Filed under: Milwaukee area, update | Tags: anarchy, anti-capitalist, anti-state, books, burnt bookmobile, communism, discourse, distro, end, midwest, milwaukee
After almost 9 years of running a distro the Burnt Bookmobile no longer exists. Perhaps it will change name and form and resurface, with new intent and function. Where an absence is felt by this loss it is encouraged that others take on a similar project of circulating ideas, encouraging critical discourse, to find others (as many have through this project over the years) and to challenge and provoke each other to become ever powerful and potent in our lives and our thoughts, which are inseparable.
The website will remain up and archived as long as wordpress will let it.
If there are questions about how to start such a project please contact us at blowedupwisconsin at gmail dot com.
(perhaps something will be written that reflects more on the project rather than simply announcing its end in the near future.)
-Phantom Limbs of the Burnt Bookmobile
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, beginning, communism, indians, introduction, occupy, primitive, whitherburoo
“Thus in the midst of their greatest festivities, though physically thronging together, they live like wild beasts in a deep solitude of spirit and will, scarcely any two being able to agree since each follows his own pleasure and caprice. By reason of all this, providence decrees that, through obstinate factions and desperate civil wars, they shall turn their cities into forests and the forests into dens and lairs of men. . . Hence peoples who have reached this point of premeditated malice, when they receive this last remedy of providence and are thereby stunned and brutalized, are sensible no longer of comforts, delicacies, pleasures and pomp, but only of the sheer necessities of life. And the few survivors in the midst of an abundance of things necessary for life naturally become sociable, and, returning to the primitive simplicity of the first world of peoples, are again religious, truthful and faithful.”
-Vico, Scienza Nuova
1. It comes to pass, at last: this great Leviathan that has swallowed the whole world, now commences its death agony. The mechanical man likened unto the perfected State, with unweeping eyes and unfeeling heart, rusts from its own internal emptiness. The clockwork society breaks down. And the returning ghost towns, like a forgotten malediction, return to gaze mournfully at the passing of the glory of the world. The suburbs, this great gilded prison, agonize as they are left to return to nature, to slowly decay in their false-seeming gentility. The streetlights no longer illuminate the night on the edge of town, but cede way to their precursors, of which they are only the sad imitation, the moon and stars. The roads crumble into gravel, and from thence return to dust that they always were. Like unto like, America “is the nothingness that reduces itself to nothingness”, in the words of Hegel. Such are the heart-rending times the Americans inhabit.
This was the scenic backdrop of Occupy, which was not the beginning of anything new for America, as so many vulgar mediocrities would have us believe, but the faded repetition of its threadbare paltry ideals, and in truth, the pageant of the death agony of the American citizenry. The body politic will not revive: it is a corpse already beginning to putrefy. Who wants to be a part of death? There were those, with their prefabricated void collapsing of its own nullity, who wanted at all costs to stop this historically unprecedented implosion. They complained about rebuilding bridges, redistributing this or that. But look how intolerant their tolerance was: these liberals were openly working with the cops. Look how their spirits have so collapsed, these masterless slaves hate anyone acting manfully against the shameful degradation called American normality. And look how foolish these so-called educated are, who still believe they live in a democracy even while the police are throwing tear gas into their right to assembly, even while their beloved half-black puppet is currently giving the police the legal right to kill anyone. It is no great secret that America is terminally ill: it is clearly already braindead, its ever-feeble heart reduced to an automata of life support machines. One day, the de facto wards of this inhuman vegetable, the bankers and the military-industrial complex, will decide to pull the plug.
Before this predictable ignominious end, there was a message of hope, but not for the Stars and Stripes. The Occupy tents appeared in the heart of the grey steel cities, looking to the careful observer like a thousand Indian tipis had returned to the land they loved so dearly, exactly as they promised to do not so long ago. It had changed so much for the worse, but they still knew it as their own. It was as if they came back when Detroit and its productive apparatus lay shattered on the ground, when green shoots came into the crumbling brick and concrete buildings. When the long awaited wreck and ruin spoken of in the Ghost Dance was becoming so clear. When America was drowning in all the blood of the innocent it had spilled, and choking to death on all its ill-gotten plunder. The Indian spirits were completing their invisible revolution.
