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
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: capitalism, communisation, communisers, communism, communization, dauve, France, marx, troploin
An attempt to describe what Troploin means by “communisation.”
What is meant and what do we mean by “communisation” ? Actually, we have often dealt with this theme, for instance in our answers to the German group Revolution Times’ questionnaire, published in English as What’s It All About ? (2007), and in other texts, including A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy (2008).
If we speak of communisation and not just communism, it is not to invent a new concept which would provide us with the ultimate solution to the revolutionary riddle. Communisation denotes no less than the content and process of a future revolution. For example, only communisation gives meaning to our critique of democracy.
In recent years, communisation has become one of the radical in-words, even outside what is known as the “communisers” (communisateurs in French).
As far as we are concerned, we do not regard ourselves any more members of this communising current than we feel close to – or far from – a number of other communist groups.
The communisation issue is further complicated by the emergence of the commons theory, according to which deep social change could come from collective usage and extension of what is already treated as common resources and activities (for instance, the open field system in still existing traditional societies, and free software access in the most modern ones). In other words, these “creative commons” would allow us a gradual and peaceful passage toward a human community.
The successive refutation of theories we regard as incomplete or wrong would have obscured our central points. As we wish to keep away from any war of the words, the following essay will try and address the communisation issue as directly as possible.
A few words about the word
In English, the word has been used for a long while, to convey something very different from what we are dealing with here. To communise was often a synonym for to sovietize, i.e. to implement the full program of the communist party in the Leninist (and later Stalinist) sense: “The fundamental task of Comintern was to seek opportunities to communise Europe and North America.” (R. Service, Trotsky. A Biography, Macmillan, 2009, p. 282) This was the Webster’s dictionary definition in 1961 and 1993, and roughly the one given by Wikipedia in 2010. This is of course not what we are talking about.
More rarely, communisation has been used as a synonym for radical collectivisation, with special reference to Spain in 1936-39, when factories, farms, rural and urban areas were run by worker or peasant collectives. Although this is related to what we mean by communising, most of these experiences invented local currencies or took labour-time as a means of barter. These collectives functioned as worker-managed enterprises, for the benefit of the people, yet enterprises all the same.
We are dealing with something else.
It is not sure who first used the word with the meaning this essay is interested in. To the best of our knowledge, it was Dominique Blanc : orally in the years 1972-74, and in writing in Un Monde sans argent (A World Without Money), published in 3 booklets in 1975-76 by the OJTR (the same group also published D. Blanc’s Militancy, the Highest Stage of Alienation). Whoever coined the word, the idea was being circulated at the time in the small milieu round the bookshop La Vieille Taupe (“The Old Mole”, 1965-72). Since the May 68 events, the bookseller, Pierre Guillaume, ex-Socialisme ou Barbarie and ex-Pouvoir Ouvrier member, but also for a while close to G. Debord (who himself was a member of S. ou B. in 1960-61), had been consistently putting forward the idea of revolution as a communising process, maybe without using the phrase. Yet D. Blanc was the first to publicly emphasize its importance. Un Monde sans argent said the difference between communist revolution and all variants of reformism was not that revolution implied insurrection, but that this insurrection would have to start communising society… or it would have no communist content. In that respect, Un Monde sans argent remains a pivotal essay.
In a nutshell
The idea is fairly simple, but simplicity is often one of the most difficult goals to achieve. It means that a revolution is only communist if it changes all social relationships into communist relationships, and this can only be done if the process starts in the very early days of the revolutionary upheaval. Money, wage-labour, the enterprise as a separate unit and a value-accumulating pole, work-time as cut off from the rest of our life, production for value, private property, State agencies as mediators of social life and conflicts, the separation between learning and doing, the quest for maximum and fastest circulation of everything, all of these have to be done away with, and not just be run by collectives or turned over to public ownership: they have to be replaced by communal, moneyless, profitless, Stateless, forms of life. The process will take time to be completed, but it will start at the beginning of the revolution, which will not create the preconditions of communism: it will create communism.
“Those who developed the theory of communisation rejected this posing of revolution in terms of forms of organisation, and instead aimed to grasp the revolution in terms of its content. Communisation implied a rejection of the view of revolution as an event where workers take power followed by a period of transition: instead it was to be seen as a movement characterised by immediate communist measures (such as the free distribution of goods) both for their own merit, and as a way of destroying the material basis of the counter-revolution. If, after a revolution, the bourgeoisie is expropriated but workers remain workers, producing in separate enterprises, dependent on their relation to that workplace for their subsistence, and exchanging with other enterprises, then whether that exchange is self-organised by the workers or given central direction by a “workers’ state” means very little: the capitalist content remains, and sooner or later the distinct role or function of the capitalist will reassert itself. By contrast, the revolution as a communising movement would destroy – by ceasing to constitute and reproduce them – all capitalist categories: exchange, money, commodities, the existence of separate enterprises, the State and – most fundamentally – wage labour and the working class itself.” (Endnotes, # 2, 2010)
Is it a programme?
We are not talking about a plan to be fulfilled one day, a project adequate to the needs of the proletarians (and ultimately of humankind), but one that would be exterior to them, like blueprints on the architect’s drawing-board before the house is built. Communisation depends on what the proletarian is and does.
The major difference between Marx and utopian socialists is to be found in Marx’s main concern : the labour-capital exploitation relation. Because the proletarian is the heart and body of capital, he or she carries communist potentials within himself or herself. When capital stops buying labour power, labour is nothing. So every deep social crisis opens the possibility for the proletarians to try and invent “something else”. Most of the time, nearly all the time in fact, their reaction is far from communism, but the possibility of a breakthrough does exist, as has been proved by a succession of endeavours throughout modern times, from the English Luddites in 1811 to the Greek insurgents in 2008.
This is why it would be pointless to imagine an utterly different society if we fail to understand the present society and how we could move from one to the other. We must consider what communism is, how it could come about, and who would be in the best position to implement the historical change.
“The self-emancipation of the proletariat is the collapse of capitalism.”
The SI once suggested we ought to “go back to a disillusioned study of the classical worker movement” (# 7, 1962). Indeed. To face up to our past, we must break with the legend of a proletariat invariably ready for revolution… and unfortunately sidetracked or betrayed. However, blowing myths does not mean bending the stick the other way, as if the workers had up to now persistently fought only for reforms, had glorified work, believed in industrial progress even more than the bourgeois, and dreamt of some impossible worker-run capitalism. This historical reconstruction replaces one myth by its equally misleading symmetrical opposite. The past two hundred years of proletarian experience cannot be divided into two totally opposed periods, i.e. a first one, closed by the end of the 20th century, during which the proletariat would only have been able to fight for a social programme which could be qualified as “capitalist”, and a second phase (now), when the evolution of capitalism itself would render null and void the “labour capitalist” option, and the only alternative facing the proletariat would become a simple one: communist revolution or descent into barbarism.
The historical evidence offered for this watershed theory is unsubstantial.
Moreover, and more decisively, the mistake lies in the question.
No communist revolution has taken place yet. That obvious fact neither proves… nor disproves that such a revolution has been up to now impossible.
In his analysis of The Class Struggles in France (1850), Marx first lays down what he believes to be a general historical principle :
“As soon as it has risen up, a class in which the revolutionary interests of society are concentrated finds the content and the material for its revolutionary activity directly in its own situation: foes to be laid low, measures dictated by the needs of the struggle to be taken; the consequences of its own deeds drive it on. It makes no theoretical inquiries into its own task.”
Then Marx wonders why, in the democratic revolution of February 1848, “The French working class had not attained this level; it was still incapable of accomplishing its own revolution.
The development of the industrial proletariat is, in general, conditioned by the development of the industrial bourgeoisie. (..) [But in 1848] the industrial bourgeoisie did not rule France. (..) The struggle against capital in its developed, modern form – in its decisive aspect, the struggle of the industrial wage worker against the industrial bourgeois – is in France a partial phenomenon (..) Nothing is more understandable, then, than that the Paris proletariat sought to secure the advancement of its own interests side by side with those of the bourgeoisie (..) “
Quotation is no proof, and maybe Marx was wrong, but at least let us get his view right. While he regarded full-grown industrial capitalism as a necessary condition for a proletarian revolution, he did not think that the proletarians could and would only fight for reforms for a certain period, until some complete maturity or completeness of capitalism left open one and only option: revolution.
Slicing up history into phases is very useful, except when it becomes a quest for the “last” phase.
