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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.

How to Make the World Not Work: theory and history discussion series

Saturdays at 1pm at the CCC (732 E Clarke St.)

May 14: ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’ & ‘Paris: May 1968’

May 21: ‘A Very Careful Strike’ by Precarias A La Deriva

May 28: ‘Class Struggle in Italy: 1960s and 1970s’

June 4: ‘Frere Dupont’s Notes On Revolt’

All texts will be available for free at the CCC in print form.

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.

New York ’75 and Wisconsin ’11: The Lessons of Austerity

Written by some friends offering suggestions learned from a similar anti-austerity struggle in New York in 1975.

All across the country, eyes have been set upon the struggles of Wisconsin’s public workers against the imposition of austerity and the abrogation of collective bargaining rights. The solidarity shown by broad segments of Wisconsin’s working class—from teachers to firefighters, from steelworkers to clerical workers—has been an inspiration. As of this writing, workers in Ohio have begun to mobilize against similar proposals by the Governor of their state. It is clear that the militant actions of Wisconsin workers are having, and will have, a resounding effect upon how others across the country react to savage attacks on public sector employees.

The situation in Wisconsin has reached an impasse. The most militant force in these protests, the massive wildcat sick-outs by rank-and-file teachers, has been reigned in by union officials. It is unclear if the momentum of the protests in Madison can be sustained as Democratic Party representatives essentially filibuster the ‘budget repair bill’ by refusing to attend the legislature. There are conflicting tendencies within the labor union leadership: on the one hand, officials have already consented to sweeping concessions on pay and benefits; on the other hand, the South Central Labor Federation has endorsed a call for a general strike in the near future.

The lives of tens of thousands of Wisconsin workers are in the balance. But it is not merely these workers and their families who will feel the consequences of this brutal offensive by politicians in the service of capital. The workers of Wisconsin are on the front lines of an assault that affects us all. Indeed, history has shown that attacks on public unions are an attack on the entirety of the working class.

After all, union participation in the private sector continues to decline, while concessions by labor leaders and service cutbacks are commonplace across the country. States like New York, New Jersey and California face even bigger budget deficits than Wisconsin. For this reason, the developments in Madison are a test case for what will happen across the country.

Fortunately, history provides important lessons on how to fight back against austerity. In New York City, in the mid-1970s, municipal workers faced a similar assault and, despite the heroic response of the rank-and-file, they failed to stem the tide.

What can we learn from their struggle?

And how can we use that knowledge to arm ourselves against this current onslaught in Wisconsin and beyond?

Continue reading

January flier and Schedule for the winter anarchist discussion series

January – Italian Insurrectionary

Jan. 3rdAgainst Domestication

Jan. 10thArmed Struggle in Italy and Armed Joy

Jan. 17thMore, Much More

Jan. 24thThe Undesirables

Jan. 31st - The Insurrectional Project

What is now described as insurrectionary anarchism largely developed as a response to an intense period of autonomous class conflict and clandestine armed struggle against the state and capitalism in the 1960s and 70s, and their subsequent repression and failures.  This produced a questioning and rethinking of forms of organization, forms of struggle, etc, and also a theoretical and lived pratice of insurrectionary means.


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