In these times, everything is progress towards the end. In America, all is progress towards the great collapse, the shriveling up and withering away of so much accumulated wickedness. Everyone contributes, willingly or no: the military and its totally failed, never-ending wars; the tea party cretins trying to refound their doomed American dream; a general culture spreading mindless saturnalian decadence, as before they danced in Rome even when the Empire was crumbling away; abused and neglected Mother Earth herself, and her beloved children, the ghosts of the Indians passed away in agony who haunt the dim-lit parking lots where nothing ever happens. . . everyone, in truth, longs for the collapse, because feeling and sentiment have retreated inside themselves to construct the world denied to them-all private life has become egoism and loneliness, an ornately gilded abyss. The public life of civic ideals no longer arouses even the scorn of laughter, so much has this passed into generalized derision with the growth of factional intrigues, conspiracies, crimes and murders. The American century is imploding, unmourned and unloved, from its own corruption and venality. Those who can still hear, let them hear.
2. The Americans have lived through a social movement, its ebb and flow, and now sit back and digest what they lived. They had forgotten their bodies, forgot the sting of tear gas and the feel of rocks in the pocket, a trusty stick in the hand, comrades all around. They had forgotten their bodies at the same time as history itself, because America is the most total alienation of humanity from itself.
To our eyes, the most remarkable thing, and most indicative of an alienation of intelligence from the mind, was the poverty of all hitherto-published analyses of Occupy. There was the predictable, hideous liberalism of Hedges and the rest of the peace police, that everyone knows only too well from the so-called antiwar movement. There was abstract graduate student Marxism, which only reflected the abstraction of their own lives. There was Crimethinc which now, having abandoned its previous lifestylism, has decided to become anarcho-insurrectionalist: the evidence of this turnabout is available to anyone who cares to read the back issues, or has some personal experience. But the same lack of principle is equally evident now: much like the spineless jellyfish that goes wherever the sea takes it, Crimethinc has now abandoned the anarchist identity of eating out of the garbage can for the anarchist identity of burning garbage cans. But that the latter is infinitely preferable to the former has nothing to do with an advance of Crimethinc, rather with the great sea tide of revolution of the past few years. One does not worry overmuch, as surely Crimethinc will be washed ashore and left to dry up in the sunshine of critique.
Various articles did remark on the incapacity of average people to connect America’s Occupy to its global contexts. They should have applied this critique to themselves, for how they failed to note how the global wave of revolts associated with Occupy- Cairo, Tunis, Madrid, Athens- were really only the globalization of American-style civil rights protests, and in our country that originated this type of civil rights protest, there was only a feeble imitation of elsewhere. Agamben was surely correct to see in Tiananmen the new face, the new type of revolt for the post-modern era. But it also means that America’s world-historic role to play, reducing everything to a nothingness of political debate, has ended. After all, in countries with more poverty, with more collective traditions, with less Protestant self-control, this same type of protest overthrows governments. At any rate, this means the end of a certain type of existence for the country itself.
What existence was there in America previously? It means very little to say, as the stock phrase would have it, that America was founded on slavery and genocide. So were many other countries. What matters is what is special about the American relation to their specific historical crimes? This, only a serious study of American history, and history in general, could give us. Unfortunately the so-called university intellectuals don’t spend their time reading, and what little they do is certainly not well-directed, just as so few monks at the end of the Middle Ages spent their time praying. Thus so few writers treated Occupy as a manifestation of the American phenomenon of Jacksonian Democracy as analyzed famously by De Tocqueville, or even further back to the troubles and arguments concerning the articles of confederation, the constitution, the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts, etc. To draw a line from these past moments, through the Civil War, the Populist and Progressive movements, to the New Deal, Civil Rights and 60′s, anti-globalization, and to Occupy, in short to treat Occupy in America as a specifically American moment, and Occupy globally as a moment of the globalization of American conditions, was lost on everyone. The growth of ideas of ideal citizen participation in a giant middle class system of representative democracy, with extreme energy but also reserve that rarely spills into violence, and never into revolution- this is the peculiarly American system. This is the system that worked, seemingly infallibly for a period, but now begins to collapse of its own perfection, like a towering house of cards that comes to put too much weight on its base. And in the gaps of the fallen cards new spaces of freedom appear.
But here was also remarkable: not only the feebleness of the previously existing reformist tension of the gigantic middle class, but the lack of any pretense at reform on the part of the politicians.