In the past, “final” or “mortal crisis” theoreticians set out to demonstrate (usually with the help of the reproduction schema of Capital’s volume II) that a phase was bound to come when capitalism would be structurally unable to reproduce itself. All they actually showed was real fundamental contradictions but, as Marx wrote, contradiction does not mean impossibility. Now the demonstration moves away from schema and figures, and sees the impossible reproduction in the capital-labour relation itself. In short, up to now, communist revolution (or a real attempt to make it) has been out of the question, because the domination of capital over society was not complete enough: there was some scope for the worker movement to develop socialist and Stalinist parties, unions, reformist policies; so the working class had to be reformist, and the most it could do was to go for a worker-managed capitalism. Now this would be over: capital’s completely real domination destroys the possibility of anything but a communist endeavour.
We ought to be a bit wary of the lure of catastrophe theory. When 1914 broke out, and even more so after 1917, communists said that mankind was entering the epoch of wars and revolutions. Since then, we have seen a lot more wars than revolutions, and no communist revolution. And we are well aware of the traps of the “decadence” theory. Only a successful communist revolution one day will allow its participants to say: “We’ve seen capitalism’s last days”. Until then, the only historical obstacle to the reproduction of the present social system will come from the proletarians themselves. There is no era when revolution is structurally impossible, nor another when revolution becomes structurally possible/necessary. All variations of the “ultimate crisis” disregard history: they look for a one-way street that could block the avenues branching off to non-communist roads. Yet history is made of crossroads, revolution being one possibility among non-revolutionary options. The schematisation of history loses its relevance when it heralds the endpoint of evolution – in this case, capitalist evolution – and claims to be the theory to end all theories.
In 1934, as a conclusion to his essay on The theory of the collapse of capitalism, and after an in-depth study of the inevitability of major crises, Anton Pannekoek wrote :
“The workers’ movement has not to expect a final catastrophe, but many catastrophes, political – like wars, and economic – like the crises which repeatedly break out, sometimes regularly, sometimes irregularly, but which on the whole, with the growing size of capitalism, become more and more devastating. (..) And should the present crisis abate, new crises and new struggles will arise. In these struggles the working class will develop its strength to struggle, will discover its aims, will train itself, will make itself independent and learn to take into its hands its own destiny, viz., social production itself. In this process the destruction of capitalism is achieved. The self-emancipation of the proletariat is the collapse of capitalism.”
The concept of communisation is important enough as it is, without using it to fuel another variant of the “last phase of capitalism” theory. Our problem is not to prove that we have entered an entirely new epoch when the proletariat can only fight for communism. It is to try and define the concrete process of a communist revolution.
The communist movement predates the modern proletariat that appeared in England at the end of the 18th century. It was active in the days of Spartacus, Thomas Münzer and Gerrard Winstanley. Fifty years before Marx, Gracchus Babeuf’s plans had little connection with the growth of industry.
Because of his separation from the means of production (which was not the case of the serf or the tenant-farmer, however poor they were), the proletarian is separated from the means of existence. Such radical dispossession is the condition of his being put to profitable work by capital. But it also entails that, from the early days, the proletariat is capable of a revolution that would do away with property, classes and work as an activity separate from the rest of life.
The theme of communisation is as old as the proletarians’ struggles when they tried to free themselves. Whenever they were on the social offensive, they implicitly and sometimes explicitly aimed at a human community which involved a lot more than better work conditions, or merely replacing the exploitation of man by the exploitation of nature. The logic or intention of the 1871 Paris communards, the 1936 Spanish insurgents or the 1969 Turin rebel workers was not to “develop the productive forces”, nor to manage the same factories without the boss. It is their failure that pushed aside community and solidarity goals, discarded any plan of man-nature reunion, and brought back to the fore what was compatible with the needs and possibilities of capitalism. True, so far, past struggles have tried to launch few communist changes in the real sense of the word, i.e. changes that broke with the core capitalist structure. But this limitation was as imposed from outside as self-imposed : the proletarians rarely went beyond the insurrectionary phase, as most uprisings were quickly crushed or stifled. When the insurgents carried the day, they did attempt to live and create something very different from a worker-led capitalism. The limits of those attempts (in Spain, 1936-39, particularly) were not just the result of a lack of social programme, but at least as much due to the fact of leaving political power in the hands of the State and anti-revolutionary forces.
What Rosa Luxemburg called in 1903 the “progress and stagnation of Marxism” can help us understand why a deeply entrenched “communising” prospect has waited so long before becoming explicit. At the dawn of capitalism, the 1830s and 1840s were a time of farseeing communist insights. Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts probably expressed the sharpest edge of social critique, so sharp that the author himself did not think it necessary to circulate it (the text was only published in 1932). Then, as the worker movement developed against a triumphant bourgeoisie, the communist intuition turned into demonstration and lost much of its visionary force: the 1848 Communist Manifesto’s concrete measures were compatible with radical bourgeois democracy, communism is only hinted at in Capital’s volume I (1967), and it hardly appears in the Critique of the Gotha programme (1875). Marx’s concern with the “real movement” led him into a search for the “laws of history”, and his critique of political economy came close to a critical political economy. (He never lost sight of communism, though, as is clear from his interest in the Russian mir: “If revolution comes at the opportune moment, if it concentrates all its forces so as to allow the rural commune full scope, the latter will soon develop as an element of regeneration in Russian society and an element of superiority over the countries enslaved by the capitalist system.” (1881) )
However, as soon as the proletariat resumed its assault on bourgeois society, revolutionary theory retrieved its radical momentum: the 1871 Commune showed that State power is not an adequate revolutionary instrument.
Then again, the Paris Commune “lesson” was forgotten until, several decades later, the birth of soviets and councils revived what Marx had written in 1871.
In 1975-76, A World Without Money did not evade the issue of how Marx stood regarding communisation (a word and concept he never used):
“That Marx and Engels did not talk more about communist society was due, without doubt paradoxically, to the fact that this society, being less near than it is today, was more difficult to envisage, but also to the fact that it was more present in the minds of the revolutionaries of their day. When they spoke of the abolition of the wages system in the Communist Manifesto they were understood by those they were echoing. Today it is more difficult to envisage a world freed from the state and commodities because these have become omnipresent. But having become omnipresent, they have lost their historical necessity.
Marx and Engels perhaps grasped less well than a Fourier the nature of communism as the liberation and harmonisation of the emotions. Fourier, however, does not get away from the wages system, since among other things he still wants doctors to be paid, even if according to the health of the community rather than the illnesses of their patients.
Marx and Engels, however, were sufficiently precise to avoid responsibility for the bureaucracy and financial system of the ‘communist’ countries being attributed to them. According to Marx, with the coming of communism money straightaway disappears and the producers cease to exchange their products. Engels speaks of the disappearance of commodity production when socialism comes.”
The communist movement owes much to its time. In this early 21st century, we would be naïve to believe that we are wiser than our predecessors because we realize how destructive productive forces can be. Just as the nature of capitalism is invariant, so are the nature and programme of the proletariat. This programme, however, cannot escape the concrete needs and mind-set of each period.
At the end of the 18th century, in a country plagued with misery, starvation and extreme inequality, and with still very few factory workers, Babeuf advocated an egalitarian mainly agrarian communism. His prime concern was to have everyone fed. It was inevitable, and indeed natural for down-trodden men and women to think of themselves as new Prometheus and to equate the end of exploitation with a conquest over nature.
About a hundred years later, as industrial growth was creating a new type of poverty, joblessness and non-property, revolutionaries saw the solution in a worker-run “development of the productive forces” that would benefit the masses by manufacturing the essentials of life and free humankind from the constraints of necessity. The prime concern was not only to have everyone fed, housed, nursed, but also in a position to enjoy leisure as well as creative activities. As capitalism had developed “the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour-time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum”, revolution would be able “to free everyone’s time for their own development.” (Marx, Grundrisse, 1857-58)
Another century later, ecology is the buzz word. Nobody seriously believes in a factory-induced or a worker-managed paradise, new public orthodoxy declares the industrial dream to be a nightmare, so there is little merit in debunking the techno-cult or advocating renewable energy or green building.
The idea of communisation as a revolution that creates communism – and not the preconditions of communism – appears more clearly when capitalism rules over everything, extensively in terms of space (the much talked-about globalisation), and intensively in terms of its penetration into everyday life and behaviour. This helps us grasp revolution as a process that from its very beginning would start to undo what it wants to get rid of, and at the same time from its early days start to create new ways of life (the completion of which would of course last a while). That is the best possible answer to the inevitable question: “Why talk of communisation now ?”
One might wonder why the notion hardly surfaced in Italy 1969-77, when that country came closer than any other to revolutionary breaking point. Part of the answer is likely to be found in the reality of Italian worker autonomy at the time, in theory as in practice. Operaism emphasized more the revolutionary “subject” or agent than the content of the revolution, so the content finally got reduced to autonomy itself. That was linked to the limits of operaismo, whose goal was to create or stimulate organisation (top-down, party-led, or bottom-up, council-based). This may be the reason why a wealth of practical communist critiques and endeavours resulted in so little synthetic theorization of communisation. Apart from such hypotheses, it would be risky to embark on sweeping generalizations purporting to explain the (mis)adventures of theory in a particular country by the ups and downs of class struggle in that country. Unless one enjoys being word-drunk, there is little fun in playing the prophet of the past.
