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Communisation & Contemporary Struggles

-Wednesday -April 4th -7pm -at the CCC (732 E Clarke St.)

An evening with MEETING / Sic an journal of the communising current

Featuring Léon de Mattis & Julie Maitrejean

In October 2008, the global financial system almost collapsed, putting the word “crisis” on the front page of every newspaper. In 2010 and 2011, the sovereign debt crisis and an atmosphere of unrest all over the world revealed an even more severe economic and social situation.

Commentators everywhere put the blame on the finance sector alone, implying that there is a “real economy” that, if better managed, would be the soil for a sustainable and fair system. But to us, crises are on the contrary indicators and reveal what usually goes undernoticed. The capitalist system constantly undergoes contradictions, and cannot but reinforce, on an ever increasing scale, what it is inherently : a relation of domination and exploitation.

How could revolts against this oppression ultimately give birth to a new world? This question has had many various answers in the past. The communisation current tries to provide an appropriate response to the present moment.

“In the course of the revolutionary struggle, the abolition of the division of labour, of the State, of exchange, of any kind of property; the extension of a situation in which everything is freely available as the unification of human activity, that is to say the abolition of classes, of both public and private spheres – these are all ‘measures’ for the abolition of capital, imposed by the very needs of the struggle against the capitalist class.” -’Extrait de l’éditorial de Sic 1′

Léon de Mattis and Julie Maitrejean are French activists involved in the writting of Meeting/Sic, “International Journal for Communisation”. Léon de Mattis has been involved in the communisation project since the 2000s. He is the author of ‘Reflections on the Call’ and ‘What is communisation?’. He has also published two untranslated books : ‘Mort à la démocratie’ (2007) and ‘Crises’ (2012).

It is greatly encouraged by certainly not required that those attending familiarize themselves with a few texts prior to the event in order to facilitate more in depth discussions and understanding of the material being presented. They are: http://riff-raff.se/texts/en/sic1-what-is-communisation and http://libcom.org/library/reflections-call-lé-de-mattis

This event is free, but donations would be greatly appreciated to help pay for the lecturers travel expenses.

Plaza – Riot – Commune

Posted to Anarchist News:

We are the generation of the abandoned, the betrayed. Tossed up on the shores of the present by 150 years of failed insurrection, by the shipwreck of the workers’ movement, the failure of a hundred political projects. But it is not only our once-upon-a-time friends who have departed. Today, even our enemies flee from us, even capital abandons us: no more its minimum promises, the right to be exploited, the right to sell one’s labor power. Abandoned, we greet the world with utter abandon. There is no longer any possible adequacy of means and ends, no way of subordinating our actions to the rational or the practical. The present age of austerity means that even the most meager of demands require the social democrats to pick up bricks. Betrayed by democracy, betrayed by the technocrats of socialism, betrayed by the dumb idealism of anarchy, betrayed by the stolid fatalism of the communist ultraleft. We are not the 99%. We are not a fucking percentage at all. We do not count. If we have any power at all, it is because we are the enemies of all majority, enemies of “the people.” As the old song goes, we are nothing and must become everything.

Though it is a key characteristic of capitalism that each generation of its victims has, in its way, considered its persistence beyond a few decades unlikely if not preposterous, the difference between us and them is that in our case it just happens to be true. Now, not even capital’s footservants can paint a convincing portrait of a future based upon markets and wages – all the sci-fi dystopias of flying cars and robot servants seem truly ridiculous. No, the future only presents as ruin, apocalypse, burning metal in the desert. It is easier to imagine the end of life on earth than our own old age.

This is why anxieties over the implicit statism of anti-austerity struggles are baseless. With the exception of a few benighted activists and media ideologues, everyone understands quite well that the Keynesian card was played long ago, blown on wars and bailouts, the victim of its own monstrous success. There will be no rebirth of the welfare state, no “reindustrialization” of society. This much is obvious: if there is an expansion of the state, it will be a proto-fascist austerity state. Nor is there any longer a “Left” in any meaningful sense, as a force that desires to manage the existing world on different terms, in the name of the workers or the people. Those radicals who, tired of the weakness of the loyal opposition, imagine themselves called upon to “destroy the left” find that their very existence is predicated upon this old, vanished enemy. There is no Left left: only the great dispirited mass of the center, some wild and misdirected antagonism at the fringes.

The hopelessness of deflecting the state from its current course; the realization that even a slight reform of the system would require collective violence of a near revolutionary intensity; the attendant awareness that we would be idiots to go that distance and yet stop short of revolution –all of this gives many anti-austerity struggles a strange desperation and intensity. Our hope is to be found in this very hopelessness, in the fact that, in the current cycle of struggles, means have entirely dissociated from ends. Tactics no longer match with their stated objectives. In France, in response to a proposed change in the retirement age, high school students barricade their schools; roving blockades confuse the police; rioting fills city center after city center. In Britain and Italy, university struggles recruit tens of thousands of youth who have no hope of attending the university, nor any interest in doing so for that matter. There is no longer any possibility of a political calculus that matches ideas with tactics, thinking with doing. Do we suppose that French children are really concerned about what will happen to them once they are ready to retire? Does any young person expect the current social order to last that long? No, they are here to hasten things forward, hasten things toward collapse. Because it is easier to imagine the end of the world than retirement. Because anything is better than this.