The Marxists, who only see the world in the night where all cows are black, have nothing to say to Americans other than the sad banalities they offer everywhere else. With this proviso, that here it is even a provincial and helpless variety. The Europeans can join Die Linke or Syriza, the American Marxists can offer only a ghostlike repetition of past failures, and an analysis of the economy in which no one believes anymore, and about which certainly no one cares. Moreover the Americans, with their fierce Protestant individuality, were never and could never have been attracted by Marxism. All the great heroes and traditions of American leftism are explicitly anarchist or anarchistic: Haymarket and May Day, the Wobblies, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Diggers and the counter-culture at large, the Battle of Seattle, the intellectuals of Bookchin, Chomsky, Graeber, etc.
The Americans are not even aware of their own history, perhaps even more so for radicals, and thus the turn of events of Occupy also makes no sense to them. Tom Hayden, in his excellent study The Love of Possession is a Disease With Them, remarked how when he visited the North Vietnamese, they knew more of America’s history than he did. They studied it as one studies an enemy from afar. How more greivous is the error when one does not study an enemy up close? The only branch of the workers’ movement that had some staying power, some cultural resonance and grounding in the U.S. was Anarchism, and that on the West Coast. Which is not to overstate the case: the French wrote that one cannot transpose Greek conditions to France, the land of the period of revolution from 1789 to 1871. How much more so would this be true for the Americans. Yet the Beat poets were aware, and wrote, that in some small way the wobbly spirit had survived to live on in the West. One might attribute this to the cultural dimensions of the restlessness of the frontier spirit, admirably captured by Frederick Jackson Turner, that, having reached the Pacific, turns inward against the newly constituted social order. The frontier only closed in 1890 with the Ghost Dance War, the wobblies were battling shortly thereafter. From thence to the struggles of the Depression, and the counterculture of the 60′s, then to the Battle of Seattle, the green anarchy movement and the student skirmishes of the past few years: only on the West Coast is there a tradition, however small, and only there is there the tiniest acceptance of political violence, as demonstrated in the refusal of Occupy Oakland to condemn property destruction. And if the complaint of the pointlessness of going to Oakland seems to have finally been taken into account on May Day, then so much the better. Berkeley and San Francisco offer better chances and targets, and it makes more sense for white revolutionaries to trash their own neighborhood rather than the visibly dilapidated and impoverished downtown of Oakland.
General analyses of America divide it roughly into a North, South, and West. The West has specific historical conditions that allow a form of Anarchism to exist there in some force, under its own banner. But not so elsewhere. Thus it is simply unreflective to demand that others emulate the West Coast in areas that are, effectively, separate countries, just as in Europe, Spaniards and Greeks can share aspirations as Mediterranean nations with a long history of extreme political violence, but the idea of transposing Greek tactics to Germany or Sweden, for example, makes absolutely no sense. We know from history the former two regions of North and South are so different as to have been separate countries at war for years. They are Sparta and Athens, one a landed aristocracy, the other a city-based democracy. Neither of the two have a tolerance for political violence; but the South for violence in general, yes, whereas for the North, not at all. The South is the bucolic countryside, the North is the urban sprawl of one contiguous ‘megalopolis’ from Boston to Washington. The South has Poe and Faulkner, terror and madness, the brooding over lost wealth; the North Thoreau, Whitman, the spirit of quaker pacifism, Anglophilism, and tolerance.
Finally the South deserves notice because it is the heart of America, America’s America of tiny towns and well-trimmed lawns, contentedness and civic pride. This is because it was the South that won the victories of the revolution, the planter aristocracy giving forth victorious Washington at Yorktown along with Jefferson and other theorists. After all, even the acts of treason to the Union in 1861 are constituted on the basis, the exact blueprint, of 1776, with the calling of state representatives to decide for independence and forming a new government. Hence the South is the cultural heart of America, and no wonder it gives such undue support to the Republican Party and the Army. However now Southern conditions are about to be generalized: only in the South has great wealth been lost in disastrous wars, and on the riverboats that the stock markets come to resemble more and more, and poverty nestled among American masses, and a universal reprobation met its abhorrent behavior. But now all of America has lost its war on terror, the money is drying up, and because of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the general society all of America now deserves to be treated as was the South during Civil Rights, namely, as infamous and uncivilized. Agamben also writes that all societies go bankrupt in their own fashion: the Italians under Berlusconi, the Germans of 1933, etc. America has become spiritually bankrupt, much as MLK warned, and whenever this happens material bankruptcy is not far off in arriving.
