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Ab Ovo – Encyclopedie des Nuisances

In this essay the EdN argues that, in light of the destruction of the old framework of working class resistance, revolutionaries must start all over from scratch (Ab Ovo–”from the egg”) and engage in new forms of contestation under the new totalitarian conditions imposed by the autonomous development of the society of the spectacle, for the “future economic secession of the immense majority”.

Those who want to prosper under domination are condemned to reproduce it; negation has never been able to rely upon existing institutions or class organizations whenever it sought to survive uncorrupted. It cannot be renewed unless it returns to its vital principle, once again beginning the task from the beginning, ab ovo; proletarians must, now and always, re-appropriate their project and, by fighting against their official representatives, rediscover the “lost treasure of modern revolutions”. {….} This article is organized in the form of extracts from the first two issues of our Encyclopedia, which appeared in November of 1984 and February of 1985, respectively.

In his Florentine Histories, Machiavelli recounted the words of Cosimo the Elder: faced with being reproached for having expelled “so many good men” from Florence because they were his political enemies, this merchant, inventor of the first form of dictatorship disguised as a republic, responded that a city was worth more destroyed than lost. The merchants of our epoch—variously men of the State, of finance, of the Church, of industry or the communications media—have applied this maxim to the whole planet, even if they have not formulated it so baldly: they prefer to speak of modernization. The expulsion of good men on the scale of a planet destroyed is certainly not very practicable (our merchants have to settle, where necessary, for murder), but it is not even necessary, since the very universality of corruption generally suffices in preventing the appearance of this kind of man, or at least his influence. At the dawn of modern despotism, that of Napoleon, Benjamin Constant observed: “The interests and memories born of local customs contain a germ of resistance which authority unwillingly bears and tries to eradicate.” The uniformity imposed by the commodity tries to corrupt everything in order to leave no directly accessible quality which inflicts the offense of its independent existence upon the authority of the falsifiers; the very memory of it would have disappeared were it not for the obstinacy of a few who dedicate themselves to an activity as subversive as memory.

This usurpation has not become more rational, however, by virtue of the fact of its being almost universally considered to be eternal. In order to avoid a rapid end, it has only had to conceal its origins, the beginning of degradation. The technicians of disaster can therefore remain calm at their control monitors: only the facts will refute their science, and the facts are nothing if there is no one to violently champion them. When the time of the State’s neologism arrives, the decomposition of life is officially, and without any scandal, the principal reality imposed on human activity, and is fearlessly entrusted to the management of the authorities and their experts (see our article, “Abracadabra”).

Five years have passed since we stated in the “Preliminary Discourse” of our Encyclopedia, concerning the “project of total emancipation born with the struggles of the proletariat of the 19th century,” that: “it is true that the course followed by the material organization of commodity production, far from establishing the foundations for the realization of this project, has to the contrary made it more difficult than ever.” And we added that: “Perhaps this was necessary so that it would dare to show itself for what it was—the project of a conscious history that cannot base its cause on any necessities external to those recognized by individuals themselves.” The rather black humor of this “perhaps” could not have escaped the reader’s attention, since we had previously observed that “discussions concerning the market economy were never as rare as they are today, when, for the first time, the whole world can discuss it.”

And what have we done to shed light on the possibility of subjecting the economy to a collective critique? To begin explaining what the various instances of progress of a more-than-debatable nature have brought or eliminated, we have tried to contribute means by which they could be measured. Whatever our obvious deficiencies with regard to the fulfillment of this task, they can be considered to be incidental, or purely “theoretical”, since the principal practical obstacle which stands in the way of the crystallization of a project for a higher social organization is precisely the complete transformation in the nature of the production of material life, the site where proletarian struggles had previously discovered, suddenly and spontaneously, the concrete terrain for their unification, the point where their subversion was to be carried out and the object itself of a program of re-appropriation.

The form adopted by technological development has made it impossible to identify it as necessary progress directing its course according to the preferences of a society of free men, and proletarians have seen how the testament according to which they were named as inheritors of the Earth has become blurred and lost. But the loss of the illusions of progress, illusions that proved to be so disastrous for the old workers movement, allows for the resurgence of those revolts against the “despicable imposture” of the industrial system that had long been suppressed by that ideology. The belief in progress cannot even be called, in the style of Baudelaire, a “doctrine for the lazy”, since laziness itself as well as any kind of tranquility have been banished from the life of the slaves of the economy (see our article “Abolish”). When dispossessed individuals have no other reasonable way out than reinventing their world in its entirety, they must at least begin by setting the example of subjecting all the illusory needs before which submission gives way to a serene scorn, along with the achievements and satisfactions to which that submission is dedicated. The more their critique is deprived of means of expression and organization, the more it must be formulated and practiced without any concessions. “What great deed is not extreme when it is first conceived? Only when it has been carried out does it seem possible to the masses” (Stendhal).

The process whose beginnings were described by Marx under the name of machine production (as dispossession “in the face of the prodigious science, the enormous natural forces and the immensity of the social capital incorporated in a mechanical system which comprises the power of the Master”) has crossed a decisive qualitative threshold over the course of the last century, first in the United States and later more or less everywhere (in France, during the 1960s). The production of commodities has become disconnected, globally and irreversibly, from the satisfaction of human needs and from the possibility of its emancipatory use, which had in a way legitimized it for most revolutionaries, those for whom it was only a question (if it can be phrased this way) of transforming the mode of appropriation of the existing productive forces. The form adopted by the latter within the spectacle in fact constitutes an irrefutable proof ad absurdum, like all those inflicted by modern history, of the impossibility of transforming this mode of appropriation without integrally transforming all the productive forces, since the latter have been developed, in all their material aspects, with the object of perpetuating separation, hierarchy and the arbitrary power of specialists. The immensity of this task of transformation, which everyone at least vaguely perceives, is undoubtedly the most universal and true cause of the prostration of our contemporaries, something which is granted a relative efficacy by spectacular propaganda and which also allows the latest Japanese-American theorist of the end of history, with his description of what will remain of the field of human activity (“economic calculation, the endless solution of technological problems and ecological preoccupations and the satisfaction of the sophisticated demands of consumption”), to celebrate in his own manner the success, according to him, of the attempt to “irrevocably reduce history to the ample reproduction of the past, and the future to the management of the wastes of the present” (“Preliminary Discourse”).