For the neo-Leninist philosophes who build their cults in the shells of the dying universities, such an impossibility of lining up means with ends is nothing but a barrier or block. Where is the revolutionary program in the Egyptian revolution, they ask, where is the program in the streets of Britain or Greece? Who will discipline these bodies for their final assault on the palaces and citadels? For such thinkers, only an idea can guarantee the efficacy of these bodies. Only an idea – the idea of communism, as some say – can make of these bodies a proper linkage between means and ends. But communism is not an idea nor an idealism – it means freeing bodies from their subordination to abstractions. Thankfully, we are skittish, faithless and flighty people. We have trouble listening. For us, communism will be material or it will be nothing. It will be a set of immediate practices, immediate satisfactions, or nothing. If we find discipline and organization, it will come from what we do, not what we think.

By “idea” the philosophes mean something like “the Party.” They intend to make themselves and their ideas mean, as structure and social form. They intend to cement the old pact between the intelligentsia and the workers’ movement. But there is no intelligentsia anymore and there certainly is no workers’ movement to speak of. The entire structure of duty and obligation – Christian in origin – upon which the classical programmatic parties were built no longer exists, because capital no longer needs morality for helpmeet. There is acting for ourselves; there is acting with others; but there is no sustained acting for another, out of obligation.


Our indiscipline means that among political ideas only the one idea which is, by its very nature, determined to remain an idea, an ideal, can gain any purchase here: democracy. From Tunisia to Egypt, from Spain to Greece, from Madison to Wall Street, again and again, the “movement of the squares” buckles under the dead weight of this shibboleth. Democracy, the name for the enchantment of the people by its own image, by its potential for endless deferral. Democracy, a decision-making process become political ontology, such that the form itself, the form of the decision, becomes its own content. We democratically decide to be democratic! The people chooses itself!

In the present era – the era of the austerity state and the unemployment economy – radical democracy finds its ideal locus in the metropolitan plaza or square. The plaza is the material embodiment of its ideals – a blank place for a blank form. Through the plaza, radical democracy harkens back to its origin myth, the agora, the assembly-places of ancient Greece which also served as marketplaces (such that the phrase “I shop” and “I speak in public” were nearly identical). These plazas are not, however, the buzzing markets filled with economic and social transaction, but clean-swept spaces, vast pours of concrete and nothingness, perhaps with a few fountains here or there. These are spaces set aside by the separation of the “political” from the economy, the market. Nowhere is this more clear than in the most recent episode of the “movement of squares” – Occupy Wall Street – which attempted, meekly and rather insincerely, to occupy the real agora, the real space of exchange, but ended up pushed into a small, decorative park on the outskirts of Wall Street, penned by police. This is what building the new world in the shell of the old means today – an assembly ringed by cops.

If there is hope in these manifestations, it lies in the forms of mutual aid that exist there, the experimentation people undertake in providing for their own needs. Already, we see how the occupations are forced against their self-imposed limits, brought into conflict with the police, despite the avowed pacificism of the participants. The plaza occupations – with all their contradictions – are one face of the present dissociation of means from ends. Or rather, they present a situation in which means are not so much expelled as sublimated, present as the object of a vague symbolization, such that the gatherings come to pre-enact or symbolize or prefigure some future moment of insurrection. At their worst, they are vast machines of deferral. At their best, they force their participants toward actually seizing what they believe they are entitled to merely want.

How far we are from Egypt, the putative start of the sequence. There, the initial assembly was an act of symbolic violence, decidedly so, which everyone knew would open onto an encounter with the state and its force. And yet, even there, the separation from the economy – from the ways in which our needs are satisfied – remained inscribed into the revolution from the start. In other words, the Egyptian insurrection was not deflected to the sphere of the political but started there to begin with. And all of the other episodes in the so-called “movement of squares” repeat this primary dislocation, whether they remain hamstrung by pacifism and democratism, as in Spain, or press their demands in material form, as in Greece.