Thus the real issue now posed to the Americans is: how to relate to the collapse? The U.S., the land of micro-fascism and molecular capitalism par excellence, is now evaporating, molecule by molecule. There is no austerity plan to protest against because the austerity is already being carried out in the hidden corners of the country. The small town library closes, the post office shuts up for good, the mayor’s office declares bankruptcy. Without as many police the people decide to police themselves, as we read for Vallejo, Ca. Americans are in a more revolutionary situation than they realize: they are in a situation like the end of Rome, where objectively a revolution should have happened long ago, but did not, and now the society is decaying and dying, like a butterfly too weak to shed its chrysalis: the last kernel of loyal citizenry has been wrecked by the War on Terror, they no longer believe in anything but suicide. Just read a newspaper. Graffiti is sprouting up everywhere. There is only a police force that everyone hates, and taxes and debt and no jobs. The society is collapsing in an orgy of its own violence: the violence that constituted the social fabric of the Americans, this blind bloodlust of Custer that so horrified the Indians, is now turning against the social fabric itself. The Hobbesian myth is becoming an unreal reality, for a time, before peace and contentedness return to this shattered, wounded, ancient land. But the Americans are lucky: whereas Rome collapsed into a foreign and inferior superstition of feeble-minded slaves and jaded aristocrats, the Americans fall back on what existed agelessly before their unhappy civilization. Indian simplicity, harmony with nature, collectivism, simple and unadorned love and devotion, guerrilla bravery. . .these are the things to remember. Americans don’t have to worry about a state to smash-they won’t even be at any comparable level of strength for years, they only just now begin a process of decades– they rather have to find something redeeming worth living, to save something from the final suicidal catastrophe of the American death culture.
The whole new world opens up. Communism is first posed, abstractly, in a seeming plenitude: the life lived inside Occupy. Then the real world arrives with its numberless police, and even attempts to squat are dislodged. The question is of such utmost importance: where to nurture communism? It almost poses itself in the sense of Deleuze, of considerations of geophilosophy. If, on the West Coast, where the mountains descend to the sand and cliffs of the blue Pacific, the radicals go “up country”, as it was once called, they will still find old hippies in the countryside who will help them, who lived through the past era of revolution, and will find a life free from the expense and madness of the decaying American cities. In fact the expropriated farm at Berkeley offers the perfect bridge in its location at the end of the city, both to the countryside and to the past history of People’s Park, of American utopian experiments in general. The Americans have their own history of retreating to the land, that runs like a hidden current through their history. If Americans look hard at their own history they will find Utopia trying to emerge on the farm. Even in our general anglophone culture, Occupy the Land was the slogan of the original Diggers of the 1640′s. Or if the comrades in the Northeast go upstate, as happened previously at Oneida and with such stunning success at Woodstock, or even further to the tiny towns of Vermont, the land where Shays lived the rest of his life after his failed rebellion, and where Bookchin and his followers went. Perhaps those from the South can find something in the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia, where John Brown planned to base his apocalyptic guerrilla war, and where the miners have struggled so fruitlessly, and for so long, against such odds. There is no great city to seize in America: just look at the wars with the British, they seized capital city after capital city, the Americans simply moved away. If there are only a few people in the countryside, there are only a few people in the cities worth talking to anyways: most of them are human wrecks of capitalism. If strategically and historically, space in America is almost flat, tending to zero, then go where no space exists: follow the heart, where it manifested in history, where kindness ends distance.
But the main point is to consolidate the gains of Occupy-these gains were very real, invisible only to historical materialists and skeptics- they were the friendships forged in prison and in the skirmish, the new world in the once-lonely hearts of millions of children of suburbia. Occupy, in its American context, means: the thawing of the glacial American sociality, on the route to its final evaporation. When Seattle was smashed again, the whole lost decade of the War on Terror is ended; the perspectives briefly glimpsed in the anti-globalization movement return, at a higher level. There are some days worth decades, and some decades worth days. The War on Terror decade had not the worth of one fine day in May.