The historical condemnation of workerism and revolutionary ideologies is reflected by the spectacle as the condemnation of the revolutionary project, and honest souls, although they want to oppose this or that aspect of domination, try in the interests of a supposed realism to avoid speaking of revolution or of revolutionary activity. We, however, not only believe that a cause which does not dare to speak its name has never attracted supporters, but we also believe that in a world on the verge of self-destruction today’s revolutionaries are capable, although they generally fail to take advantage of the opportunity, of speaking more clearly than ever before about their objectives, since the latter “are not only a different option but represent pure realism: they defend a rejection and a project at the same time, and their cause can mobilize the desire for the unknown as well as the instinct for self-preservation” (Ibid.).

The catastrophic existence of harmful phenomena (“Nuisances” in French—tr. note) is only the latest manifestation of the contradiction between the forces of production, whose conscious rule has become such a vital demand due to their irrational development, and the relations of production that, against all odds, perpetuate unconsciousness. At this level, when the contradiction is no longer economic and when its spectacular management is literally priceless, the theoretical critique of the economy immediately demands a qualitative judgment, formulated from a point of view exterior to the economy, just as the proletarians’ practical critique, in its search for its reasons, must radically declare itself against the existing system of production. The critique of the totality of alienated life, formulated during the 1960s by the situationists, must therefore be assumed as a minimum, but not because it will create an active revolutionary movement, but because the last twenty years have proven all too well that such a movement cannot be established without making that critique its own. We cannot place our trust in any short cut that would raise the proletariat to the consciousness of its revolutionary task without finishing off the totality of its misery. Even though the realities of dispossession will be much more radical in the questioning of the organization of survival than in the situationist critique, this is no reason to moderate or to abandon that critique but, on the contrary, to develop and reinforce it.

By pointing out that the “possible conjunction between the past of the workers struggles (the exemplary rough draft of the methods of proletarian revolution) and the new rebellion that springs from the soil of the society of the spectacle (the critique of work, of the commodity and of all alienated life) which was momentarily within reach in some highly-developed countries, can no longer be viewed or awaited as an inevitable result of the objective process of the dominant conditions” (“History of a Decade”), we wanted to distance ourselves from that category of expectant extremism that devoutly clings to the conviction that modernized alienation will inevitably produce its respective modernized negation, and which is all the more easily persuaded of its unassailable logic the more it entrenches itself in a position which has long been overwhelmed by the spectacle’s deployments, perfectly protected by its inoffensive anachronism. But we declared a little later that the conjunction referred to above had entered “memory and consciousness as the task of a new epoch”, which is to say that it had to be actively pursued. Since the enemy has integrally reconstructed the territory in accordance with its repressive necessities, all subversive intentions must begin by soberly considering which experiences will once again engender collective critical consciousness and seeking those points of application of rebellion that incorporate all the previous ones.

In any event, we cannot communicate the most minor critical truth if we do not want to see the results of social atomization and if we strive to maintain the illusion of an immediately given practical community of proletarians. As a situationist said 20 years ago: “We are outsiders because materially we do not conform to any particular social stratum. Socially we are nothing, and society is nothing for us anyway.” From now on, for us this is the only road of the negative open to individual affirmation and the construction of a real community, since, confronted by the forces of commodity production, one cannot effectively rebel unless “the majority of the individuals from whom these forces have been alienated, whose real lives have thus been frustrated and who have become abstract individuals, but who, for this very reason and only from that moment, are prepared to relate to each other as individuals” (The German Ideology).

Nazi and Stalinist totalitarianism proved, in what we called their pilot projects, that “the transformation of classes into masses and the parallel elimination of any kind of group solidarity are the conditions sine qua non of total domination.” (Hannah Arendt, The Totalitarian System). After that bloody interlude in the history of the society of the spectacle, the total domination of the commodity, in this respect closer to Nazi empiricism than to the ideological voluntarism of Stalinism (as Hitler said: “Why should we socialize the banks and the factories? We are socializing the people”), has been able, by various means, to fulfill the conditions sine qua non for its implementation. In order to create the atomized society where one person cannot relate to another except through the spectacle, and therefore can never escape isolation and impotence, it was necessary to destroy the practical environment of collective autonomous consciousness constructed by the working class.

Along with the cumulative continuity of revolutionary history, the unity of the particular and the universal and of ends and means, by virtue of which any workers struggle of any magnitude incarnated the interests of the entire society for any conscious individual and was capable of directing the course of history towards general emancipation, was also broken, because it went directly against social oppression and, by doing so, had opened up the road to its supersession. From the IWA’s resolution concerning the trade unions (“organized centers of the working class, just as the communes and municipalities of the Middle Ages were organized centers for the bourgeois class”), to the theses of the supporters of the Workers Councils, all those who in the past had wanted to revolutionize society had taken for granted the circumstance that workers autonomy, the self-organization of the workplace, pursued with determination, would from the start contain the distant goal (the re-appropriation of the productive apparatus), by rendering its attainment possible. And each struggle, even those that were strictly defensive in their explicit objectives, would allow for the acquisition and accumulation of revolutionary experience, and comprised a moment in the constitution of the proletariat as an historical subject. It was said in the beginnings of the workers movement by one of those who thought that “monopoly and the horrible accumulation of capital in the hands of a few” engendered “by its own monstrosity the germs of its cure”: “Each great workshop or factory is a kind of political society that no law can reduce to silence and no magistrate can force to disperse” (John Thelwall, The Rights of Nature Against the Usurpations of Establishments, 1796, quoted by E.P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class).

By making the proletarians constantly feel—through, among other things, the replacement of skilled by unskilled labor—their dispossession by the continuous movement of accelerated technological change, the latter realizes as its very basis that which the ideological primitivism of the Nazis and the Stalinists could only formally obtain through police terror and the fanaticism of identification with the unpredictable caprice of the tyrant. The dissolution of the authentic bond created by the community of productive function (because the technologies employed prohibit any kind of autonomous application and the sense of production dissolves into absurdity) imposes upon the atomized masses the typical characteristics of the totalitarian mentality such as the capacity for adaptation, malleability in the face of authoritarian conditioning, and the absence of continuity (loss of memory, perpetual present). The permanent instability of the conditions of life imposed in modern society has guaranteed, for a while, the stability of domination.