This brings the plaza occupations into relation not only with the entire development of orthodox Marxism, from Lenin through Mao, which places the conquest of state power front and center, but also its apparent opposite in this historical moment: the riots of Athens and London and Oakland, which, bearing the names of Oscar Grant, Alexis Grigoropoulos, or Mark Duggan, treat the police and state power as both cause and effect, provocation and object of rage. Though the looting which always accompanies such eruptions points the way to a more thorough expropriation, these riots, even though they seem the most immediate of antagonistic actions, are also bound by a kind of symbolization, the symbolization of the negative, which says what it wants through a long litany, in letters of fire and broken glass, of what it does not want: not this, not that. We’ve seen their limits already, in Greece –even burning all of the banks and police stations was not enough. Even then, they came into a clearing, a plaza, swept clean by their own relentless negations, where negation itself was a limit. What then? What will we do then? How do we continue?

Between the plaza and the riot, between the most saccharine affirmation and the blackest negation – this is where we find ourselves. Two paths open for us: each one, in its way, a deflection from the burning heart of matter. On the one hand, the endless process of deliberation that must finally, in its narrowing down to a common denominator, arrive at the only single demand possible: a demand for what already is, a demand for the status quo. On the other hand, the desire that has no object, that finds nothing in the world which answers its cry of annihilation.

One fire dies out because it extinguishes its own fuel source. The other because it can find no fuel, no oxygen. In both cases, what is missing is a concrete movement toward the satisfaction of needs outside of wage and market, money and compulsion. The assembly becomes real, loses its merely theatrical character, once its discourse turns to the satisfaction of needs, once it moves to taking over homes and buildings, expropriating goods and equipment. In the same way, the riot finds that truly destroying the commodity and the state means creating a ground entirely inhospitable to such things, entirely inhospitable to work and domination. We do this by facilitating a situation in which there is, quite simply, enough of what we need, in which there is no call for “rationing” or “measure,” no requirement to commensurate what one person takes and what another contributes. This is the only way that an insurrection can survive, and ward off the reimposition of market, capital and state (or some other economic mode based upon class society and domination). The moment we prove ourselves incapable of meeting the needs of everyone – the young and the old, the healthy and infirm, the committed and the uncommitted– we create a situation where it is only a matter of time before people will accept the return of the old dominations. The task is quite simple, and it is monstrously difficult: in a moment of crisis and breakdown, we must institute ways of meeting our needs and desires that depend neither on wages nor money, neither compulsory labor nor administrative labor, and we must do this while defending ourselves against all who stand in our way.

Research & Destroy, 2011

48 hour General Strike In Chile
08/30/2011, 12:24 PM
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

UTEM says: Neither dialogue nor referendums! Only barricades and molotovs!

“During the pathetic call to strike of the CUT which lasted two whole days, one could observe many actions of a social variety. In the first place, the objective of the strike, as explained by the Pinochetista Andres Chadwick (who was one of the violent agitators against the foreign priests who came to investigate human rights cases), was to “paralyze the country” (a strike that would paralyze? Attention, CQC, check this guy out); with him appeared a new media-police form wherein outcast workers and students violently attacked proletarians who tried to break with the social order which protects the violence of the State/Capital (alleged brothers in struggle violently attacking others because they oppose violence?). During the marches that happened downtown, one could clearly see that there were people ready to perform the function of the pólice, for which they should face the consequence of being attacked like the pólice.

The discourse of this entire mobilization was always the same, constitutional reforms to fortify the State/Capital and its capitalist education, labor laws that “protect” the proletariat while selling its labor power (not ending the sale of its labor power) and polite requests addressed to president Sebastian Pinera, that he please reign in this whole “social crisis” that is occurring (not even requiring that he be beheaded in the Plaza de Armas), rather than dealing with his ministers who are heirs to a military government, and one that is accountable to al Mossad in Israel every time they attack the proletariat.

But all is not lost, in fact we should be happy about the degree of violence in which the social joints in this country are going on. It’s gratifying and thought-provoking that you can still function, even when you wake up in the morning and see the armed functionaries of capitalism being attacked at 6am, and fire and destruction in different parts of the country. It is thus that a group of encapuchados went out at 10pm from UTEM at Macul and Grecia to demonstrate that violence is the only way to destabilize the State/Capital and break with the imperative social order that protects its continuous violence against the proletariat. As soon as they began to burn a barricade in front of UTEM, a PDI contingent appeared in a flash, armed with pellet-rifles, with the intention of attacking anyone and everyone, be they the comrades of UTEM who defended themselves with molotov cocktails or people who were simply passing by, including those who were in the surrounding area. After a short confrontation with the PDI, the assassination-respression organ left the scene, which led to a direct confrontation with the military pólice who began to utilize the same method of shooting directly at the bodies of everyone nearby. At the end of this clash, the comrades entered the University once again, making it clear that the conditions for negotiation put forward by the political parties do not represent the proletariat with a class consciousness, and that the solution goes far beyond that, to the abolition of every kind of domination, of class society, and for this there is only the path of political violence which leading toward communism and anarchy.”