In response, the police have begun to designate anarchists in general as public enemy number one. In fact, they are now to be treated as ‘the internal enemy’ of counter-insurgency theory. Thus, it is nowhere a question of repression, in the sad binary model of a power and a people. So many have read Foucault but so few have understood: what is at stake is not just repression but repression and then the creation of a subjectivity to be repressed apart from the general populace. There are no judicial questions (as even in the U.S. entrapment used to be not allowed as evidence before its terminal decadence) but military-strategical questions. The anarchists are to be presented as those trying to perform fantastic and disconnected acts of violence (which ironically will probably backfire and make anarchists even more beloved to all those who want the collapse, just as the majority of the world loved September 11). Even so, one cannot really count on a prevailing nihilism in American life to combat these strategies, as they are factors in play, not a strategy in itself. In fact rather than reaffirming whatever unimportant if not non-existent Anarchist identity existing America, as so many would be tempted to do (and here Crimethinc presents itself in its negative aspect, as the retarded consciousness of U.S. Anarchy in their latest anti-repression pamphlet), one would rather refuse this identity and merge into indistinction. In fact this idea has already been circulating amongst those repressed of the eco-anarchist movement about their aggressive veganism-puritanism, moralism, anti-humanism, etc. Thus it is clear to anyone that anarchists in general will be attacked the way the green anarchists were: but has no one even read what the prior generation of eco-radicals themselves have written? Certainly it’s not theoretical enough for the university Marxists, but other radicals have no excuse not to read what was written by those involved in the eco-scare cases. In any event, the question is not one of solidarity, which is unconditional, but on what basis and to what end. To try to free comrades, to not assume any political identity, or to affirm a feel-good label of extremism on the basis of a forthcoming political movement? A movement of American anarchism exists marginally, and only on the West coast because of cultural factors there: in a certain sense the Americans don’t have to go through the arduous process of evolution and internal critique of Greek Anarchy as documented in the excellent texts of flesh-machine, or rather, they shouldn’t. They don’t have to drive across the distance of a Siberia for a few days of tiny disturbances in a police state city, as in Chicago, or previously, any summit really. They can strike where there are, or go elsewhere for the duration. They don’t even have to wear black. Their extreme backwardness and weakness can become a blessing: they can fight oppression and build new lives without labels, as just humans.
Everyone asks, after the storms of battle, what next? We lost so many friends and lovers to the emptiness that we too, became loveless, and empty. But now there is a chance for building new buildings, for loving new lovers, for filling old emptiness, to end the wandering. In sum, Occupy, for the 1% of those who wanted to radicalize it, centers on resurrecting the counter-culture, with its urban space and its rural space, where anyone with a free heart could move like a fish in the sea. Now we, gasping fish dying of the outside world, have to cobble together our own new sea. Without the silliness, the drugs, the mysticism, the apathy. And this time, to last. Neither to rot in isolation nor to get lost in the normality of the American way of life after a rebellious youth. To escape from the life of student and barista, homeless and stay-at-home. Too many are rotting in the basements of their parental homes or at school. Provide the means for massive societal defection and it will surely come to pass-this is Grogan’s great lesson! In our lonely age of concrete, the guerrillas have to become farmers of the spirit, to plant the forest in which they will move. With the societal implosion, Americans will be forced into a new sociality, a new relationship with themselves and nature. It is already underway, with the market gardens of decaying suburbia springing up everywhere, and weeds and vines taking over the indifferent brick buildings. Those who read the signs, and act resolutely, will be all the better placed to profit from the generalized dissolution.
The Americans are only beginning to learn about sadness. When they have spent all the money and lost all the wars they will have only their own emptiness reflected back at them in their crumbling country with its abandoned factories and rotting monuments. . . but for the Indians, for all those who want the collapse, it is the beginning of the new life, it is the passing away of a world, the negation of the negation of the American way of life.
Escape. Rebuild the counter-culture, commune by commune. What care we of collapse, so long as we find one another? Let America and its glittering emptiness perish- we are for the Indians, we are for primitive, pure communism.
And we are beginning. .
Filed under: Milwaukee area | Tags: anarchism, anti-austerity, books, class war, communism, crisis, intervention, interview, madison, milwaukee, posters, wisconsin
An interview with an individual involved in Burnt Bookmobile, a blog out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin run by some people influenced by various anti-authoritarian tendencies, including insurrectionary anarchism, left communism, and nihilism, among others.
During the spring of 2011, when the ‘Wisconsin Uprising’ or ‘#wiunion movement’ was in full swing, they put out a number of flyers, leaflets and posters that pushed the occupation or general strike concept forward and contributed to the more militant atmosphere that Madison saw traces of. When I was still in Madison, I tried to stay in touch with at least one person who was involved in running the site, sending updates and perspectives back and forth. Recently I had the chance to make a trip to Milwaukee where they agreed to do an interview.