Permanent change, involving the destruction of all stable communities that once made the formation and transmission of critical judgment possible, submerges everyone, with the object of achieving their resignation, in that type of bewilderment that led Tocqueville to describe the first form manifested by modern society in America, where “private individuals attend to small affairs, and the State, to great affairs”: “When the past does not shed light on the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” The disastrous collapse which drags down with it all references to what until now was human existence simultaneously sweeps away the foundations of the most elementary common sense. And what lies beneath common sense, that “intermediate state between stupidity and genius”? Fear brings us there, as well as the isolation which it provokes and upholds. The modern spectator will not act with good sense anyway, since everything around him demands from him an anger whose consequences, in the isolation in which he finds himself, cause him more terror than everything he endures. He thus continually sees a precipice next to his television. This terrorized impotence, which walls itself up in private life, in the familiarity with privation, has been eulogistically baptized in the language of the most advanced servitude: cocooning. And as long as we are on the subject of larva, we will recall that the Greek word which denotes the private man (idiotes), he who occupies himself with that which “is for himself” (idion), has provided us with the word with which lasting stupidity is denominated in various European languages.

The particular form typical of the workers milieu, of pride in one’s trade, the positive recognition of that “professional value” which, according to social democratic ideology, constituted the worker’s “credentials for sovereignty in the world of tomorrow” (Jaurès, quoted by Emile Pouget in Sabotage) has definitively dissolved into the general false consciousness of everyday life. But “the destruction of the workers milieu in those countries where the conditions of the most modern capitalism prevail does not signify, except for old disappointed workerists, the disappearance of the proletariat: the expropriation of life exists, and so does the class struggle” (“History of a Decade”). By abolishing the conditions for the existence of the community of labor which embraces all individuals in common as workers, it can be said that history has once again turned towards the heart of the matter: it is not a question of teleology, what happens is that the consequences of slavery accumulate according to their own logic. Today, the proletarians must themselves create the community in which they will participate as individuals, and they will never do this if they do not first fully consciously execute the sentence which the production of harmful phenomena (“nuisances”) pronounces against itself, and if they do not fight to recover control over the conditions of their existence. The total negation of the economy, its interruption by any means, is not only necessary because there is no other way to end the degradation of life, but also because such a constriction of the automatic reproduction of alienation and of its conditioning of peoples’ behavior will allow individual rebels to sweep aside the putrefaction of the old system which the latter saddles them with and to become capable of establishing society on a new basis.

The class “which is no longer considered to be a class in society, which is no longer recognized as such and which is the expression of the dissolution of all classes” has effectively lost everything that made it anything except revolutionary: dispossessed individuals are concretely faced by “the alternative of rejecting the totality of their misery, or nothing” (The Society of the Spectacle). But at a time when the critique of reformist illusions collapses under its own weight and the theses of the most radical critique are verified everywhere, never before have fewer people been disposed to avail themselves of them. It turns out that this kind of truth is uncomfortable: it leaves no room for faith, and they confront everyone with the urgency of finding, each for himself and presently, the form of a practical accord between the total critique that they subscribe to and the lives they actually lead. Since 1968, those who adhered to the situationist critique maintained the extremism of their positions because they were convinced that in the very short term the workers struggle would bring the workers over to their positions and the situationist critique. But they did not take into account the organizational difficulties of a radical current capable of crystallizing latent revolutionary energies.

We recall that those difficulties, while they were correctly brandished against the revolutionary unrealism of the time, were sidestepped in the text that announced the self-dissolution of the Situationist International: “The situationists are everywhere, etc.” (The Veritable Split in the International, 1972). But by doing so they disregarded the fact that it was not the task of theory to preserve the space set aside by the latter between the violently extremist partisanship of a few individuals and the horizon of the Councils, society’s self-organization in revolution: the most it could have done was to explicitly recognize the extension of that space. “For us, there is no room for irony concerning the part corresponding to the illusion often maintained by past revolutionaries in respect to their own actions: we leave that to those realists who, attending to their own affairs, find solace and what they call pleasure directly within the current degradation, which is truly well-suited for their minuscule appetites. We not only prefer to be mistaken alongside those who believed they were the last to bear the mutilation of life and who could not conceive that the accumulation of dispossession would last much longer, instead of being correct with their conquerors, or with the heirs of their conquerors—but we prefer, above all, the more solid if less ‘scientific’ reasons of those defeated rebels which are to this day the most concrete and most urgent. For all those who, against all odds, do not identify with the forces of inertia that are rapidly propelling everything down the slope of programmed horror, such reasons are as tangible as the macabre project of making the results of the prolific development of commodities irreversible which, in a sinister parody of the revolutionary project of the complete man, piles up yet more evidence of man’s nullity, definitively reducing individuals to the state of convulsing marionettes, set in motion by innumerable commercial prostheses, to the rhythm of an omnipresent computerized machinery. (…) The conviction of inheriting the Earth not only lies at the heart of bureaucratic ideology, of course, but has also constituted a wellspring of firmness and courage, even unto death, for numerous revolutionaries. We and all those who really want to hasten the disappearance of the existing world do not have to say that it is our fate not to be able to avail ourselves of any guarantee of that kind of courage and firmness” (“Preliminary Discourse”).