From Contra Info:

“In the night of August 26th, in Jaime Eyzaguirre neighbourhood of Manuel Gutiérrez Reinoso who was shot dead by police, his relatives and friends held a candle ceremony in the memory of the deceased and marched in the streets of Macul community. Protest gatherings and marches took place in various Chilean cities, as well as in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In Alameda Avenue in downtown Santiago, after 19.00 the cops used violence, water cannons and tear gas to break up the protest march of more than 200 demonstrators. Five protesters were detained, and people in solidarity responded by setting up barricades and clashing with the repressive forces.

The total number of detainees across Chile during the demonstrations of the 48hour general strike (August 24th-25th) is 1,394 people. More than 300 were charged with minor or major violent disorder, assault on police officers and looting, in the majority of cases. Most of the persecuted people were released on restrictive bail conditions; namely they are obliged to appear periodically before the authorities, they are banned from exiting the country and banned from participating in manifestations. Furthermore, more than 20 protesters (the precise number is yet unconfirmed) were charged with firearms possession, and some have been held in custody.

During the protests on Thursday, August 25th, in Santiago, three Colombian youngsters who threw objects against Carabiniers were followed and snatched by undercover agents of the Dipolcar political police. One of them was released. The other two youngsters — one 15-year-old and one 20-year-old — were charged with public violent disorder, and the prosecutor demanded their expulsion from the country. The 15-year-old boy is a political refugee and will not be deported, but the 20-year-old Colombian is threatened with expulsion due to the fact that he joined the protests. In the meantime, the authorities of Santiago Province have filed a lawsuit against the arrested immigrants. (It must be noted that on August 19th in Bogotá, Colombia, a 16-year-old graffitist, Diego Felipe Becerra, has been shot dead in cold blood by national police; protest marches followed Diego’s death.)

It is clear that this repressive action serves as an exemplary measure against all immigrants who live in Chile, so that they know what can happen to them if they protest. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are being exploited, live in over-crowed homes, and suffer constant discriminations because of their origin and a long list of humiliations for the sole reason of coming from another country. These people could explode at any time against oppression; that’s why the Power suppresses brutally any immigrant that has the ‘nerve’ to protest. In the past, the State of Chile has deported immigrants on the grounds of their participation in gatherings and demos, their solidarity with the Mapuche people or their close relations with left and anarchist radical groups.

Also, on August 25th, a 12-year-old kid was hit in the face by a tear gas grenade during the manifestations in Concepción. The boy’s cheek was deformed after one of the Chilean police murderers fired tear gas against him, near the city’s university.

This is not something new: After the rally for public education on May12th, Carabiniers brutally invaded the University of Concepción. The student Paulina Rubilar was severely injured in one eye by a tear gas grenade.

The murderous practice of firing tear gas straight at demonstrators, along with the extensive use of rubber bullets and plastic pellets has caused injuries to hundreds of people in recent months. Plastic pellets, in addition to causing permanent injuries, can also be fatal —as had happened on March 27th, 1984, during the students protests of the era, when the 24-year-old student Caupolicán Inostroza Lamas was killed by plastic pellets fired by servants of Pinochet’s dictatorship that struck him in the throat.

Nevertheless it seems that bourgeois democracy transcends dictatorship. It is worth mentioning that manifestations against Chile’s billionaire president Sebastián Piñera take place in most (but not all) of the places where he shows up. His government tries to cover up the case of Manuel Gutiérrez Reinoso’s murder. At the same time, police spokesmen deny that a cop, a man of their kind, shot the boy while the corporate media reproduce blatant scenarios in order to weaken the case of state murder.

In a joint statement, the residents of Jaime Eyzaguirre neighbourhood — where the murdered teenager lived — confirm that the police alone are responsible for this murder, like all the testimonies indicate, including that of Manuel’s 22-year-old brother who was with him at the time of murder. The district falls under the jurisdiction of the 43rd Police Department of Peñalolén. In the same statement the residents report that another neighbour was injured in the shoulder by the cops’ shootings. According to the regime’s Press, a youngster confirmed the existence of the injured neighbour. He added that when the patrol car appeared on Amanda Labarca Street, protesters began to hurdle stones on it, and then the cops opened gunfire. However, Manuel was killed nearly 70 metres from the point where the clashes evolved.”


Warts and All: On the occupation at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

The occupation is a feast at which we may satisfy our hunger for beautiful and intense moments.

- Graffiti from the occupied UWM theatre building

The stage is set: years of defeat-induced, pessimistic depression and a more-than-healthy dose of cynicism; cut backs, layoffs, and foreclosures piled on top of already extreme levels of poverty, hopelessness and social disintegration; a context notable for its glaring lack of collective struggle against this misery.

Then suddenly an outburst of activity: the occupation of the State Capitol building in Madison; anti-austerity demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people; massive wildcat sick-ins, student walk-outs and murmurs of a general strike.