When was Burnt Bookmobile started and what were the initial thoughts behind it? Have they changed since then?
The Burnt Bookmobile was first started as a distro around 2004 and at the time spent the majority of its activity intervening in the hardcore, punk and counter cultural scenes revolving around the subjects of veganism, a kind of inarticulate post-left anarchism and anti-civ trends of thought. This was an orientation that was largely moral in character, but it would more and more come to reject this for a focus on the question of what constitutes living within capitalism and strategic concerns situated within the struggles which we had found ourselves, such as the end of the anti-globalization era, the anti-war era, consumer politics, alternative identity, and the more general anti-capitalist movement.
Since then the Burnt Bookmobile has been present at wine and cheese festivals, occupied campus buildings, neighborhood block parties, film screenings, lectures, poetry readings, shows, etc. Its mode of intervention has always been primarily through the text, offering things as much as we could for free in the form of zines and posters, and books sold for as much as it costs to restock.
Certainly the content of these texts has gone through different phases reflective of different questions we were thinking through, ideas and practices which resonated with us and which we experimented with. These phases articulated themselves in insurrectionary anarchism, left communism, illegalism, egoism, nihilism, Situationist theory, critical theory and the partisan cannon of philosophy, fiction and poetry. Though obviously contradictory, these traditions form a nexus of ideas that have been useful to us in an effort to think and act out a general antagonism against capitalism.
Do you think the blog has helped introduce local people to communist positions or benefited the projects the local milieu has taken on?
Without a doubt the character of the local projects and the critical tools they employ are indebted to years and years of establishing a more critical and articulate discourse. Whether people read the texts or see the posters, it has produced a certain standard of critical thought within the anti-authoritarian, anarchist, and communist milieu, that must in some way be responded to.
I know this is a big question, but for those unfamiliar, what is Milwaukee like and how does the local situation influence or determine your projects and activity?
I’m no expert on the history of Milwaukee, so these are my reflections. Milwaukee is a Rust Belt city much like other Rust Belt cities and like these cities is a site of former industrial centers of production, the labor of which has been either made redundant through automation, outsourced for cheaper often less skilled labor, or been the subject of more general capitalist restructuring. Milwaukee is also one of the most segregated of the major cities in the US. These are the major dynamics at play within the city. Development in spacial terms certainly happens in Milwaukee, but it happens at a pace much slower than many other cities where value circulation attains a much more ruthless speed. It has a large surplus population pushed into crime and then into the apparatus of law (jail, prison, courts, criminal history, criminalization) that appears extremely racialized.
The Bookmobile responds mostly from the point of the shared positions as points of departure, coming from largely white, heterosexual, middle class, male, student, service industry subjectivities. The project bases its activity within the processes of undoing and active confrontation with these positions in material and symbolic terms. We most easily relate to others who feel ill at ease within these subject positions.
Certainly the question of how to approach those who share a similar disposition of hatred for their conditions and who share similar gestures to respond to them is very pressing. One must assess the risk of vulnerability in exposing one’s antagonistic intentions and activities to a general population to find the active minorities that these practices may resonate with. We agree with others who have said that a shared language is built through shared struggle, as counter to the forced relations which already constitute the language of capital. Certain moments with enough force behind them allow for the space of extreme exposure necessary to breakdown barriers of subjectivity allowing for such a language to develop.
We would love to communicate with those who resort to flash mobs out of boredom, who resort to collective crime as mode of resistance to their conditions. Perhaps we’ll meet someday in the streets warmed by a burning bank building, but until then a great many things prevent such a convergence.
Madison was (and is) sort of a bubble. I kind of had an idea of what was going on in Milwaukee last spring but could you describe what was going on?
Much of what I was involved in was centered on the UW-Milwaukee campus, the prospect of shutting it down to spread the occupations and aid in or initiate a wildcat general strike. The possibility of such a strike seemed more possible than any other time in my life because of all the seemingly unexpected and unprecedented (at least for my time in Milwaukee) activity that was already happening.
The first student initiated rallies were 20 times bigger than anything else I had seen on campus. Many students stopped going to classes, TAs were doing spontaneous sick outs, and everyone was caught in a flurry of going back and forth between the occupation in Madison and Milwaukee. Some teachers, most TAs, and school staff all had the talk of striking or some kind of workplace activity on their lips. The question being posed and discussed by many made the possibility of such a strike and what would be after and beyond a strike all the more tangible. The strategic and immediate importance of what we were doing seemed to carry so much more weight during this moment. It appeared to matter what a couple of extremists were suggesting.