We would have nothing to object to the concept of transition if it simply stated the obvious: communism will not be achieved in a flash. Yet the concept implies a lot more, and something totally different: not simply a transitory moment, but a full-fledged transitory society.
However debatable Marx’s labour vouchers are, at least his Critique of the Gotha programme (1875) was trying to describe a society without money, therefore without wage-labour. His scheme of a time-based currency was supposed to be a provisional way of rewarding everyone according to his or her contribution to the creation of common wealth. Afterwards, when social-democrats and Leninists came to embrace the notion of transition, they forgot that objective, and their sole concern was the running of a planned economy. (Although anarchists usually reject a transitory period, they lay the emphasis on management, via worker unions or via a confederation of communes: in the best of cases, when the suppression of wage-labour remains on the agenda, it is only as an effect of the socialisation of production, not as one of its causes.)
It is obvious that such a deep and all-encompassing transformation as communism will span decades, perhaps several generations before it takes over the world. Until then, it will be straddling two eras, and remain vulnerable to internal decay and/or destruction from outside, all the more so as various countries and continents will not be developing new relationships at the same pace. Some areas may lag behind for a long time. Others may go through temporary chaos. But the main point is that the communising process has to start as soon as possible. The closer to Day One the transformation begins and the deeper it goes from the beginning, the greater the likelihood of its success.
So there will a “transition” in the sense that communism will not be achieved overnight. But there will not be a “transition period” in what has become the traditional Marxist sense: a period that is no longer capitalist but not yet communist, a period in which the working class would still work, but not for profit or for the boss any more, only for themselves: they would go on developing the “productive forces” (factories, consumer goods, etc.) before being able to enjoy the then fully-matured fruit of industrialization. This is not the programme of a communist revolution. It was not in the past and it is not now. There is no need to go on developing industry, especially industry as it is now. And we are not stating this because of the ecology movement and the anti-industry trend in the radical milieu. As someone said forty years ago, half of the factories will have to be closed.
Some areas will lag behind and others may plunge into temporary chaos. The abolition of money will result in fraternal, non-profit, cooperative relations, but sometimes barter or the black market are likely to surface. Nobody knows how we will evolve from false capitalist abundance to new ways of life, but let us not expect the move to be smooth and peaceful everywhere and all the time.
We will only modify our food habits, for example, as we modify our tastes: changing circumstances go along with changing minds, as was written in the third Thesis on Feuerbach in 1845. Our intention is not to create a new man, virtuous, reasonable, always able and willing to master his desires, always respectful of sound dietary rules. About a century ago, chestnuts were the staple food of some rural areas of the French Central Massif. Such a “poor” diet does not compare favourably with the variety we have been accustomed to in “rich” countries. But the future is written nowhere. We might well enjoy a more limited range of dishes than the abundance currently sold in the supermarket.
Violence and the destruction of the State
As a quick reminder, let us go back in time.
For reasons we cannot analyse here, the 1871 communards did not change much the social fabric: that, plus the insurrection being isolated in one city, prevented the communards from really appealing to the rest of the world, in spite of genuine popular support in Paris. Versailles army’s superiority was not due to more troops or better guns: its law and order, pro-property and anti-worker programme was more consistently understood, put forward and fought for by the bourgeois politicians than communalism and social republicanism were by the Commune leaders.
In Russia, 1917, contrary to the communards, the Bolsheviks clearly knew what they wanted – the seizure of power – and the power vacuum enabled them to seize it. The insurgents did away with a State machinery which was already dissolving, did not attempt or manage to change the social structure, won a civil war, and eventually created a new State power.
In Spain, the July 1936 worker insurrection neutralised the State machinery, but within a few weeks gave political power back to reformist-conservative forces. Thereafter all social transformations were limited by the pressure of a reconsolidated State apparatus, which less than a year later openly turned its police against the workers.
In the 1960s, the radical wave opposed the instruments of coercion but never dispensed with them. The French general strike made the central political organs powerless, until the passive attitude of most strikers enabled the State to recover its role. The power vacuum could not last more than a few weeks, and had to be filled again.
This brief survey reminds us that if, in the abstract, it is necessary to separate social and political spheres, in real life, the separation does not exist. Our past failures were not social or political: they were both. Bolshevik rule would not have turned into power over the proletarians if they had changed social relationships, and in Spain after 1936 socialisations would not have ended in disaster if the workers had kept the power they had conquered in the streets in July 36.
Communisation means that revolution will not be a succession of phases: first the dismantling and destruction of State power, then social change afterwards.
While they are ready to admit this in principle, quite a few comrades, “anarchists” or “Marxists”, are reluctant to consider the idea of a communisation which they fear would try and change the social fabric while not bothering to smash State power. These comrades miss the point. Communisation is not purely or mainly social and therefore non-political or only marginally political. It implies fighting public – as well as private – organs of repression. Revolution is violent. (By the way, which democratic revolution ever won merely by peaceful means ?)
Fundamentally, communisation saps counter-revolutionary forces by removing their support. Communisers’ propulsive force will not come from shooting capitalists, but by depriving them of their function and power. Communisers will not target enemies, but undermine and change social relations. The development of moneyless and profitless relations will ripple through the whole of society, and act as power enhancers that widen the fault lines between the State and growing sections of the population. Our success will ultimately depend on the ability of our human community to be socially expansive. Such is the bottom line.
Social relations, however, are incarnated in buildings, in objects, and in beings of flesh and blood, and historical change is neither instantaneous nor automatic. Some obstacles will have to be swept away: not just exposed, but done away with. We will need more than civil disobedience: passive resistance is not enough. People have to take a stand, some will take sides against communisation, and a revolutionary trial of strength does not just battle with words. States (dictatorial or democratic) are enormous concentrations of armed power. When this armed power is unleashed against us, the greater the insurgents’ fighting spirit, the more the balance of forces will shift away from State power, and the less bloodshed there will be.
An insurrectionary process does not just consist in occupying buildings, erecting barricades and firing guns one day, only to forget all about them the next. It implies more than mere spontaneity and ad hoc ephemeral getting together. Unless there is some continuity, our movement will skyrocket today and fizzle out tomorrow. A number of insurgents will have to remain organized and available as armed groupings. (Besides, nobody has talents or desires for everything.) But if these groupings functioned as bodies specialized in armed struggle, they would develop a monopoly of socially legitimate violence, soon we would have a “proletarian” police force, together with a “proletarian government”, a “people’s army”, etc. Revolution would be short-lived.
No doubt this will have to be dealt with in very concrete issues, such as what to do with police files we happen to find. Though revolution may exceptionally use existing police archives and security agency data, basically it will do away with them, as with all kinds of criminal records.
Revolution is not a-political. It is anti-political.
Communisation includes the destruction of the State, and the creation of new administrative procedures, whatever forms they may take. Each dimension contributes to the other. None can succeed without the other. Either the two of them combine, or both fail. If the proletarians do not get rid of political parties, parliament, police bodies, the army, etc., all the socialisations they will achieve, however far-reaching, will sooner or later be crushed, or will lose their impetus, as happened in Spain after 1936. On the other hand, if the necessary armed struggle against the police and army is only a military struggle, one front against another, and if the insurgents do not also take on the social bases of the State, they will only build up a counter-army, before being defeated on the battlefield, as happened in Spain after 1936. Only a would-be State can out-gun the State.
Communist revolution does not separate its means from its ends. Consequently, it will not firstly take over (or dispense with) political power, and then only secondly change society. Both will proceed at the same time and reinforce each other, or both will be doomed.
Communisation can only happen in a society torn by mass work stoppages, huge street demos, widespread occupation of public buildings and workplaces, riots, insurgency attempts, a loss of control by the State over more and more groups of people and areas, in other words an upheaval powerful enough for social transformation to go deeper than an addition of piecemeal adjustments. Resisting anti-revolutionary armed bodies involves our ability to demoralise and neutralise them, and to fight back when they attack. As the momentum of communisation grows, it pushes its advantages, raises the stakes and resorts less and less to violence, but only a rose-tinted view can believe in bloodless major historical change.
At the Caracas World Social Forum in 2006, John Holloway declared: “the problem is not to abolish capitalism, but to stop creating it”. This is indeed an aspect of communisation, equally well summed up by one of the characters in Ursula Le Guin’s fiction The Dispossessed (1974): our purpose is not so much to make as to be the revolution. Quite. But J. Holloway’s theory of “changing the world without taking power” empties that process of any reality by denying its antagonism to the State. Like Holloway, we don’t want to take power. But unlike him and his many followers, we know that State power will not wither away under the mere pressure of a million local collectives: it will never die a natural death. On the contrary, it is in its nature to mobilize all available resources to defend the existing order. Communisation will not leave State power aside : it will have to destroy it.