Of course this attempt to get back on our feet will include its fair share of missteps and stumbling. All the more so because for many of us, nothing quite like this has yet touched our lives. Even for those of us who desperately track such moments of conflict through the pages of books, across oceans and continents, this is a new and strange place we find ourselves in.

On March 2nd at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee a student walkout took place followed by a demonstration involving some 2,000 students, teaching assistants, professors, workers and unemployed. The demonstration took to the streets surrounding the university. Chants and signs were mostly dominated by anti-legislation, anti-governor as well as pro-union, pro-democracy rhetoric. “This is what democracy looks like:” an unintentionally ironic slogan given that the occupation of the State Capitol building, which partially inspires the university uproar, is actually an attempt to disrupt the functioning of democracy and majority rule.

The sadly predictable rally which followed the demonstration was sufficiently long and boring to kill most of the momentum generated by the walk-out and disperse all but a couple hundred of those who had participated in the demonstration. This, by no means recent, trend is, if not a tool of manipulation used by organizers and leaders to maintain control over the situation, then at least an undesirable hold-over from bygone eras.

The point here is not to value one form of symbolic protest over another (marching in the streets versus standing in a plaza), but to realize when an activity is detrimental to the continuation and expansion of the struggle and to replace it with a different form. Marching through campus buildings in an attempt to further disrupt classes and the functioning of the university, holding an open “speak-out” at which any individual from the crowd could voice their opinions, or directly moving to occupy a building with a several thousand strong crowd would all be better than the impotent spectacle of speakers and a passive crowd.

Eventually the remaining demonstrators moved back into the student union, this time to resounding chants of, “They say class cuts, we say class war”, “An eye for an eye, Walker must die”, and “Kill the rich” (a slight alteration of the mainstream slogan “kill the bill”). After a brief discussion on the best building to occupy, the group moved into the lobby of the theater department and set up camp.

Almost immediately the “occupation” was overwhelmed by the formalism of meetings and a consuming concern with minutia. Instead of immediately discussing how to make the occupation more potent and massive, energy and excitement was drained into debates about demands that ultimately had no basis in a real counter-power to the administration and rules for how to exist collectively within the space.

While compromises were eventually reached on such issues as whether or not to barricade the doors, graffiti the walls, and drink indoors, the absurdities of “respecting the building” reached surreal heights. At one point an argument was started about what kind of tape to use when putting posters on the wall (the supposedly acceptable alternative to writing on them directly).

At another point, after agreeing to a demand for “immunity for all involved in the occupations” someone from within the occupation called the police on a fellow occupier. A terribly divisive move that if repeated can only serve to weaken and destroy the potential for further collective struggle. This act of “snitching” led to heated debates, a periodic police walk-through, and an eventual agreement to cease relying on the police as a means of solving internal disputes.

All of these details, while illustrating the confused and timid nature of what in actuality was a prolonged, indoor protest, should not be used to completely write off the events that transpired. Criticism in this context is meant as a means of learning and growing so that a future attempt to engage with social struggle may avoid the mistakes of our past. The very fact of our lack of a collective living memory on exactly how to fight back is both the explanation for these errors and the motivation for a continued presence within the struggle against austerity.

The adoption of a general assembly model for making decisions, while being a safeguard against the manipulations of small groups, was also a forum for the discussion of issues such as the nature and purpose of occupations and social struggle, the possibility of a generalized strike, and the role of police in society at large. While these discussions did not immediately translate into practical activity, their effect on the future of this struggle and others which may follow it cannot be foreseen from this vantage point.

Generally speaking, the transition from thought and conversation into action, or rather the lack of this necessary step, is a major hindrance to the development of the occupation in a more consciously conflictual direction. The lack of confidence in ourselves, in our ability to actually transform our environment and our daily lives, was exemplified by both the insistence on following the rules and thus preserving the position of “student” as well as the ever-present conversation revolving around the need to inform more people about what was going on. Covering the campus and surrounding neighborhood with posters, flyering desks and tables, disrupting classes or even consistently engaging those passing through the space in conversation were all ideas that were thrown out, but were only acted on to a limited degree. This hesitancy to take our ideas, and thereby our selves, seriously is a limitation that can only be overcome through further experience in struggle. The dynamic of leadership and followers must be superseded by the development of self-organization and the capacity to act decisively.

Perhaps the biggest limit of this attempt at occupation is its nature as an isolated activity for most of those involved. Because it does not currently coincide with a stoppage of either work or reproductive education, because there is yet no strike, the occupation takes on the form of an isolated protest. Without the lifting of the burdens of classes, homework, and part time wage labor many of the participants were quickly exhausted and didn’t have the time or energy to be more deeply invested in the project of qualitatively developing the situation.

Without any sign of disagreement or even a discussion of its implications, the participants accepted the slogan of “Strike, Occupy, Takeover!” Yet the first step in that simplistic equation wasn’t taken seriously as something we could collectively enact. Similarly, the assembled approved a statement calling for a general strike, and this without much of a discussion about just how a general strike could come about.