We agree with the words of Guy Debord: “Never have conditions everywhere been so revolutionary, but it is only the rulers who think so. Negation has been perfectly deprived of its thought, which has been dispersed for some time” (Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1988). There has been no lack of readers who find this to be a darkly exaggerated picture. Nonetheless, not only is it correct to say that “in a sense only the truth itself can exaggerate; nothing else can withstand the test” (Chesterton), but there are moments when exaggeration is particularly fitting, so that it will be heard, and endowed with its great capacity for scandal: a brilliant quality which the author of The Society of the Spectacle, at any rate, never lacked. On the other hand, no critical analysis can aspire to anything more than an approximation to reality, one which is sufficiently precise to recognize the historical forces at work, and which above all would need to strategically calculate its possible margin of error, that is, to choose the aspect which one prefers to exaggerate or present in a simplified form; one could thus attempt to “magnify” a gestating subversive reality or, conversely, to anticipate a tendency of domination on the road to realization, without which scientific certainty about the future would be impossible (the analysis provided by the Communist Manifesto is for example an undeniable exaggeration in view of the social reality of the epoch, but the historical tendency as it was described in that text was clearly the principle one of its time). In an epoch in which social struggles advance towards their unification in a confrontation of universal scope, the best will have to be reserved for the purpose of communicating its still-concealed historical content to the movement. In compensation, in an epoch in which a restored domination has recovered the initiative, and in which the memories of the preceding epoch hinder the lucid critique of this revolutionary development, new, hitherto unnoticed features must be accented. This is what happened in the Comments, for example, with the importance it conceded to the capacity for initiative on the part of the State’s security services: although it could be objected, as the author himself does elsewhere, that the general decomposition of all historical intelligence fully affects the operation of those “services”, one must not forget that “in a confrontation of this nature, the forces measure themselves in accordance with their relative magnitude and not from the point of view of some kind of absolute knowledge which speaks quite eloquently of decadence while it pores through the pages of the historical dictionary” (“History of a Decade”); and that if “the spectacle is much more of a misery than a conspiracy” this does not obviate the fact that, as time passes and society’s problems accumulate, the spectacle will decide upon an increasing proliferation of conspiracies, which are easier to manage the more they necessarily benefit from the terrain prepared by misery. In short, if the Commentaries, being limited “to pointing out that which is” (instead of proposing that which is “desirable or even only preferable”), by casually considering the possibility that the cause of freedom might not prevail, perform no less of a service for the cause that their author believes to be lost.

Dissatisfaction has not been abolished, but excluded from the public arena by the ubiquity of the fictitious world erected by the spectacle. And those who have based their cause upon dissatisfaction have less reason than ever to take the trouble to justify themselves when the bankruptcy of the organization of survival is so notorious: they only have to start sweeping aside all the deceptive justifications which keep a tight rein on the boredom universally aroused by the production of harmful phenomena.

Those workers movements which have defensively arrayed themselves with autonomous means of organization (coordinating committees, base committees, etc.) cannot transcend the bounds of the neo-trade union struggle, and thus find allies, except by denouncing, wherever they may be found, the economic pseudo-needs imposed equally upon everyone. And if, in only one vital sector of production (and almost all are vital, in view of the fragility of a technologically over-equipped irrationality), proletarians violently assert themselves as such and demonstrate the superiority of humanity over the machinery of decadence by means of a calculated sabotage, and know how to directly communicate the truth of their action, anticipating the inevitable calumnies, all the sophisms daily employed to justify the old commercial corruption will be instantly exposed. Only such a start of the implementation of the program of the immediate cessation of anti-historical production, together with its direct effects on the reigning fatalism, may perhaps be capable of preventing men from having to learn how to separate themselves from a world of illusions under the harsh blows of repeated ecological disasters. In view of such imperious necessities, we regretfully observe that those movements which have known how to become strong enough to make themselves heard, have had literally nothing to say against the sector of the economy in which they were involved; and that, for example, health care workers are organized as wage workers without the slightest questioning, as individuals who suffer a fate common to all, of that strange industry whose job-creating growth is realized in symbiosis with that of other economic activities (like the food-processing or fast food industries) which assure it an ever more numerous clientele. This complementarity is also equally applicable to the flourishing mental health industry, gorged with patients thanks to the disintegration of previously-existing forms of sociability.

Unlike wage workers’ defensive struggles, the protest movements against harmful phenomena share a goal which, even if it only involves a struggle against a local, particular degradation, possesses a universal character insofar as it rejects a poisonous abundance. At the level of methods of association, however, they show themselves to be weaker and, due to a lack of experience in self-organization, prove to be quite defenseless against recuperative representation. As was stated in a pamphlet distributed on the First of May in 1989 at the demonstration against the dam project at Serre de la Fare, in the Haute-Loire: “Among those who oppose the pillaging of the planet, there are many who reject politics, which they identify with a game of personal ambitions. They will have to accept the existing politics, and with it, everything which they claim to reject. (…) Against the fraud of the democratic definition of alternative production, the adversaries gathered here must understand and help others to understand that they are the true democracy, guarantor of the interests of all and the only possible future”. The only way such movements can escape the blindness of green ecologism is the active supersession of politics by means of the organization of autonomous communication that will make possible the explanation and popularization of the critique of the economy and of labor which is in fact entailed by their initial motives. In this matter as well, one exemplary act is worth more than many long discourses, and it goes without saying that a sufficient criterion of suitability is that of being useful for the reinforcement of protest against external repression (in opposition to terrorism which, even if sincere, imposes the most external and uncontrollable representation). The truth cannot begin to organize its forces and win its right to exist unless it confronts anyone who occupies its terrain as recuperators, in this case the State ecologists.

Whatever aspect of the dominant reality is confronted, negation must deliberately produce its own terrain of unification, re-creating ab ovo the basic conditions, satisfied nowhere, of a future economic secession of the immense majority. To accomplish this, individuals who are not resigned to the degradation of life must take the liberty of constructing, in accordance with the vital necessities everywhere present alongside the consequences of an irresponsible domination, the forms of association which will allow them to respond to that degradation. Then, only a rigorous rejection of the corrupt means which the spectacle will offer them can take them forward. If this perspective has not already been imposed, this is probably due to the fact that many enemies of the old politics believed that the terrain of production provided sufficient means for its supercession. The partisans of social critique demanded the negation of politics, they wanted the germs of revolution constructed by workers’ struggles to be the point of departure, but they forgot that authentic germs of revolution have only been developed in the recent epoch (in France in 1968, in Poland in 1980-1981) through the creation of primary forms of liberated communication where all the problems of real life had to find their direct expression, and where individuals began, with the accomplishment of those acts demanded by the necessities of their emancipation, to construct the public realm where freedom displays its charms and becomes a tangible reality. In a word: one cannot negate politics without realizing it.

When people have come together over this or that particular outrage and have rebelled, their first goal is to express and to extend their protest. But they incur a new need at the same time, the need for direct communication, freed from any separation and specialization; in this manner, what had appeared to be a means becomes an end. The real result of such struggles is not victory in itself, which is rare and always ephemeral, but the formation of the “realm of communitarian relations which give meaning to common sense” (Hannah Arendt) and which allows the constitution of a collective point of view upon the basis of which the condemnation of all authoritarian technology becomes possible, without being subject to the clumsy reproach of nostalgia for the past.