The Chartists’ motto “Peacefully if we may, forcibly if we must” is right only in so far as we understand that we will be forced to act “forcibly”.
In revolutionary times, social violence and social inventiveness are inseparable: the capacity of the proletarians to control their own violence will depend on the ability of this violence to be as creative as destructive. For the destruction of the State (we want to destroy power, not to take it) to be more than an empty phrase, negative acts must also be positive. But not creative of a new police, army, Parliament, etc. Creative of new deliberative and administrative bodies, directly dependent on social relationships.
“The proletarian movement is the independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of that vast majority (..)” (Communist Manifesto). Both phrases are crucial : independent movement and immense majority. That being said, it does not follow that nearly everyone is a proletarian, nor that every proletarian can play the same part in the communising process. Some are more apt than others to initiate the change, which does not mean that they would be the “leaders” of the revolution. On the contrary, they would succeed only in so far as they would gradually lose their specificity. Here we bump into the inevitable contradiction the whole argument hinges around, but it is not an insurmountable contradiction. .
We do not live in a society where just about everybody is exploited and has the same basic interest in an overall change, therefore the same desire and ability to implement what would be a rather peaceful process, as nearly everyone would join in : only 3 to 5% would object, Castoriadis assured us, but no doubt they would soon see the light.
We live neither in a post-industrial society, nor in a post class society, nor therefore in a post working class society. If work had become inessential, one might wonder why companies would have bothered in the last twenty years to turn hundreds of millions of earthlings into assembly line workers, crane operators or computer clerks. Work is still central to our societies, and those in the world of work – currently employed or not – will have better social leverage power, at least in the early days or weeks of communisation.
The contradiction can be solved because, unlike the bourgeoisie striving for political power in 1688 (the Glorious Revolution that gave birth to what was to become English parliamentary democracy) or in 1789, labour is no ruling class and has no possibility of becoming one, now or then.
General strike, mass disorder and rioting break the normal flow of social reproduction. This suspension of automatisms and beliefs forces proletarians to invent something new that implies subjectivity and freedom: options have to be decided on. Everyone has to find his or her place, not as an isolated individual any more, but in interactions that are productive of a collective reality. When only railway workers go on strike, they are unlikely to look beyond their own condition: they simply do not have to. In a communisation situation, the extension of work stoppages opens the possibility for railway personnel to move on to a different range of activities decided upon and organized by themselves and by others: for instance, instead of staying idle, running trains – free of course – to transport strikers or demonstrators from one town to another. It also means starting to think and act differently about the railway system, no longer believing in feats of engineering for progress’s sake, and no longer sticking to the view that “high-speed trains are super because they’re fast”.
What to do with high-speed trains and with buses cannot be the sole decision of train engineers and bus drivers, yet for a while the individual who used to be at the wheel will be more expert at handling and repairing them. His or her role will be specific and provisional. The success of communisation depends on the fading away of former sociological distinctions and hierarchies: breaching professional distances will go together with dismantling mental blocks regarding personal competence and aspiration. The process will be more complex than we expect, and more unpredictable: the experience of any large social movement (Germany 1918, Spain 1936, France 1968, Argentina 2001, to name a few) shows how volatile the unprecedented can be, when the situation slips out of control and creates both deadlocks and breakthroughs. One thing leads to another point of departure for further development. That particular example prompts the question of the fading of the difference between “public” and “private” transport, which in turn brings back the vital issue of where and how we live, since today’s means of locomotion are conditioned by the urban segmentation of specific areas reserved for administration, habitation, work, recreation, etc.
Revolution of daily life
The trouble with philosophers, Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz once suggested, is that they do not care about trousers and telephones. That remark hardly applied to Nietzsche, who was no revolutionary but refused “to treat as frivolous all the things about life that deserve to be taken very seriously – nutrition, residence, spiritual diet, treatment of the sick, cleanliness, weather !” (Ecce Homo, 1888). It is everyday life indeed we will change: cooking, eating, travelling, meeting people, staying on our own, reading, doing nothing, having and bringing up children, debating over our present and future… providing we give daily life its fullest meaning. Sadly, since the phrase became fashionable in 1968, “everyday life” has been usually limited to the out-of-work time-space, as if people gave up hope of altering the economy and wage-labour, and were contented with altering acts and doings of a lesser kind: feelings, body, family, sex, couple, food, leisure, culture, friendship, etc.
On the contrary, communisation will treat the minor facts of existence for what they are: a reflection and a manifestation of “big” facts. Money, wage-labour, companies as separate units and value accumulation centres, work-time cut off from the rest of our time, profit-oriented production, obsolescence-induced consumption, agencies acting as mediators in social life and conflicts, speeded-up maximum circulation of everything and everyone… each of these moments, acts and places has to be transformed into cooperative, moneyless, profitless and non-statist relationships, and not just managed by a collective or converted into public ownership.
The capital-labour relation structures and reproduces society, and the abolition of this relation is the prime condition of the rest. But we would be foolish to wait for the complete disappearance of the company system, of money and the profit motive, before starting to change schooling and housing. Acting locally will contribute to the whole change.
For instance, communising also implies transforming our personal relation to technique, and our addiction to mediation and mediators. A future society where people would feel a constant need for psychologists, therapists and healers would merely prove its failure at building a human community: we would still be incapable of addressing tensions and conflicts by the flow and interplay of social relations, since we would want these conflicts solved by professionals.
Communisation is the destruction of repressive (and self-repressive) institutions and habits, as well as the creation of non-mercantile links which tend to be more and more irreversible: “Beyond a certain point, one cannot come back. That tipping-point we must reach.” (Kafka)
Making, circulating and using goods without money includes breaking down the wall of a private park for the children to play, or planting a vegetable garden in the town centre. It also implies doing away with the split between the asphalt jungle cityscape and a natural world which is now turned into show and leisure places, where the (mild) hardships of a ten-day desert trek makes up for the aggravating compulsory Saturday drive to a crowded supermarket. It means practising in a social relation what has now to be private and paid for.
Communism is an anthropological revolution in the sense that it deals with what Marcel Mauss analysed in The Gift (1923): a renewed ability to give, receive and reciprocate. It means no longer treating our next-door neighbour as a stranger, but also no longer regarding the tree down the road as a piece of scenery taken care of by council workers. Communisation is the production of a different relation to others and with oneself, where solidarity is not born out of a moral duty exterior to us, rather out of practical acts and interrelations.
Among other things, communisation will be the withering away of systematic distinction between learning and doing. We are not saying that ignorance is bliss, or that a few weeks of thorough (self-)teaching are enough for anyone to be able to translate Arabic into English or to play the harpsichord. Though learning can be fun, it often involves long hard work. What communism will do away with is the locking up of youth in classrooms for years (now 15 to 20 years in so-called advanced societies). Actually, modern school is fully aware of the shortcomings of such an absurdity, and tries to bridge the gap by multiplying out-of-school activities and work experience schemes. These remedies have little effect: the rift between school and the rest of society depends on another separation, which goes deeper and is structural to capitalism: the separation between work (i.e. paid and productive labour), and what happens outside the work-place and is treated as non-work (housework, bringing up children, leisure, etc., which are unpaid). Only superseding work as a separate time-space will transform the whole learning process.
Here again, and in contrast to most utopias as well as to modern totalitarian regimes, communisation does not pretend to promote a “brave new world” full of new (wo)men, each equal in talents and in achievements to his or her fellow beings, able to master all fields of knowledge from Renaissance paintings to astrophysics, and whose own desires would always finally merge in harmonious concord with the desires of other equally amiable fellow beings.
Distant futures & “here and now”
Few people today would agree with what Victor Serge (then a Bolshevik living in Moscow) wrote in 1921: “Every revolution sacrifices the present to the future.” While it is essential to understand how communisation will do the opposite of what Serge believed, this understanding does not give us the whole picture.
One of the strong points of the 1960s-70s, or at least one of the best remembered, was the rejection of a revolution that would postpone its completion to an always receding future.
In the following years, as the radical wave gradually ebbed, the emphasis on the here and now remained, albeit deprived of subversive content and purpose, and was reduced to an array of piecemeal changes in our daily life. When they are as all-powerful as they have become, money and wage-labour are compatible with – and sometimes feed on – inoffensive doses of relative freedom. Anyone can now claim that a certain degree of self-management of his neighbourhood, his body, his parenthood, his sexuality, his food, his habitat or his leisure time contributes to a genuine transformation of society, more genuine in fact than the old- fashioned social revolution of yesteryear. Indeed, daily life reformers claim to work for overall change by a multiplication of local changes: they argue that step by step, people’s empowerment is taking over more and more social areas, until finally bourgeois rule is made redundant and the State rendered powerless. The ex-situationist Raoul Vaneigem perfectly encapsulated this vision in a few words (also the title of a book of his in 2010): “The State is nothing any more, let’s be everything.”