Due to the nature of the laws regulating labor disputes in the US, a general strike cannot be declared from on high by the large labor federations. For a generalized strike to occur here it would necessarily involve some degree of self-organization whether through discussion and activity at the local union level, the forging of complicit relationships at non-unionized workplaces (which are by far the majority), sabotage at non-participating workplaces, or some other form perhaps completely outside and unrepresentable by the familiar apparatuses.

Yet within much of the assembled body of students, a general strike was not understood as something that everyone would have to create together, a festival of disruption, but rather as something that would just happen; a disheartening attitude that reduces the likelihood of a meaningful and widespread stoppage. Perhaps other forums will be created in which this necessary conversation can be taken up in greater depth.

To sum up we can say that although the occupation is rife with limitations and fails to overcome most, if not all, of them, it is a beginning and not an end. The attempt to expand the struggle against austerity beyond the boundaries of time (one day walkouts, weekly demonstrations), geography (the centrality of Madison), and social position (workers vs. students) is a step in the right direction. In order to actually derail the legislation which sparked all this uproar, the struggle will have to spread across even more boundaries (precarious and poor vs. securely employed, etc.) and develop both in form and content. It is precisely through this struggle to reverse a specific attack on the working class that we can open up further avenues for struggle and maybe even the possibility of a world without legislators or classes of any sort.

- some non-student participants

Looking Toward Wisconsin: An Interview With A Participant From Milwaukee

This interview was conducted by someone from the journal Modesto Anarcho (MA).

What follows is an interview with a comrade from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the recent events in the state’s Capital, Madison, over a few hours away. For more information on what is happening in Wisconsin, check out the Burnt Bookmobile blog. Class war, don’t cha know?

MA: What is the situation in Madison right now?

I’ve only been in Madison during one of the days since the occupation and demonstrations started. I’ve known people who have spent many days there, who have slept in the Capitol building, and who have been going back and forth between Milwaukee and Madison regularly. People are constantly talking about the situation, so I have an idea that is generally up to date, but there is often a bit of a delay. At other times I’m hearing about things as they happen through friends, because word travels much faster than the reporting often does.

I can describe what my experience was there briefly on that day. I went on the first Saturday, the day when the Tea Party of Wisconsin had also called for protests to counter the occupation and protests taking place. About a couple thousand Tea Party protesters showed up, but they were dwarfed and drowned out by the fifty to one hundred thousand people who wandered through the streets, marched, inadvertently blocking traffic and rerouting it across the city, and took up most of the floor space inside the Capitol building. They were mostly ignored and made irrelevant, huddled into a corner of the back steps and yard on one side of the Capitol. I had expected the presence of the Tea Party to provoke and heighten tensions between the two sides, but not much happened in response.

Inside the Capitol building people had been hanging posters and signs on everything. As would be expected, there were chants and crowds of people banging on things. When hearing “This is what democracy looks like” chanted I’m usually horribly ashamed to be present, driven almost to the point of nausea, but this atmosphere sent a shiver down my spine. Despite the form of expression this took, I had the feeling that its real content was hidden, but still exposed through the collective force of the activity of these people. It expressed a feeling of being together as thousands of people who couldn’t be fucked with, even if the parameters to express this were and are mostly pathetic at this point. It demonstrated that it is our activity that defines us. Otherwise, the contradiction of a movement that is both for and against democracy cannot be explained, as it physically prevents the democratic process. Democracy mitigates and disguises force relations by reducing them to a process and mere matters of opinion. It is the neutralization of force and thus of the conflict that is necessary for the elaboration of a politics, for one to take sides and act. We don’t care what as much what people chant, but as long as they increasingly define their position they will increasingly come into an internal contradiction with democratic logic.

What was going on in these spaces had been going on for days and had therefore assumed a kind of routine or culture. So after witnessing it there wasn’t much to do except to wander, meet and talk, eat food, hang out and occupy the space of the city along with the other thousands of people there.

As for what is going on currently in Madison, I’ve heard that Saturday the 26th has been one of the largest days of the demonstrations in terms of numbers. Though I haven’t heard much about the situation on that specific day. There have been rumors and talk of eviction since this all happened, but the police Chief of Madison made an official statement that probably came as an order to be distributed from the Governor, declaring that the Capitol building was to be “cleared” for cleaning, which meant forcefully evicted if need be. A day after this announcement the police union made a statement to the media and gathered crowds saying that they stand with those occupying the Capitol and protesters, not with Scott Walker or his proposed legislation, that they would not be part of any eviction of these people, and that they would in fact be joining them in sleeping on the floors of the Capitol. This is all very weird. It no doubt allows certain illusions to persist, but it won’t last long. It had seemed like the moment when lines would be more clearly drawn was fast approaching, making clear connections between this particular event, the inherent play of forces necessary to maintain everyday life and the function of the police, as a force of dispossession. We will not be surprised when the police are forced to act in order to attempt to maintain their role as the ones who make the threats.