Many people in Milwaukee had already initiated the conversation about campus occupations and had been discussing it since being inspired by the events in California in 2009. Because of this, when the time came to possibly employ occupations here it was mostly a question of strategy and not whether the idea would be accepted by the minority of students and non-students who would initiate it. Student leaders made every attempt to not let the situation get out of their control, but it started out of their control, would have never become what it was if it was in their control, so they found themselves further obsolete. Then, reacting to their obsolescence with further control they were made blatantly absurd by open collective criticism. Out of this occupation would come large discussions on topics ranging from the role of the police to how to support and further strikes, dance parties, many nights spent with little sleep on hard floors, calls for and the planning of other demonstrations, a general sharing of resources and maybe most importantly the collective experience of taking and sharing space. The rest of the occupation was fairly complicated throughout the sixty some days of its stay, and it would take up a lot of room to discuss it, so I won’t. What was important was that it was attempted as an effort to spread the occupations and define space on its own terms different from the pacifying “Madison model.”
Certainly I can’t claim to know much more of what was happening in Milwaukee than what I was in some way connected to or had my ear out for. Other than the university occupation, there was some activity surrounding the end of Good Time within the legislation1, which included an unruly prison demo at which fireworks were shot at the jail in downtown Milwaukee, people chanted anti-prison slogans and made noise for those inside, then minor property damage was done to the building. Afterwards a big swath of wheatpasting covered mostly the east side of the city with a communique of the action. There was a general assembly, in the Riverwest neighborhood where I live, to address the question of how to support strike and workplace activity. There were multiple larger scale lock gluings of the university and other places connected to important dates, as well as other sporadic acts of vandalism and sabotage. Posters and slogans where everywhere. Strangers talked to strangers about what was happening throughout the state. People involved were constantly in communication, meeting, assembling, etc.
At the time, some of the propaganda you all were putting out seemed to me to be 10 steps ahead of the movement. However, since then, I’ve changed my mind about this and think one can “meet people where they are at” and introduce what seem like extremely militant ideas. What are your thoughts on accomplishing this?
Compared to what we felt was necessary and what we desired, we were quite restrained in our interventions into he situation in Madison in particular and there was therefore an obvious tension in placing ourselves within discourses and events that were frankly, shameful. The terms with which to engage in struggle were so vapid that all that had never been problematized within the old workers movement (that of workers identity, progressivism, programatism, etc) was still acting as a web of restraint defining the conditions of activity. We felt at the same time a need to act within these events in order to push them to define divisions and limits within what was said and done, then to act against those limits and further the necessary divisions. We wanted to present and proliferate a collective capacity to do this, however minimal our own capacity for proliferation was.
It has been important for us to realize that there was no movement in particular. This idea which acts to enforce and impose the most empty, vague identity, “We Are Wisconsin“, upon the mass of angry people who were affected by the event in Wisconsin acted as a means to curtail and defer any modes of resistance beyond the most pacified symbolic acts, calls for legitimacy, family values, and other normative frameworks that are generally always more operative for capitalism than they are for any resistance. A lot more could be said about the function of such an imposition. More than just within the specific event of the Madison occupation we felt a need to provoke and communicate in a way that opened up means of acting rather than defining and containing them; not being any model in particular, but instead spreading that disposition to act and take collectively. This was generally the intention with the posters and activity we were involved in. More so, what we wrote and said was lost in the suppression of event or erased by the victors of the struggle which appear now to be democratic politics. At the time we attempted to offer critical tools to understand and surpass barriers to self-organization outside of the limits of syndcalism, “politics”, democracy, work, etc etc. Amidst the now apparent failure of our interventions, they now appear to us to be far too mild and timid.
From far off, it seems Occupy has either not taken off much in Wisconsin or has been absorbed into the recall effort of the Governor. Is this accurate? What has Occupy been like in comparison to what you know of other places?
I’m unfamiliar with what is happening or has happened in Madison regarding the occupy movement, but this has been accurate for Milwaukee, and I assume much more so for Madison. The specter of the recall campaign continues to haunt Wisconsin with counter revolution at a time when much of the rest of the country is experiencing the awkward becomings of open contestation of space and a more generalized resistance to the crisis.
What future ‘ruptures’ or openings do you see in Milwaukee or the state as a whole?