In the aftermath of “68″, against Stalinism and Maoist or Trotskyst party-building, radical thought had to combat the reduction of revolution to a seizure of political power, and the postponement of effective change to later days that never came.
Thirty years later, Stalinism is gone, party-building is passé, and it is increasingly difficult to differentiate ex-Trots from current far leftists. While it pushes dozens of millions in or out of work, today’s all-encompassing capitalism wears more often a hedonistic than a puritanical mask. It turns Victor Serge’s formula upside down: “Do not sacrifice the present… ! Live and communicate here and now !”
Communising will indeed experiment new ways of life, but it will be much more and something other than an extension of the socially innocuous temporary or permanent “autonomous zones” where we are now allowed to play, providing we do not trespass their limits, i.e. if we respect the existence of wage-labour and recognize the benevolence of the State.
The Marxist-progressivist approach has consistently thrown scorn on pre-capitalist forms, as if they were incapable of contributing to communism: only industrialization was supposed to pave the way for proletarian revolution.
In the past and still in many aspects of the present, quite a few things and activities were owned by no-one and enjoyed by many. Community-defined rules imposed bounds on private property. Plough-sharing, unfenced fields and common pasture land used to be frequent in rural life. Village public meetings and collective decisions were not unusual, mostly on minor topics, sometimes on important matters.
While they provide us with valuable insights into what a possible future world would look like, and indeed often contribute to its coming, these habits and practices are unable to achieve this coming by themselves. A century ago, the Russian mir had neither the strength nor the intention of revolutionising society : rural cooperation depended on a social system and a political order that was beyond the grasp of the village autonomy. Nowadays, millions of co-ops meet their match when they attempt to play multinationals – unless they turn into big business themselves.
Our critique of progressivism does not mean supporting tradition against modernity. Societal customs have many oppressive features (particularly but not only regarding women) that are just as anti-communist as the domination of money and wage-labour. Communisation will succeed by being critical of both modernity and tradition. To mention just two recent examples, the protracted rebellion in Kabylia and the insurgency in Oaxaca have proved how collective links and assemblies can be reborn and strengthen popular resistance. Communisation will include the revitalization of old community forms, when by resurrecting them people get more than what they used to get from these forms in the past. Reviving former collective customs will help the communisation process by transforming these customs.
Countless and varied visions of a future communist world have been suggested in modern times, by Sylvain Maréchal and G. Babeuf, Marx, even Arthur Rimbaud in 1871, Kropotkin and many anarchists, the Dutch council communists in the 1930s, etc. Their most common features may be summed up in the following equation:
direct democracy =
fulfilment of needs =
community + abundance =
Since the historical subject of the future is envisioned as a self-organised human community, the big question is to know how it will organise itself. Who will lead : everybody, a few, or nobody ? Who will decide : the collectivity, or a wise minority ? Will the human species delegate responsibilities to a few persons, and if so, how ?
We will not go back here to the critique of democracy, which we have dealt with in other essays, and we will focus on one point: because the vast majority of revolutionaries (Marxists and anarchists) regard communism above all as a new way of organising society, they are first of all concerned by how to find the best possible organisational forms, institutions in other words, be they fixed or adaptable, complex or extremely simple. (Individual anarchism is but another type of organisation : a coexistence of egos who are free and equal because each is independent of the others.)
We start from another standpoint: communism concerns as much the activity of human beings as their inter-relations. The way they relate to each other depends on what they do together. Communism organises production and has no fear of institutions, yet it is first of all neither institution nor production : it is activity.
The following sections only give a few elements on how work could be transformed into activity.
Communising is not just making everything available to everyone without anyone paying, as if we merely freed instruments of production and modes of consumption from their commodity form: shopping made easy… without a purse or a Visa card.
The existence of money is often explained by the (sad, alas inevitable) need of having a means of distributing items that are too scarce to be handed out free: a bottle of Champagne has to have a price tag because there is little Champagne produced. Well, although millions of junk food items are manufactured every day, unless I give $ 1 in exchange for a bag of crisps, I am likely to get into trouble with the security guard.
Money is more than an unpleasant yet indispensable instrument : it materializes the way activities relate to one another, and human beings to one another. We keep measuring objects, comparing and exchanging them according to the average labour time (really or supposedly) necessary to make them, which logically leads to assessing acts and people in the same way.
The duality of use value and exchange value was born out of a situation where each activity (and the object resulting from it) ceased to be experienced and appreciated for what it specifically is, be it bread or a jar. From then on, that loaf of bread and that jar existed above all through their ability to be exchanged for each other, and were treated on the basis of what they had in common: in spite of their different concrete natures and uses, both they were comparable results of the same practice, labour in general, or abstract labour, liable to be reduced to a universal and quantifiable element, the average human effort necessary to produce that bread and that jar. Activity was turned into work. Money is crystallised labour: it gives a material form to that common substance.
Up to our time included, nearly all societies have found only work as a means to organise their life in common, and money connects what is separated by the division of labour.
A few millennia after “abstract labour” was born, capitalism has extended worldwide the condition of the proletarian, i.e. of the utterly dispossessed who can only live by selling his or her labour power on a free market. As the proletarian is the commodity upon which the whole commodity system depends, he or she has in himself or herself the possibility of subverting this system. A proletarian revolution can create a new type of social interaction where beings and things will not need to be compared and quantified in order to be produced and circulated. Money and commodity will no longer be the highway to universality.
Therefore, communisation will not abolish exchange value while keeping use value, because one complements the other.
In quite a few past uprisings, in the Paris Commune or in October 1917, permanent armed fighters were paid as soldiers of the revolution, which is what they were.
From the early hours and days of a future communist revolution, the participants will neither need, use nor receive money to fight or to feed themselves, because goods will not be reduced to a quantum of something comparable to another quantum. Circulation will be based on the fact that each action and person is specific and does not need to be measured to another in order to exist.
Superficial critics of capitalism denounce finance and praise what is known as the “real” economy, but today a car or a bag of flour only have some use because they are treated (and acted upon) according to their cost in money terms, i.e. ultimately to the labour time incorporated in them. Nothing now seriously exists apart from its cost. It is unthinkable for parents who have a son and daughter to buy a car as birthday present for her and a T-shirt for him. If they do, everyone will measure their love for their two children according to the respective amount of money spent on each of them. In today’s world, for objects, acts, talents and persons to exist socially, they have to be compared, reduced to a substance that is both common and quantifiable.
When building a house, there is a difference between making sure the builders will not be short of bricks and mortar (which we can safely assume communist builders will care about) and budgeting a house plan (which in this present society is a prior condition). Communisation will be our getting used to counting physical realities without resorting to accountancy. The pen and pencil (or possibly the computer) of the bricklayer are not the same as the double-entry book of the accounts department.
“In the communist revolution, the productive act will never be only productive. One sign of this among others will be the fact that the product considered will be particular: it will correspond to needs expressed personally (by the direct producers at the time or by others) and that the satisfaction of the need won’t be separated from the productive act itself. Let’s think, for example, about how the construction of housing will change as soon as standardization disappears. Production without productivity will mean that any individual engaged in the project will be in a position to give his opinion concerning the product and the methods. Things will go much slower than in today’s industrialized building industry. The participants in the project may even wish to live there after the building is finished. Will it be a total mess? Let’s just say that time will not count and that cases in which the project isn’t completed, in which everything is abandoned in midstream – maybe because production of the inputs is without productivity too – won’t be a problem. Again, this is because the activity will have found its justification in itself, independently of its productive result.
In a general way, one can say that communisation replaces the circulation of goods between “associated producers” with the circulation of people from one activity to another.” (Bruno Astarian)
Critic after dinner
“In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” (Marx, German Ideology, 1845)
This statement has been ridiculed by bourgeois for its naivety, and attacked by radicals for its acceptance of objectionable activities, hunting of course, more generally its endorsement of man’s domination over animals. An even more critical view might ask why Marx reserves philosophy or art for the evening, as an afterthought, as if there was no time for it while producing food, which seems to take up most of the day in Marx’s vision…
In 1845, Marx was providing no blueprint for the future, and he inserted his prejudices and preconceptions of his time. But so do we today, and we would be pretentious to think ourselves devoid of prejudices.
The most valid aspect of that statement remains the idea that people living in a communist world would not be tied to a trade or function for life, which still remains the fate of most of us. When this is not the case, mobility is often forced upon us: the least skilled usually get the worst jobs, the poorest pay and lowest social image, and they are the first to be laid off and pressured into a re-training scheme. Besides, “multi-tasking” is a way of making workers more productive.