One can do almost anything with cutting edge technology except sit on it. The usurpation which governs in the name of progress must incessantly fabricate new proofs. Exposed to all the comparisons suggested by nostalgia, prayers or hope, it is constantly obliged to justify itself with other rationales; the most reasonable and well-founded inaction is a danger to it. Technological overdevelopment, although it still manages only to superficially bother many people, profoundly undermines the terrain of approbation and lays the foundations of the downfall of all the stability of oppression. Thus, many are the successes of the spectacular invasion which negatively contain the possibility of reversing the correlation of forces thanks to the invader’s weakness. The social atomization which dispersed the forces of subversion is equally operative in the enemy’s camp, where power can only count on the very dubious loyalty of its servants. The generations that have known only these new conditions are also the first ones to not have positively experienced them as an emancipation compared to past conditions: the spectacle goes on, but the grass grows again. Modern society, not being loved by anyone, settles for being feared, but the nucleus so awakened can at any moment turn against it, because it is in no position to offer security in exchange for passivity: the biggest danger for States is that they must “always leave their subjects hanging in suspicion, unrest and anxiety”, because in those conditions men “protect themselves from danger at any price and, quickly becoming bold, have fewer scruples about trying something new” (Machiavelli). Finally, the global unification of domination causes the rebels of all countries to more obviously than ever have common reasons to place the blame on existing conditions.

The moment has almost arrived when everyone will be able, according to their intelligence and the forces at their disposal, to be of use to the vast and informal conspiracy of equals which must prepare, within the catacombs of the society of the spectacle, the means for its positive supersession. The end of any possibility of identifying with economic progress brings about a historical rupture whose demoralizing effectiveness we have already demonstrated, but whose beneficial effects are yet to be seen. To the aid of this rupture, the old war of freedom will reappear under new forms, the same war that the leveler Wildman evoked in 1647, during the army’s debates at Putney, where the soldiers’ delegates, the “agitators”, opposed the first recuperative representation which formed around Cromwell: “Since there was no longer any possible remedy, we must begin again from the beginning…and you will know how!” (Appeal to All Soldiers)….

Taken from the Libcom Library.



Update #2: regarding the anti-austerity measure struggle in Wisconsin

The next few days and coming week may have a defining effect on the anti-austerity measure struggle in Wisconsin.

-To the surprise of many, the police union and many police themselves have declared they side with the protesters occupying the Capitol in Madison and not Scott Walker. They have also released statements urging their members to sleep inside the building along with those already doing so in order to protect the occupation. Even so, official statements are saying that the Capitol is going to be “closed for cleaning” starting on Sunday.  It is to resume its normal schedule and those occupying it are supposed to leave. We’re still waiting for more lines to be explicitly drawn. This possibly illustrates one of many fault lines among a series of identity crises that have necessarily come about within this event. Between the police and the mass, a rupture will take place as soon as what takes shape can be seen more clearly as a rejection of a mere return to normal and as soon as the monopoly of violence, which the state holds, is expropriated by the mass for itself. The police unions “solidarity” effort forestalls the elaboration of this realization. We do not doubt that police will resume their function within the community of capital and soon, but what will be the reaction?

-The Governor, Scott Walker, is set to release his budget for the state on Tuesday the 1st, which will most likely further inflame and incite more demonstrations across the state.

-March 2nd is a “national day of action” against tuition hikes. In Milwaukee there were already planned demonstrations and walkouts before any of this started, but the event will be greatly boosted by numerous TA’s, teachers, students and others set off by the heightening tensions. The last walkout was estimated to be upwards of 3000 people, which is 10% of the student population of UW-Milwaukee, so it is very likely this will be similar or more. People are saying everything but the words “strike” or “occupation” to describe what is more than likely to happen and what appears as increasingly imminent to many.



concerning “the start of the american insurrection” in Wisconsin

Things are moving fast in Wisconsin amidst what Glenn Beck is calling the start of the American Insurrection… We can certainly hope, but we admit we have been caught quiet off guard by these events. In an effort to facilitate the coming into reality of this insurrection we will be writing analysis and reports about these events and posting information as much as we can.

Audio from Glenn Beck’s show



The Capital In Madison has been Occupied for the last three days

According to people who were there, the Capital building in Madison has been occupied for the last 3 days by students, workers and unions who are angered by the proposed cuts and legislation effecting the collective bargaining rights of state employees. Governor Scott Walker has threatened to deploy the national guard to police the picket lines, or respond to whatever may happen. But thus far, the Governor apparently fled and has been hiding in his parents house since this all started on Monday.

A text that has been floating around and passed out read:

“Crisis isn’t simply what happens to us. We aren’t victims with no agency who desire a return to a capitalism that works. We understand that capitalism is working. This is what it does. But what do we do? How do we escape the order of established politics and protest and enter into resistance? How do we render the world which alienates us inoperative and become a force capable of being the contradiction that tears it apart? How shall we become the crisis?

We propose: Choose to be partisans in this war which has already started. Block the economy, strike, occupy, and sabotage.

We respond to Scott Walker, his policies, and what he represents, but we must become a force that makes all positions of power obsolete. It will then no longer matter what politicians think or do. It will only matter what we do.”



Jacques Camatte And the New Politics of Liberation

Although a bit old, this is an interesting introduction and summary for people who maybe want a background and working through of the ideas of Camatte (before they read Against Domestication for the anarchist reading group in Milwaukee). This text is also just one part of a series of articles written for Green Anarchy magazine in the early 2000s.

From the Green Anarchy archives (posted to anarchist library):

“During the final decade of the 20th century and into the early years of the 21st, the nature of radical politics fundamentally changed. The hegemonic currents, Marxist-Leninism and social democracy, suffered from the sea-change of neo-liberalism, and had difficulty grappling with the new currents of opposition embodied in such things as the Zapatista Uprising, radical ecology and the anti-summit movements. On a deeper level many of the fundamentals of traditional Leftism had been unsettled intellectually by post-modernism and by the changes of social organization that accompanied the growth of post-Fordist capitalism, not to mention the fall of the USSR and the regimes of Eastern Europe. This crisis of the Left was quickly interpreted as the universal victory of Liberal Democracy. However it is now clear that social antagonism, often of a revolutionary anti-capitalist nature, has not departed; rather it is re-asserting itself in ways that seem unintelligible to traditional political analysis.