On Saturday, word spread in various ways that the Capitol was going to be closed Sunday by 4pm and that everyone was going to have to leave. A couple hundred decided to leave to avoid risking arrest, but many hundreds more gathered and were determined to hold the space with the possibility of being arrested. Against the prospect of having to arrest hundreds of people in the Capitol, which would have been a bad move in the eyes of many thousands who had come to the Capitol in the preceding days, the police decided that they weren’t going to arrest anyone. They encouraged people to leave voluntarily and that they would assess the situation “day by day.” This all meant that as long as people stayed that the occupation would continue. It’s still continuing now.

MA: Can you talk about what were some of the first events to happen? The sick outs for instance?

I first heard about the events in Madison sitting in a computer lab, when none of this seemed like it would last more than a day and it lacked a real quality for many people here. Earlier in the day there had been a relatively minor protest organized by teachers assistants, teachers and others. Nothing was surprising or out of the ordinary. Not until later in the week, when a walk out was called and three thousand people responded, did the unreality of the situation start to appear as if it wasn’t going to so easily fade back to normal. After this there was always talk and rumors circulating. There was a giddiness that was held in common by people never expected to share anything. People, who before were just members of the crowd passing between work, class and their homes, suddenly had a vibrancy to them. Invisible dots that connected us became more visible.

I know a few who are teachers for MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) and a number of graduate students who are TAs at the UW-Milwaukee campus. I don’t have a very exact knowledge of all of the districts and specific schools that were shut down by the sick outs. All Madison public schools were shut down for at least four days. Then followed Racine, Milwaukee and a number of others I’m not as familiar with. Thousands have participated in the sick outs. Some of TAs and teachers have not shown up to a single class since the sick out started to teach, despite threats from the administration. Many of the public school teachers have gone back to work, feeling some obligation to their students and because it seemed that there was less purpose in sustaining the sick outs. It appears as very likely that they will be employed strategically, correlative to certain days: like a general strike, the day when the contracts for many public employee unions expire, or other possible events.

MA: What is the extent of the student walk outs? The occupations?

Accompanying the sick outs there have also been widespread and random walkouts, by high school students. They have been incredibly self-directed. We’ve heard about them taking place anywhere from any of the rural Wisconsin towns, Schools surrounding Madison, and a number of urban Milwaukee schools. The numbers and magnitude of this activity was severely under-reported and communicated, so we have a hard time knowing what exactly went on. We had randomly crossed paths with one group of about two hundred to three hundred kids who had walked out of a school called Rufus King, who just happened to be meandering through the UW-Milwaukee campus during the walkout which was happening there. They joined the occupation of Bolton Hall on campus to show support temporarily, but seemed less interested in assemblies or discussion. They wanted to be angry and how they expressed this was to walk for miles around the city, chanting, yelling and being unruly. No activity we have seen thus far has contained as much energy as these kids.

The occupations outside of the Capitol have been so far pretty minor. Though many students have been a consistent presence in Madison and many have been staying overnight, sleeping on the floor of the Capitol building, and taking part in meetings and discussions happening there. There was the GOP office in Madison which was occupied by members of a disability rights group called ADAPT, who it was rumored to have been joined at least temporarily by steel workers. There is a lot of talk about occupation, and much is expected to coincide or respond to the release of the new budget that happens on the 1st of March, this upcoming student day of action on the 2nd of March, and when the bill passes.

MA: If a general strike does break out, what do you think will happen?

A lot of people barely know what a general strike means in the US. We don’t know what it means for an entire city to be shut down outside of a snow storm in Wisconsin. Perhaps there will be a snow storm and city workers will refuse to plow it. Most likely not. Union officials are quoted to have said in their endorsement of the general strike that emergency services would not be effected. Everything else run by public and potentially private industries as well will halt. One would assume that there would be marches and many people in the streets, with workplaces suddenly emptied of all their bodies, but it’s unclear what exactly these bodies will do suddenly freed and functioning less properly. With the strike being contingent upon when the bill passes and the bill passing being indefinitely delayed, it’s hard to tell or foresee an increase or lack of momentum that would change the effect of the strike.

Many people in general are planning. They don’t want to sit and wait for the bill to pass to determine their activity. Meanwhile the rank and file of unions are being educated as to the what and how of a general strike. It’s hard to fathom what this will look like without being heavily based on the image of how it has happened in the past. In this case, the past is innovative in responding to the nothing we’re so familiar with, but this only goes so far. The situation must be open to more creative and critical approaches in order to respond to the specific modes of production and reproduction of capitalism in Wisconsin currently, so as to fulfill the general strikes threat of a force that refuses to function, making everything stop. I don’t expect creative or critical approaches to this, but I have been surprised many times already in the past number of weeks.