As long as work exists as such, that is as a time-space reserved for production (and earning money), a hierarchy of skills will remain. Only the opening-up of productive acts to the rest of life will change the situation. Among other things, this implies the end of the present work-place as a specific distinct place, where only those involved in it are allowed in.
Scarcity vs. abundance : Prometheus unbound?
For many a communist (once again, most Marxists and quite a few anarchists), the original cause of the exploitation of man by man was the emergence of a surplus of production in societies still plagued by scarcity. The tenets of the argument could be summarized as follows. For thousands of years, a minority was able to make the majority work for the benefit of a privileged few who kept most of the surplus for themselves. Fortunately, despite its past and present horrors, capitalism is now bringing about an unheard-of and ever-growing wealth: thereby the age-old need (and desire) to exploit and dominate loses its former objective cause. The poverty of the masses is no longer the condition for education, leisure and art to be enjoyed only by economic, political and cultural elites.
It is therefore logical that the goal (shared by most variants of the worker movement) should be to create a society of abundance. Against capitalism which forces us to work without fulfilling our needs, and distributes its products in most unequal fashion, revolution must organise the mass production of useful goods beneficial to all. And it can, thanks to the celebrated “development of the productive forces”.
Besides, industrialization organises and unifies the working class in such numbers that they will have the means to topple the ruling class and make a revolution which Roman slaves or late medieval peasants attempted but were incapable of achieving.
Moreover, and this is no minor point, if money is the root of all evil, and if scarcity is the ultimate cause of money, such a vision believes that reaching a stage of abundance will transform humankind. When men and women are properly fed, housed, schooled, educated, cared for, “struggle for life” antagonisms and attitudes will gradually disappear, individualism will give way to altruism, people will behave well to each other and have no motive, therefore no desire, for greed, domination or violence. So the only real question that remains is how to adequately manage this society of abundance : in a democratic way, or via leaders ? with Kropotkin’s moneyless system of helping oneself to goods that are plentiful, and democratic rationed sharing-out of goods that are not plentiful ? or with some labour-time accounting as suggested by the Dutch councilists in the 1930s ? The answer usually given by anarchists and non-Leninist communists is a society of “associated producers” run by worker collectives. Whatever the details, all these schemes describe a different economy, but an economy all the same: they start from the assumption that social life is based on the necessity to allocate resources in the best possible way to produce goods (in the genuine and democratically-decided interests of all, there lies the difference with bourgeois economy).
This is precisely where we beg to differ.
Women and men must eat (among other necessities)… or die, there is no denying it. Basic needs do exist. So, of course we are aiming at society which fairly, soundly and ecologically matches resources with needs. What we dispute is that human life consists primarily in fulfilling needs, and that, logically, revolution should primarily consist in creating a society where physical needs are fulfilled. Human beings only satisfy – or fail to satisfy – all their needs within social interrelations. Only in extreme circumstances do we eat just in order not to starve. In most cases, we eat in the company of others (or we decide or are led or forced to eat on our own, which also is a social situation). We follow a diet. We may overeat or voluntarily skip a meal. This is true of nearly all other social acts. Contrary to widespread popular misbelief, the “materialistic conception of history” (as exposed in The German Ideology for example) does not say that the economy rules the world. It states something quite different: social relations depend on the way we produce our material conditions of life, and not, say, on our ideas or ideals. And we produce these material conditions in relation to other beings (in most societies, these are class relations). A plough, a lathe or a computer does not determine history by itself. In fact, the “materialistic conception” explains the present rule of the economy as a historical phenomenon, which did not exist in Athens 500 B.C., and will no longer exist after a communist revolution.
The human Number One question, or the revolution question, is not to find how to bridge the gap between resources and needs (as economists would have it), nor to turn artificial and extravagant needs into natural and reasonable ones (as ecologists would like us to). It is to understand basic needs for what they are. Communism obviously takes basic needs into account, especially in a world where about one billion people are underfed. But how will this vital food issue be addressed ? As Hic Salta explained in 1998, the natural urge to grow food, potatoes for instance, will be met through the birth of social links which will also result in vegetable gardening. Communisers will not say: “Let’s grow potatoes because we need to feed ourselves.” Rather, they will imagine and invent a way to meet, to get and be together, that will include vegetable gardening and be productive of potatoes. Maybe potato growing will require more time than under capitalism, but that possibility will not be evaluated in terms of labour-time cost and saving.
“When communist artisans associate with one another, theory, propaganda, etc., is their first end. But at the same time, as a result of this association, they acquire a new need – the need for society – and what appears as a means becomes an end.” (1844 Manuscripts)
A typical feature of what we have been used to calling “the economy” is to produce goods separately from needs (which may be “natural” or “artificial”, authentic or manipulated, that matters but is not essential at this point), before offering them on a market where they will be bought to be consumed.
“Socialism” or “communism” has usually been thought of as the symmetrical opposite of that economy: it would start from people’s needs (real ones, this time, and collectively decided upon) to produce accordingly and distribute fairly.
Communism is not a new “economy”, even a regulated, bottom-up, decentralized and self-managed one.
To use K. Polanyi’s word in The Great Transformation (1944), capitalism has disembedded the production of the means of existence from both social life and nature. No Marxist and certainly not a communist, Polanyi was not opposed to the existence of a market, but he analysed the institution of the economic process as a distinct system with its own laws of motion. The Great Transformation, written in the aftermath of the Great Depression, coincided with a capitalist effort to regulate market forces. In the last decades, there has been a renewed interest in Polanyi’s emphasis on “embeddedness”: many reformers would like the economy to be brought under social control, in order to create a sustainable relationship with nature. Unfortunately, as the liberals are right to point out, we cannot have the advantages of capitalism without its defects: its regulation is a momentary step before going into overdrive. To do away with capitalist illimitation, we must go beyond the market itself and the economy as such, i.e. beyond capital and wage-labour.
As we wrote in the section on “the revolution of daily life”, communisation will be tantamount to an anthropological change, with a re-embedding of organic links that were severed when the economy came to dominate both society and nature.
There would be no communist movement without our spontaneous indignation when we witness a Rolls-Royce driving by slums. Sylvain Maréchal, Babeuf’s comrade, wrote in the Manifesto of the Equals (1796):
“No more individual property in land: the land belongs to no one. We demand, we want, the common enjoyment of the fruits of the land: the fruits belong to all.
We declare that we can no longer put up with the fact that the great majority work and sweat for the smallest of minorities.
Long enough, and for too long, less than a million individuals have disposed of that which belongs to 20 million of their like, their equals.”
S. Maréchal’s statement was asserting the existence of a human species whose members are similar and should have a fair share of available resources.
Communisation demands a fraternity that involves, among other things, mutual aid as theorized by Kropotkin, and equality as expressed in The Internationale lines: “There are no supreme saviours/Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune”.
But equality is not to be achieved by book-keeping. As long as we measure in order to share out and “equalize”, inequality is sure to be present. Communism is not a “fair” distribution of riches. Even if, particularly at the beginning and under the pressure of circumstances, our priority may sometimes be to share goods and resources in the most equitable way (which, whether we like it or not, amounts to some form of rationing), our prime motive and mover will not be the best and fairest way to circulate goods, but our human links and the activities that result from them.
Where do capitalism’s powerful drive and resilience come from ? Undoubtedly from its amazing and always renewed capacity to invent advanced ways of exploiting labour, to raise productivity, to accumulate and circulate wealth. But also from its fluidity, its ability to supersede rigid forms, to remodel hierarchy and discard vested interests when it needs to, not forgetting its adaptability to the most varied doctrines and regimes. This plasticity has no precedent in history. It derives from the fact that capitalism has no other motive than to create abstract value, to maximize its flow, and eventually to set in motion and accumulate more figures than goods.
That aspect is documented enough for us not to go into details. What matters here is that capitalist civilization develops extreme individualism, while creating a universality of sorts, which is also a form of freedom (of which democracy is the political realization): it breeds and favours a new type of human being potentially disconnected from the ties of tradition, land, birth, family, religion and established creeds. In the 21st century, the modern Londoner eats a banana grown in the West Indies (where she was holidaying last week), watches an Argentinean film, chats up an Australian woman on the Internet, rents a Korean car, and from her living-room accesses any classical or outrageously avant-garde work of art as well as all schools of thought. Capitalism is selling her no less than an infinity of possibilities. Fool’s gold, we might object, because it is made of passivity and spectacle in the situationist sense, instead of truly lived-in experience. Indeed… Yet, however specious this feeling of empowerment, it socially “functions” as it is able to arouse emotion and even passion.