One of these new currents is green anarchy/anarcho-primitivism (GA/AP). Consciously anti-ideological, it is rather a broad church of numerous tendencies and trajectories united by an anarchic politics that details a critique that goes beyond opposition to the state and market to a larger critique of civilization and its totality. Its roots are also broad, coming out of elements of radical ecological politics (especially around groups like Earth First! UK and the Animal Liberation Front), various counter-cultures and the ultra-left. It is the purpose of this essay to investigate one of the ultra-left authors that GA/AP has been deeply influenced by, yet who remains largely ignored by wider audiences: Jacques Camatte.

Camatte is a difficult figure for English speaking readers. His political origins are deeply immersed in the ultra-left, yet his political trajectory goes beyond them. The ultra-left is largely ignored in English speaking countries except as a foil to Lenin’s polemics or as a European curiosity. Camatte comes out of the Italian Communist Left (though he is French) and like them shares a deep engagement with Marx at the level of high theory that can be bewildering to the uninitiated. Whilst he was an essayist for nearly 40 years (mostly published in the journal Invariance) there exists only one English-language collection of his essays: This World We Must Leave & Other Essays, published by the eclectic label Autonomedia (home of many of the more serious works of contemporary radicalism.)

Camatte, however, has had some strong influences amongst (GA/AP). Later issues of Do or Die, the pre-eminent theoretical journal of GA/AP in the UK, with a wide readership in the broader ecology movement, cite him on a number of occasions. David Watson, prominent theoretician of Fifth Estate, the publication that in many ways was the first to articulate a thorough GA/AP praxis in the USA, shows an engagement with Camatte. Camatte’s writings on organization profoundly influenced the development of the publication Green Anarchist. More broadly though, Camatte charts the same political territory as GA/AP in a sophisticated way. He carries many of the same strengths and weaknesses of the broader current(s) and is thus useful for constructing a (post)-modern anarchic practice.

However, Camatte is no anarchist himself. Like the ultra-left his vision is communist and maintains a deep engagement with Marx. He is (like Marx maybe?) not, though, a “Marxist”. Camatte writes, “We (the journal Invariance) integrate Marx’s work (since he especially is concerned) but we do not pose a Marxist theory nor our own theory”. This is not merely semantics but rather evidence of Camatte’s attempts to build praxis through the refusal of ideology a tendency he shares with many radicals that emerged out of the near-revolution of May 68. However, his reliance on Marx would make him unacceptable for many anarchists for whom Marx is anathema. Camatte’s vision of communism has, of course, nothing to do with the statist regimes of the USSR et al. Indeed, Camatte affirms a vision of communism that is not only anti-statist but one that connects with deeper associations of gemeinwesen. To quote:

“Communism puts an end to castes, classes and the division of labor (onto which was grafted the movement of value, which in turn animates and exalts this division). Communism is first of all union. It is not domination of nature but reconciliation, and thus regeneration of nature: human beings no longer treat nature simply as an object for their development, as a useful thing, but as a subject (not in the philosophic sense) not separate from them if only because nature is in them. The naturalization of man and the humanization of nature (Marx) are realized: the dialectic of subject and object ends.”

This vision of communism is obviously libertarian, and one could argue goes beyond many anarchist visions such as anarcho-syndicalism, which only poses the self-management of the division of labor as an alternative, and glorifies production and work.

This essay will grapple with two of Camatte’s key theoretical themes: the despotism of capital and the domestication of humanity. Both arguably chart the course of social relations under the conditions of the real subsumption of society by capital and are key themes (even if they are not expressed in the same language) of much of the GA/AP critique.

The Despotism of Capital

Camatte asserts that we have entered a particular period of capitalism, which he calls the “Despotism of Capital”. This is a situation in which capital has created and forms a “material community” and a “human community”: in other words it is the condition of real subsumption: a situation where human activity takes place in the interior of capital. Previously we could typify capitalism as a “nomadic war machine” (Deuleze & Guattari). That is, an expansive apparatus or an ensemble(s) of apparatuses, that attempts to de/reterritorialise, reform and capture people, space and activity. This war machine had a combative frontier and thus there is something beyond it: an exterior. Different discourses place radical potential in this exterior, seeing in it both a boundary and a negating force to capital. This exterior was conceptualized as a number of social forces: the industrial proletariat (Marxism); the third world peasantry (Maoism); or students and marginal groups (the New Left), for example.

Camatte theorizes a different situation, one in which no substantial boundaries none that can not be overcome to capital exist. Indeed, it is not the case that capital dominates society, as some kind of lording power, but rather that it itself constitutes the entire community. This situation of the Despotism of Capital is typified by a number of conditions. One is that is has undergone a process of “autonomization.” This is a situation in which the various elements of capital production, exchange, rent, the state etc., increasingly fuse together and escape any previous human constrictions on their development. The second process is one of anthropomorphosis. Here capital transforms itself into nothing more than human behavior and human behavior into nothing more than capital. This happens through capital’s tendency to ultimately head towards a state of representation and thus able to mediate all human interactions, and comprise all of humanity’s relationships within its terrain.

Almost intuitively it is possible to see the merit in Camatte’s assertions. Human life seems to have taken on an increasingly massified form as it is constructed from cradle to grave within the dominant institutions of capital. Lived experience takes place on the terrain of school, hospital, work place, Internet, shopping center, movie theatre etc, i.e. within all the realms of the many hierarchies of capital, so much so that life becomes defined within the terms of these hierarchies. The institutions themselves become increasingly fused and unified into a whole. Moments of production and consumption, of work and leisure, of public and private seem to move to a more or less undifferentiated experience. Especially if we consider the advent and application of various digital and cybernetic technologies, we see a tendency toward the blending and standardization of daily life. (Note: Interestingly, part of this process is the invention of consumer difference. Niche markets are marshaled out of the memory of uniqueness or the cultural singularity of a previous time, what Camatte calls “Echoes of the Past”, that both feeds a desire for otherness yet negates its possibility). Subjectivity, whether it be as a student, mother, worker (all three at the same time?) or whatever, seems to be nothing more than a deeply personalized fetishization of the imagery of capital. For Camatte, capital reintroduces subjectivity. For it is through the production of individual identities that are understandable only through the framework of capital, that the entirety of human activity can be subsumed within exploitative relationships.

