a strike’s general tendency typically coincides with the diminishing of its wild tendency, and vice versa. Because the trade union is uniquely capable of conferring official status on a general strike, the GS necessarily entails the mobilization of bureaucratic capacity at the expense of rank-and-file self-activity. Yet paradoxically, the general strike cannot dispense with the wildcat origin myth. Therefore, the general strike constantly invokes the wildcat strike, but timidly, with the realization that the reemergence of the wildcat tendency will be own self-destruction. The Seattle General Strike Committee consisted almost of exclusively of rank-and-filers, not union officials, but in practice they remained subservient to both the Seattle Central Labor Council (which authorized the strike) and the local leadership of their respective unions. Similarly, the wildcat strike attempts to escape its narrowness by conjuring the myth of general strike myth, but with the understanding that the formal declaration of the general strike will be its own undoing.
8) The chief limitation of the wildcat strike is its particularity, which is resolved through its counter tendency: its becoming-general. Conversely, the general strike is restrained by its claim to universalism, which is in turn answered by its countervailing tendency: its becoming-wild.
9) The pure Wildcat Strike (devoid of its general tendency) will devolve toward the Particular Strike, or the Domestic-Cat Strike. The Domestic-Cat strike is the diminished form of the wildcat strike. If the the wildcat is fierce, predatory, the Domestic-cat is an innocuous creature, occassionally disruptive, but unwilling to escape its familiar confines, and unable to imagine a life without its Master.
10) The General Strike that supresses its wild tendency succumbs to its attenuated form: the Universal Strike. Because the actually-exsting general strike always pales in comparison to the myth of the general strike, the general strike will overcorrect this discrepency by presenting itself a totalizing force, the end of history, the ultimate triumph of working class. As the unfortunate English language mistranslation of the Internationale prophecized, we have been naught, we shall be all. In the process, the strike’s leadership emerges as the Sovereign, a state-in-waiting.
11) The general strike finds its principal antagonist in the state, while the wildcat strike’s immedaite adversary is the trade union. But the most dangerous possibility results from the blurring of these lines. Thus, the wildcat threatens to become generalized as it redirects itself against the state. The general strike embraces its wild tendency as it confronts the very union that called it into being.
12) The general strike and the wildcat strike are irreconcilable. Therefore, it is not enough to generalize wildcat strikes, as if the general strike were nothing more than the accumulation of local wildcats. The general strike must still be wrested from the hands of union officials, political parties, self-appointed architects and logicians of struggle, and other recuperators. But it is equally insufficient to call for a General Strike with Wild Characteristics. The project, therefore, is two-fold: Generalize the wildcat strike and rewild the general strike.
13) The relationship of the general strike to the wildcat strike is both co-dependent and parasitical. One cannot exist without its other, yet each consumes its other in the process of its own making. Thus the so-called “general wildcat strike” is oxymoronic for the simulataneous co-articulation of the general and wild tendencies results is an unstable mix that can never achieve equilibirum. Any effort to overcorrect by policing the boundaries of the wildcat strike or disciplining the general strike will backfire, resulting only in a retreat toward the routine strike, neither general nor wild. The liminal space between general and wildcat strike is fraught with uncertainty, for in this space both the course of action and its mode of representation remain contested, unresolved. Yet, this uneasy anequilibrium is a necessary preconditon for the outlier strike. Indeed, It is precisely from within this tension that a new possibilities might emerge.