Frankly I don’t see anything interesting coming out of Milwaukee or the state as a whole that resembles anything like what happened in Madison. It will be a surprise when it does, just as the event last spring. It wouldn’t have been an event if we would have expected its coming. But the series of crises that are coming won’t be resolved easily, won’t be swallowed we hope without a fight, so for now we’re forced to keep our ear to the ground and be ready for the next round.
Thanks for making time for an interview.
Definitely. Thanks for asking.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, anti-capitalism, austerity, barcelona, communism, crisis, flames, general strike, rioting, riots, spain, strike, the movement of riots, Vaga General
“The General Strike of 29 March paralyzed much of Spain. The ports shut down, along with many factories, electricity consumption fell by 24% (even though in Madrid, for example, they kept the street lights running during the day to jack up the usage rates and affect the statistics), transport in many areas was paralyzed, strike participation ran between 80-100% in most industries (and at about a quarter to a third in the service sector and the small shops).
In Barcelona, the general strike began at midnight with pickets closing down bars. In the center, one group of hooded picketers entered a casino, presumably to shut it down, but once inside they carried out a quick robbery and made off with 2,300 euros in cash. Early in the morning, at least 8 blockades, most of them involving burning tires, shut down the major highway and rail entrances to the city. Pickets throughout the morning in most neighborhoods of the city patrolled the streets, blocking transit, barricading the streets with dumpsters, and forcing shops to close. At midday the strike in Barcelona escalated into heavy rioting that lasted most of the day. Hundreds of thousands of people converged in the city center, seizing the streets and slowing down police. Innumerable banks and luxury stores were smashed, innumerable dumpsters set ablaze, and a large number of banks, luxury stores, Starbucks and other chains were set on fire.
In a couple occasions the police were sent running, attacked with fire, fireworks, and stones, and for the first time ever the Catalan police had to use tear gas to regain control, although large parts of the city remained liberated for hours, and columns of smoke rose into the sky from multiple neighborhoods late into the night. Many journalists and undercover cops were attacked and injured by the rioters. Fires spread to unseen proportions, often filling wide avenues and sending flames shooting several meters into the air. Firefighters were so over extended, they often took half an hour to reach even the major blazes, and were often seen bypassing burning dumpsters in order to extinguish burning banks. Dozens of people were injured by less lethal ammunitions fired by the police, and a relatively unprecedented number of people participated in the riots directly or indirectly. The heaviest fighting and smashing was carried out by anarchists, left Catalan independentistes, socialists, and above all neighborhood hooligans and immigrant youth. Nonetheless, thousands more people of all ages and backgrounds supported and applauded the rioters and filled the air with anticapitalist chants. Accounts and memories differ, but many people feel that they have just witnessed the largest and most important riots in Catalunya since the 1980s, if not earlier.
A more detailed report will follow when the smoke clears.
Some interesting videos are linked below, but bear in mind that the most intense moments are never recorded, because the journalists are getting their cameras smashed, and also because generally the government requests that the media not show footage of large groups of people smashing banks or attacking the police.”
Filed under: Milwaukee area | Tags: anti-capitalism, capitalism, CCC, communism, communization, crises, crisis, democracy, meeting, riverwest, sic, theorie communiste
-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.
Filed under: Milwaukee area | Tags: CCC, communism, dusan makavejev, film, karl marx, riverwest, scat, sexuality, sweet movie
“Scatological dinner parties in bizarre bohemian trenches, a candy shop that operates aboard an aquatic likeness of Karl Marx, and a beauty pageant with a gynecological finish, Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie is a feverish, fantastical nightmare of crude indulgences. Although largely unknown even among cinephiles, Makavejev’s oeuvre is a violently provocative, sexually lewd and visually stunning collection of politically charged auteur cinema. Known as “a master of historical irony”, Makavejev crafted Sweet Movie in 1974 with a double-edged blade aimed at cutting apart capitalist bourgeoisie notions of individualism as well as communist ideals of collectivism. This exemplar of international radical seventies cinema is neither for the faint of heart nor humor.”
This film screening is FREE (you’re welcome to donate if you want, but don’t worry bout it). It is fairly obscene, though not exactly explicit, as a note for the faint of heart and eyes. It is happening at the CCC Monday January the 30th at 7pm.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, austerity, become everything, capitalism, commune, communism, deferal, democracy, insurrection, occupation, occupy wallstreet, plaza, research & destroy, riot, the political, we are nothing
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