We would be wrong to assume that a period when communisation is possible and attempted would automatically and quickly eliminate the appeal of false riches – material or spiritual. Two centuries of modern capitalist evolution have taught us how resourceful that system can prove. In troubled times, social creativity will not only be on our side: in order to ride out the storm, capitalism also will put forward authenticity and collectiveness. It will provide the individual with opportunities to go beyond his atomized self. It will suggest critiques of “formal” democracy, defend planet Earth as a shared heritage, oppose cooperation to competition and use to appropriation. In short, it will pretend to change everything… except capital and wage-labour.
The communist perspective has always put forward an unlimited development of human potentials. Materially speaking: everyone should be able to enjoy all the fruits of the world. But also in the “behavioural” field, in order to promote, harmonize and fulfil talents and desires. The surrealists (“absolute freedom”) and the situationists (“to live without restraints”) went even further and extolled the subversive merits of transgression.
Today, the most advanced forms of capitalism turn this critique back on us. Current Political Correctness and its Empire of Good leave ample room for provocation, for verbal and often factual transgression. Let us take a look at the many screens that surround us: compared to 1950, the boundary is increasingly blurred between what is sacred and profane, forbidden and allowed, private and public. English readers had to wait until 1960 to buy the unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover : fifty years later, on-line pornography, whatever that word covers, is widespread (according to some figures, 12% of all sites and 25% of Internet searches deal with pornography). Contemporary counter-revolution will appeal much less to moral order than it did in the 1920s and 30s, and often have a “liberal-libertarian” and permissive-transgressive flavour. Communisation, on the other hand, will prevail by giving birth to ways of life that will tend to be universal, but not dominated by addiction, virtuality and public imagery.
The inescapable contradiction
Communisation will be possible because those who make the world can also unmake it, because the class of labour (whether its members are currently employed or out of a job) is also the class of the critique of work. Unlike the exploited in pre-capitalist times, wage-earners can put an end to exploitation, because commodified (wo)men have the means to abolish the realm of commodity. It is the working class / proletariat duality we are talking about: a class, as Marx put it in 1844, which is not a class while it has the capacity to terminate class societies.
Marxists often turn this definition into formulaic dialectics. Non-Marxists make fun of it: the French liberal Raymond Aron used to say that the “working class” is worthy of the fine name “proletariat” when it acts in a (revolutionary) way that suits Marxists. Anyone who takes this definition seriously cannot evade the obvious: this duality is contradictory. Those who handle the modern means of production and have thereby the ability to subvert the world, are also those with a vested interest in the “development of the productive forces”, including utterly destructive ones, and are often caught up, willy-nilly, not just in the defence of their own wages, shop-floor conditions and jobs, but also of industry, of the ideology of work and the myth of progress.
We have no other terrain apart from this contradiction. It dramatically exploded in January 1919, when a few thousand Spartakist insurgents went to battle amidst the quasi indifference of several hundred thousand Berlin workers. Communisation will be the positive resolution of the contradiction, when the proletarians are able and willing to solve the social crisis by superseding capitalism. Therefore communisation will also be a settling of scores of the proletarian with him/herself.
Until then, and as a contribution to this resolution, communist theory will have to acknowledge the contradiction, and proletarians to address it.
Filed under: Milwaukee area, war-machine | Tags: anarchy, anti-austerity measures, capitalism, coming insurrection, communism, crisis, glenn beck, insurrection, look to wisconsin, madison, occupation, scott walker, the economy, wisconsin
“Look to Wisconsin; this is the beginning of the American insurrection.”
– Glenn Beck, 2/17/11
As the crisis unfolds across the globe, it is more apparent than ever that the situation in Wisconsin is not unique. Scott Walker means nothing: he is simply the local face of what has become a situation of globally imposed austerity. All over the world, we can hear Scott Walkers of all shapes and sizes telling us that this is necessary, and that we all need to make sacrifices. In each instance, what’s clear is the willingness of those in power to continually sacrifice our lives and well-being in the name of the survival of the capitalist mode of production.
The redemptive quality of the current situation can be found in that everywhere austerity has been imposed, the dispossessed have revolted against the economic system and state apparatuses that degrade their lives. in Greece, France, Italy, England, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, South Africa, Iraq. Street-fighting, occupations, festivals, barricades, fires, strikes. In each situation, the persistent triumph of misery over life is contested by life itself. As with the movements of capital, so too must resistance be diffuse, autonomous and international.
While the occupations and strikes in Wisconsin have not reached the intensity of the situation outside the United States, the intelligence of Glenn Beck’s ravings is that this unfolding struggle in the dairy state bears the same character as corresponding anti-austerity struggles elsewhere. As more and more people’s lives are rendered superfluous by the mandates of the economy, people respond in intensifying and dynamic ways to confront the flows of the economy and to stake out terrains for their own intentions. As state governments coast-to-coast lay out their hated restructuring, we can expect the exponential development and proliferation of resistance to those governments. One can almost feel the fear oozing from the figureheads and mouthpieces of capital; the fear of the coming insurrection.
- Wisconsin in exile, February 17
Filed under: reviews, war-machine | Tags: civil war, communism, empire, french, introduction to civil war, journal, on war, other means, sass, sassy, thought, tiqqun, war
From the IEF blog:
“Introduction to Civil War is an alternative origin myth. Introduction to Civil War is the vademecum when you show up to fight club, or any strange twelve-stepesque community of friends. Introduction to Civil War is the book to keep out of the hands of children who are ready to subtract themselves and all of their classmates and teachers from production. Introduction to Civil War is a molecule of a war machine.
The text was originally published in Tiqqun 2, a short-lived French journal of radical thought. Emerging out of the fervent struggles of the European anti-capitalist movement, Tiqqun located itself within a nexus of radical feminist thought, Foucault’s studies on biopolitics, Italian Autonomia, situationist-inspired theory, and Benjaminian approaches to history. The editors intentionally practiced a desubectivizing operation of anonymity, and the texts themselves, a feminist/Deleuzian operation of multiplicity. Where there are many links between the journal’s thought and the editors’ participation in the struggles of the late ’90s and early ’00s, it would be difficult to claim Tiqqun as specifically “anarcho-autonomous,” “ultra-left,” or whatever else Sarkozy and Glenn Beck claim to be the ideological bogeyman behind the French editors, who are now being accused of this or that terrorist enterprise (see: Nov. 9 ‘09 Tarnac Arrests). Tiqqun was a journal that examined the exceptional situation of everyday concentration camps, and theorized from that point, highly influenced by Giorgio Agamben. Today, Tiqqun’s contributions are becoming available to English speaking worlds, and their final concept “civil war” emerges as visible and viable.
Civil war: the continuation of communism by other means. History will decide whether or not civil war replaces Foucault’s concept of contesting the meaning of the social (social war), but one thing is clear from Tiqqun’s contributions: if the social has dissolved, and governance is now only techniques of managing its collapse, then civil war becomes the necessary condition of this existence. And if this is the case, then the last bit of poetry found at the end of Introduction to Civil War, “How is it to be Done?,” may be accurate in exclaiming the only way for us, within this condition of global civil war, to touch on our humanity again will be in a collective negation, namely, an unlimited human strike.
Civil war presupposes the state. Even by advocates of the state’s own admission, the state serves as a preventative measure. Tiqqun locates the elementary human unity not in the body, which quickly becomes subject, but in form-of-life (16). Since all thought is strategic (20) they begin here because the state is the consequence of a certain metaphysics that governs each form-of-life at play in the self—an attenuation of difference through subjectivity. Tiqqun proposes that another metaphysics, a negative one, can be made present, within which forms-of-life might be left to play. This free play of forms-of-life, this “principle of their coexistence” (32), is nothing other than the condition of civil war that the modern state was developed in order to suppress.
This logic reveals a hidden fact regarding the formation of the modern state. If forms-of-life take place through bodies, animating bodies with taste and inclinations to lose themselves and to pass into another’s spheres, then the development of the state, the borders and executions it visited upon worlds, were also visited upon selves. When the state is the suppression of the self, civil war is not only inevitable but already omnipresent. From the absolutist state to the welfare state to the liberal state, the state serves as merely a parenthesis in civil war, first as an attempt to exclude bare life from a territory, then from a population, then from the singular body. From classical politics to biopolitics, the state sets out on a steady course of encountering its own impossibility. This steady course is civil war.
With and against Marx’s dictum that the history of human societies is a history of class struggle; Tiqqun reads the history of forms-of-life as the history of civil war. The story of the state, namely “status,” is the story of an attempt made to freeze this free play of forms-of-life. Again and again, it fails, and out of each successive failure develops a new form of governance and new techniques to suppress civil war. The present conditions of “Empire” are nothing more than an outgrowth of these failures. The modern state is nothing more than a complex set of governing and neutralizing apparatuses that continue the political suppression of civil war by other Clausewitzian means.