MA: To what extent has the spirit of the Egyptian uprising been an impact on the demonstrators?

To the degree that some of the people involved have paid some attention to the events in Egypt and found them inspiring, this has contributed some amount of a feeling of a greater possibility here. It is doubtful that it is a very large influence. There are many people who identify within leftist and radical discourses, who would have followed what was and is going on in Egypt, but the majority are normal ass people from Wisconsin who most likely learn about events from standard television news and other “mainstream” media. As someone who doesn’t pay much attention to either I may be wrong.

MA: What are some of the limits of what is happening in Wisconsin? To what degree are the unions and the Democrats in control of the situation?

The situation is permeated with limits. It would seem that any potential rupture or large scale manifestation of people reacting to crisis, and thereby being the crisis, will manifest likely at first as a movement for the return to normal. It will be trapped mostly within the apparatuses and discourses which contain them, but also necessarily exceeding them through activity. There are obvious identifiable limits. There are the unions themselves, which in their structure play a role in preventing and containing the self-directed activity of those who work. There are dominant discourses for what constitutes politics or contestation, which prevent and contain how resisting or being in conflict can be thought and acted out. There is the whole of our present conditions which employ and condition the worker that must be struggled against. It is vague but true to say that the alienated being, the kind that exists as a person living in Wisconsin, must fight everything. But this does not mean that there is no specificity to the struggle here. At this point of just barely being started, the struggle is though mostly unacknowledged, in reality against everything that maintains the normal progressive development of Capital. The anti-austerity struggle here must determine barriers by conflicting with its conditions – by creating a language, culture and practice of a shared struggle.

It appears as quite clear that the unions and Democrats are acting as a response to a popular rage and collective force that necessitates they act in a way which maintains degrees of legitimacy. That these mere representations and structures lack the potency which corresponds to the actual abnormal activity of people here is not to say that they have no influence over the situation. They channel this rage into established politics, organization, identity, discourses which all inherently impotently respond to the situation specifically because they are and produce the dead end which we inhabit, this ever increasing lack of control over our lives.

MA: Have you heard or come across many people who are getting annoyed at the control the Left is placing on the events?

I’m surrounded by those who are always more than annoyed by the Left. I have not been in close proximity to the organization of the occupation in the Capitol, how marches are organized, etc. The presence of the Left is something that one is always alienated from. There is this feeling of being a member of mass to produce an image of power for ends other than yourself or your interests. There is a constant setting of the stage, the defining of what are acceptable terms, modes of conduct, the aestheticization of the event is often influenced most easily by those who can supply everyone with the same sign, with the same t-shirt, who take and make the image have a role of defining the event. But outside of this there is much self-directed and creative activity that contradicts these tendencies, and which will eventually come ever further into conflict with them.

We understand that activity itself has the ability to dissolve some of these subjective barriers and allows for people to be more than a member of a certain union for that certain union, a worker for work, a man for men, a student for school, etc. We can hope that this event to whatever degree creates a further crisis of subjectivity – that glimpses the abolishment of even more than the class, but the entire conditions and conditioning of the worker.

MA: Have revolutionaries been able to intervene or expand the revolt in any way?

It’s at too much of an early and experimental stage to assess the effectiveness of our activity. People with much wider aims and intentions are participating in these events and they’ve been thrown into a fever pace in order to catch up, but it is perhaps not the best idea to go into much detail about specifics. Posters are made and widely distributed. Texts are written that analyze the situation, attempting to clear away as many inhibitions as possible with critique. But most of all, in these moments it is not words but actions which have and which will change everything, and which corresponds to a way of being in the world that we could call communism or anarchy.

MA: Any last thoughts?

Look to Wisconsin and see yourselves. Make it spread. Prepare for and create crisis.


It is of the utmost importance to realize that this or that particular piece of legislation is not the issue. As capitalism goes into crisis, the State will always restructure itself to meet the needs of capital at the expense of all else. In this way, a democratic state is no different than a dictatorship, a welfare state no different than an austere one. The form of the state will always correspond to the needs of its real content: capitalism. “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Wherever it presents itself, the Democratic alternative is inherently a dead end. When activist-managers, union bureaucrats and politicians lead chants of “Democracy, Unions!” they shamelessly demand more of the same! more of the same! To be clear: there is absolutely no hope in the activity of these politicians and would-be politicians. We can only hope that they might follow the example of their colleagues in the Wisconsin state senate by running away to hide-out poolside at some hotel far from the senate chambers. If only every politician would stop doing their jobs! If the struggle in Wisconsin is to get beyond its current limitations and to become a real threat to the State, it would be necessary for all those involved to rightly expose, critique and depose their self-appointed leaders.

- Wisconsin in exile, February 17


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