Continuing on the theme of fetishism and representation, it is now commonplace to talk of the total mediation of life through the representations of capital. Surely this is Baudrillard’s simulacrum or Debord’s spectacle! All of them allude to the situation of total commodity fetishism, where the fetishism has totally outstripped the realness of any use-value the commodity once possessed. It seems these observations are so obvious to be almost banal. It is worth stressing, though, what this means for the formation of social relationships. The situation of (almost) total domination of representation/fetishism is one where there is a disappearing ability to have an unmediated relationship with anything. All relationships tend towards their conception, formation and end within the realm of capital. To quote:

“As a result of this process of anthro-pomorphosis, capital becomes in turn a spectacle. It assimilates to itself and incorporates in itself all qualities of men, all their activities, without ever being one of them, otherwise it would deny itself by substantialization, inhibition of its life process.”

The Despotism of Capital has not emerged out of nowhere. Camatte cites two major reasons for its trajectory: the massive growth in productive forces and the effect of various pre-capitalist presuppositions of capital. Classical Marxism believed that whilst capitalism would bring into being immense productive forces, it would at one point reach “decadence” and become a hindrance to their development. It would be up to socialism and then communism to continue the development of productive forces. Camatte thoroughly rejects this, arguing that the development of productive forces has been crucial in establishing the despotism of capital and the removal of barriers and resistance to its power. It is this that has allowed capital to constitute itself as a community. As Camatte writes “ What he (Marx) presented as the project of communism was realized by capital”. Camatte rejects this, seeing that since capital and the productive forces have grown together smoothly, the social relationships and the productive forces are united in a singular “totality”. Since capital enforces its despotism by means of “objects and things that are invested with new modes of being,” the expansion of productive forces is the expansion of the prison in which the human finds himself or herself individually and collectively. If we take into account the division of labor and hierarchy that are inherent in industrial (and now cybernetic/digital) production, expansion of the productive forces across the social terrain to the extent that they constitute in entirety the social terrain, means vast expansion of atomization, massification and submission.

The expansion of productive forces has led to the dominance of ideologies that further deepen the despotism of capital. One of these is science. Camatte rejects the standard conception of science being a positive revolutionary force, decrying it as the “goddess and servant of capital”. For Camatte, science is nothing more than a “study of mechanism of adaptation that will assimilate human beings and nature into the structure of capital”. This is obviously quite a break from traditional Marxism, and more broadly, standard leftist thought which sides with the entire project of modernity (of which science is a part) against pre-existing religious/mystic consciousness. Whilst Camatte (unlike many who critique science) has no time for the revival of new-age mysticism, he maintains a particular vitriol for orthodox Marxism’s celebration of science and technology.

For Camatte, Marxism is a “repressive consciousness”. Rather than being a key to revolutionary praxis it “seems to be the authentic consciousness of the capitalist mode of production.” This is because Marxism has always posited the development of productive forces as the sine qua non of liberation, yet it has been the development of productive forces that has rendered powerless the rebellion of the classical proletariat. Marxism has thus functioned as an intellectual justification for the development of techno-scientific rationality and the massive expansion of industrialization. Indeed, the history of labor movements and national liberation struggles is one in which the struggle against the political control of the bourgeoisie has worked often to actually create and extend the despotism of capital.

Camatte not only sees the power of capital extend across the social body but back and forth in time as well. He emphasizes the continuing importance of the “presuppositions of capital”: the vast inheritance of the trajectory of class society that allows capital to develop. For Camatte “[c]apital is therefore the endpoint of the phenomena of democratization, individualization, and massification, all of which had begun to emerge well before capital had become a determinant element in the society”. To go further:

“These presuppositions are: production and autonomization of the individual, together with a related movement production of private property; production of the state and its autonomization; production of exchange value, which can assume highly developed forms. These elements of presuppositions, which appeared at the time of the Greek polis, are bound up with a representation that justifies the rupture with nature and with the community, the domination of men over animals and plants, and the domination of men over women.”

Whilst Camatte here dates many of these developments with the arrival of the Greek polis (and hence, in a sense, of the `West’), his investigation makes him look even further back. Camatte questions Neolithic developments of animal husbandry and the rise of agriculture. He sees in them the rise of the original conception of property and patriarchy and the original rifts in the pre-existing geimenwessen. Classically, critiques of technology start with the Industrial Revolution. Here Camatte is beginning to develop the critique of capitalism, and thus the emergence of communism as a revolt against civilization.

It must be made clear, however, that Camatte does not see the Despotism of Capital as the triumph of either bourgeois society or of the capitalist ruling class. Indeed, he argues that capital, through its constant need to revolutionize itself, both destroys bourgeois society and all classes including the ruling class, reducing us all to a general universalized proletarianized mass. Camatte argues that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat emerged with capitalism, but their struggle with each other, carried out on the presuppositions of capital and the unquestioning of productive forces, led to their abolition and the domination of society by capital. It was since proletarian struggle was successfully “mystified” by the categories of capital, when proletarian identity was built around the celebration of its role of “productive laborer”, that proletarian struggles advanced the domination of society by capital.

We can see this in the struggles and demands of the classic labor movements. As opposed to the very earliest movements of the proletarianized (such as the Luddites), which rejected the idea of wage-labor, the classical labor movement celebrated it. Classical labor movements fought for the right to workfor the protection of their role within capitalism. This may have seemed justifiable considering the brutality of laisse-faire capitalism. The effect though of mass movements of both left and right (the popular front, fascism, liberal/social democracy, etc) was to add to the creation of the conditions of real subsumption.

The effect of the creation of the community of capital (by, in part, proletarian struggle) was simultaneously the generalization of the proletarian condition and the destruction of the revolutionary specificity of the proletariat. Of course, the universalization of wage-labor/proletarianisation has not meant an equalization of wealth or power under the despotism of capital. Indeed, the current global order has created a proletarianized multitude that is riddled by division. Capital maintains its rule through the imposition of opposed roles (the cop vs. the student, for example) up and down its pyramidal structure.