But what does sovereign power do that classical politics doesn’t? Drawing on Hobbes and Schmitt, Tiqqun argues that the modern state is a theater of operations in which the intensity of ethical difference is neutralized and every image of difference is pulled to the center for a endless photo-op. Classical politics, through a holistic and despotic state, arranged an order of moral codes via absolute force in order to come to some higher meaning. Classical politics put religion and the sphere of ethics into the theater of the political by including kings as the living heirs to God and individuals as the loyal disciples of God’s moral order. In contrast to the rituals of redemption offered through the bloody play of forces contesting territory under the reign of classical politics, sovereign power can point its population to nothing. The modern state is quite literally the management of life, devoid of transcendental authority. The modern state governs, but learns not to govern too much. Moreover, the modern state applies the classical maxim cuius regio, eius religio, and contends and defeats all opposing religions in order to continue as the hand of god on an earth without God.
The paradox of law, which is the founding thesis of the norm, is as follows: law is in force only in its imposition; law appears only in the act of law. If law is fungible or malleable, this is because it has no justification other than its logic. “It is my pleasure” says the modern sovereign. The norm develops from this essential lacuna of law, but things are as they are not simply because they are, but because of material practices, because of how they are. Norm as nomos emerges from specific means deployed through apparatuses of control.
Enter the reign of the economy. There could never be an economic subject without a political subject. Tiqqun reads Foucault’s study of biopolitics not as a story of power outmaneuvered by the deployment counter-subjectivities, but instead as processes of subjectivization by a vast number of apparatuses. Such massive, overdetermined subjectivization mitigates vital and substantive opposition. Capitalism could not have spread across the globe without first the physical neutralization of hostile populations and practices—which is to say, the condition of war had to be neutralized, in order for “peace” to become the normal condition.
Through Tiqqun’s matrix of civil war, we learn that the development of capitalism, primitive accumulation, and war are not mere periods of tragedy that human society had to endure as the necessary, teleological process of the modern state. Instead, they are the originary operations, the operations that are repeated in order to maintain the status of the so-called peace of citizen-subjects. The Hobbesian operation of exclusion/inclusion is looped on an endless repeat. With the advancements of liberal techniques of government, the operations no longer take the form of a visible exposition of disciplinary force aimed at beating a hostis out of a population, (viz., an external military affair). Rather, these neutralizing operations take form in self-managed policing (viz., an internal police). Foucault explains the process of how the “delinquent” was made into an enemy of society; Tiqqun clarifies that the criminal practices had to be excluded and named “anti-social” in order for there to ever be a formal workers’ movement that could be associated with a public social (albeit, illegal) justice.
Introduction to Civil War exposes the modern uneasiness with “violence.” Violence must be excluded not because it threatens to turn the earth into a pit of corpses (capital has no qualms with such a process), but because it threatens to break the imaginary boundaries of subjects, and release forms-of-life to their free play. Hobbes remains the originary political theorist, in that we can already see the beginnings of self-managed subjects through the threat of exclusion. What must be excluded from a living being in order to include it in the caring arms of the state (and thus give it political-subjectivity) is precisely what attaches it to worlds and what gives it the capacity to encounter others. The exclusion of bare life produces docile bodies. The forced retreat into the self typifying the modern subject must be understood not merely as the process which the western individual was founded, but specifically as the process that generated economic “man” whose stupid (literally: stupefied) concept of freedom ends where all else begins.
Thus, what Tiqqun calls “the black magic of the economy” is deployed at all levels to integrate all human life into “society” first as living beings (zoe) then to continue functioning as legal subjects (bios). But this process can never generate today’s citizen-subject as a perfect artifice of legal behavior. On the contrary, by forcing the political-economy, the process makes society—the massive circulation of legal practices of freedom—indistinguishable from the state. Through the proliferation of the police, the dark memory of the state’s violent origin exposes each terrified citizen to the paradox of its existence.
The liberal state and the welfare state, or liberal democratic and social democratic institutions, are not distinct modes of government but rather two poles of the modern state. Tiqqun argues that the management of a certain social definition of happiness was all it took for the liberal state to control its population (118). With police and with publicity, the liberal state could cynically keep order, but the police and publicity developed in a way that served and exceeded the institution of the nation-state. With the collapse of liberal and social hypothesis, the police and publicity were able to shed their institutional justification and become exposed as mere apparatuses of sovereign power. Through this collapse, this folding up of the liberal state, police and publicity gain a new important role; they are exalted as the super-institutional poles of Empire. Techniques of policing transform into Biopower and techniques of publicity transform into Spectacle. The state itself does not disappear just yet, but it is demoted, and Spectacle and Biopower begin the reign of Empire (118).
It is in the planned-environment of Empire that Tiqqun calls on us to take a partisan position: to intensify the play of forms-of-life beyond their attenuation; to loosen the nooses of subjectivity that Empire places around our necks (176). Civil war is where forms-of-life can freely play. An armed joy of bank expropriations, strikes, bombings, occupations, pirate radio stations, riots, and experimental forms-of-life (such as those in 1977 Italy) rises to a new metaphysical plane in the history of the citizen-subject. Civil war can never be routed. Each hyphen between a citizen-subject contains an intense flow of inclinations. What Tiqqun makes abundantly clear is that these intense inclinations are themselves the many protagonists of history. Civil war, not the state; the form-of-life not the subject, takes us, gives us meaning, and exposes us to a new plane of experience. The Imaginary Party—Tiqqun says “we,” (174)—can be understood as the party for civil war. It is a fragmented plane of consistency where each practice that prefers not to conjure away forms-of-life calls home. Unlike other discourses that rely on a single revolutionary-subjectivity, Tiqqun’s Imaginary Party is nothing but a multiplicity, but unlike Negriist dreams of global civil society, the Imaginary Party does not shy away from the global civil war.
Tiqqun’s concept of communism by other means performs of a particularly interesting operation from this point. Moving beyond the false consciousness of the Left, Tiqqun concludes “There is no visible outside anymore […] Madness, crime or the hungry proletariat no longer inhabit a defined or recognized space, they no longer form a world unto themselves, their own ghetto with or without walls” (131). If there is no longer any pure outside but rather exteriority present at every inch of the biopolitical tissue, then the Imaginary Party is not a political party that contends for power, nor a class that wishes to overthrow another class, nor a multitude that sees its desire reflected back at it through its representations of power. The Imaginary Party is the party of the political only insofar that through its presence it exposes each citizen-subject to the intensity of what it means to act politically.
Despite Tiqqun’s insistence on the need to reclaim violence (34), we learn this need is not in order to simply pose a greater technology of violence against their state’s violence, but rather for each body to become at home with its capacity for force. So-called “terrorism” today exposes citizens of Empire to the conditions they have placed on forms-of-life. What Tiqqun advances in terms of civil war, is in actuality a perverse war-machine. The Imaginary Party is full of precisely the content you might imagine. In a queer gesture, Tiqqun explains that “Empire is not the enemy with which we have to contend, and other tendencies within the Imaginary Party are not, for us, so many hostis to be eliminated, the opposite is, in fact, the case” (182). This means that the capacity for force, that inaugurates an element of the Imaginary Party, is specifically a force directed inward. Through the release of forms-of-life to their free play, Empire’s meaninglessness and its lack of substance are totally revealed. The warlike penchants of forms-of-life form a war-machine only insofar that these penchants conjugate “friends” and “enemies” whose ethical distinctions are far more intense then any banal promise of security that Empire can articulate.
Introduction to Civil War ends exactly where you might expect: at the question of “how?” Like Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, Introduction to Civil War, is not (despite the Library of Congress) an essay of critical theory, but rather a text at home with Clausewitz and Blanqui. Although their insistence on Heidegger’s “the they” and all this Schmittian talk of “friends and enemies” situates Tiqqun in a framework of armed struggle, the anonymous editors break free in their concluding piece. What Tiqqun theorizes and what Tiqqun strategizes operations within are two different disciplines. Perhaps this is one of the most difficult positions for Tiqqun to articulate: What it might mean to live communism, and what it might mean to spread anarchy? History (or perhaps the messiah if we go by Benjamin), will have the final say, but what is irreducible in Introduction to Civil War is the feeling of meaninglessness that is the alibi of daily reproduction and the fact that whatever new struggles are emerging do not fit into the normative nor formal leftist conception of revolution or revolutionary subjectivity. Perhaps forms-of-life will animate bodies and advance what the religious wars in Europe only dreamed of. Perhaps everything will be in common, especially our fragile bodies. Or perhaps Tiqqun has misread something of our times and the coming community will have no allegiance to flesh and sinew, nor even thought. Either way, whether it is through the phantom of terror itself gaining substance (Baudrillard) or the inauguration and multiplication of collectivities whose ethical tissue is robust and whose thought is strategic, Tiqqun concludes that the time of the now is decisive. Empire or civil war?”