How true are these claims? If we look back over the history of the labor movement, the proletariat has tended to move further and further towards the interior of capital, and all labor moves towards a condition of proletarianisation. More and more of life takes the appearance of work, and work takes the appearance of life. We have the situation where the condition of wage-labor swells, but labor as a specific antagonistic class disappears. This does not mean the end of struggle it is now conceived on a different basis. Indeed, the simultaneous absorption and generalization of the proletariat leads to the transformation of all into potential antagonists: “because it (communist revolution) won’t be the activity of one class only but of humanity rising up against capital”.

The other side to this claim is that the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, ceases to exist. Capital dismantles bourgeois society with its clear restrictions and norms, because it appears in the way of capital’s total subsumption of daily life. The cultural conflicts of the last 20-something years, the debates on public morality and censorship, etc, have not been between a liberating social force and class society, but rather between capital’s desire for increasing social commodification, and the social structures from whence it emerged. Fixed rigid structures (schools, etc) that were essential to the emergence of capital become interferences in movements and flows that must be (and are) overcome. The neo-liberal offensive has been just this, the transformation of traditional refuges of bourgeois society into the circuitry of capital.

Is this the same as the disappearance of the ruling class? It seems obvious that there exist strata that populate the commanding heights of the global order. But do they truly rule? Are these sections any less dominated and alienated by capital? Whilst ideologically, certain individuals do take on the appearance of feudal Sun Kings depending on the fluctuations of various social discourses their personal existences are not crucial to the continuation of the social order, in the same way a king’s or Pharaoh’s is. Those who are at the top of the ziggurat of capitalism exist totally within social structures and discourses, and are coded by them. Whilst they are in the control tower of society, it is the concretized and embodied mechanism that provides the only possible courses of action. To quote David Watson, “only the circuitry acts”.

Camatte, writing in the 70′s, foresaw the revolution as a looming possibility and the end of capital close at hand. Obviously that was not the case. The neo-liberal offensive that arose as a counter-revolution to the social ferment that Camatte wrote about was an active process that involved planning and coordination. The top stratas of society were increasingly galvanized into acting in a dynamic fashion. Neo-liberalism made the various corporate executives, ideologies, politicians, party leaders, communist party commissars, etc, act like a ruling class even though objectively there may not have actually been one.

The existence of hostile classes is a useful tool to explain various social phenomena. A conscious and coordinated ruling class, enriched with its own autonomy and with the ability to dole out privilege, helps explain why an exploitative society would survive: oppressed peoples would be deliberately held down through repressive mechanisms. The model of the class society is thus that of the conqueror: the rule through force of the core over the periphery. Yet, if we now exist in the community of capital where all human behavior is part of a social wide machinery, a social factory, (Negri, Tronti, et al.) where we are slaves not to people but to the social relationships and discourses that we make up, how does the system survive? If we are our (and each other’s) own manifestation of oppression, why do we not just stop it? How can you explain the continuation of oppression/exploitation once clear, separate classes stop existing?

Camatte explains this phenomena as “domestication”. Indeed, the domestication of humanity and the rise of the despotism of capital are impossible without each other: their existences allow the other to function.”

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/jacques-camatte-and-new-politics-liberation#toc1



no capital projects but the end of capital
11/20/2009, 11:22 AM
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: , , , , , ,

From Anti-Capital Projects:

“18 NOVEMBER 2009

The University of California is occupied. It is occupied as is the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and the Technical Institute of Graz; as were the New School, Faculty of Humanities in Zagreb and the Athens Polytechnic. These are not the first; they will not be the last. Neither is this a student movement; echoing the factory occupations of Argentina and Chicago, immigrant workers occupy forty buildings in Paris, including the Centre Pompidou. There is still life inside capital’s museum.

We send our first greetings to each of these groups, in solidarity. We stand with everybody who finds themselves in a building today because they have chosen to be, because they have liberated it from its supposed owners — whether for the hint of freedom’s true taste, or out of desperate social and political necessity.

This declaration and this action begin with contempt for those who would use their powers to cordon off education, cordon off our shared world, those who would build “opportunity” on the backs of others who must inevitably be exploited. This is why it begins here in this building with its Capital Projects, its Real Estate Services, its obscenely named Office of Sustainability — it begins in the corridors of accumulation, the core of the logic that privileges buildings over people. But it also begins with love for those who would refuse such enclosures, who are committed to the deed rather than the petition, who are committed to deprivatization as an act. This antagonism cannot be negotiated out of existence. We make no demands but the most basic one: that our collective life shall admit no owner.

Whoever has watched the disease of privatization, precaritization, and financialization spread through the University of California will not fail to recognize it as the plague of neoliberalism insinuating itself into every corner of the globe, every minute of our lives. In the most recent revelation, we have discovered the obscene student fee increases are being used not for education but as collateral for credit operations and building projects. This is the Regents’ will. If bonds aren’t repaid, the fees — that is, our days and years of work, extending into an empty future — must be used for repayment.

There is a grotesque irony to this. Student fees are being securitized and repackaged exactly like the toxic assets that triggered the latest economic collapse. Four years ago it was subprime mortgages; now it is “subprime education,” as Ananya Roy says. The very strategies and schemes that bankrupted millions of lives, and that showed the bankruptcy of the economic sphere — it is to these that the university has turned for its salvation, even after such strategies failed spectacularly. The Regents reveal themselves not simply to be dishonest, venal, and indifferent; they are too stupid to learn the most basic lessons of recent history. Or perhaps this is their idea of solidarity: that all members of the university community (save them, of course) must join the nation and the world in its immiseration, must be battered equally by a nightmare economy built on real human lives. We say to them: if you summon forth such solidarity, do not be surprised when its power escapes you.

The arriving freshman is treated as a mortgage, and the fees are climbing. She is a future revenue stream, and the bills are growing. She is security for a debt she never chose, and the cost is staggering. Her works and days are already promised away to raise up buildings that may contribute nothing to her education, and that she may not be allowed to use — buildings in which others will work for less than a living wage, at peril of no wage at all. This is the truth of the lives of students, the lives of workers (often one and the same). This is the truth of the relation between them and the buildings of the university, in the eyes of the Regents and the Office of the President.

No building will be safe from occupation while this is the case. No capital project but the project to end capital. We call for further occupations, to pry our buildings and our lives from its grip. We call for a different university, and a different society in which this university is embedded. We call for a different relation between lives and buildings. We do so freely.  We are the power.”

http://anticapitalprojects.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/no-capital-projects-but-the-end-of-capital/




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