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: war-machine | Tags: anti-capitalism, capitalism, crisis, crisis center, downtown oakland, general strike, oakland, occupation, Occupy oakland, occupy wall street
From Anti-Capital Projects:
Tonight we open the Crisis Center. In this abandoned building that once provided services to those in need, we open the Occupation Crisis Center. Capitalism cannot avoid crisis. Capitalism cannot resist crisis. But capitalism is not the crisis. We are the crisis. Capitalism is not hungry, homeless, jobless, excluded, exploited. We are. And across the globe, across the nation, across borders, across Oakland, we are moving to meet our immediate needs. We are reclaiming space that has been unused, used against us, left empty while we sleep outdoors, while we cook and organize and struggle outdoors. We open this building in this moment of crisis — in our moment — to continue our occupations, continue our struggles, to seize this crisis and make of it a new world in which everything belongs to everybody. We will use this space for organizing, for talking, for making plans. These are our needs. We will use this building to continue, to endure, and to grow. These are our needs. We will not be asking to have them met; we are here to meet them. To Occupy Oakland; to Occupy Wall Street; to our comrades in Greece and Oaxaca and Cairo: we know you are here with us. We are with you. We are you. You are all welcome here. Our true loves are everywhere, and we find each other in these spaces that we claim. We welcome you to the Crisis Center. We have much to do here, and we have already begun. For our friends and our loves: we are here. For the rest: we are coming.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: capitalism, crisis, Enemies, general strike, nihilism, oakland, occupy everything, Occupy oakland, oscar grant plaza, private property, public space, society of enemies
We are the consequence. Thus reads the poetry of the moment, spraypainted on the side of a dumpster-barricade outside of Occupy Oakland in the hours before it was besieged by hundreds of cops and destroyed. A threat, a promise, but more than that the phrase means that what is happening here in Oakland is not just a ephemeral explosion, not just another one of the twice-yearly riots that passes through the city like a comet. No, it is part of a sequence. There are consequences to the things we do. Our days are no longer a collection of mere happenstance and triviality, no longer a random distribution of inconsequential moments. Finally, what happens happens for a reason, even if from the perspective of the dominant order this reason appears as purest irrationality. Finally, what happens is what must happen, even if from the perspective of the dominant order this necessity appears as pure contingency. There are consequences. We are those consequences. We are the pure products of a political and economic system that can no longer guarantee for us even the mere survival upon which its own survival depends, that can’t even provide us with the unbearable jobs and mind-numbing schooling of decades past. Nor can the American state any longer guarantee social peace – not even if it could afford to imprison another 2 million people. The consequences have arrived. After orbiting the world as riots and general strikes, massive urban encampments and near-revolutions, those consequences have finally come home to the decaying US cities from which the crisis first emerged.
But we are more than simple symptoms of capitalism’s collapse. We are also the agents of consequence. We are the hinge between if and then. We are what makes what must happen happen. If we were driven to occupy Oscar Grant Plaza by the nature of the conditions, then it is also true that we did so intentionally, with clarity about our purposes, and with minimal equivocation. We established a space premised upon free giving and receiving rather than exchange, a space where anyone could find a meal or a tent, attend a workshop or political conversation, and, if they wanted, participate in the maintenance of the occupation in numerous different ways (though participation was never a requirement). We did this with open hostility to the cops and the city government, refusing their entreaties to negotiate on multiple occasion. Such a commune can only result from all kinds of care, attention, willfulness, decision and effort. This space was, in many regards, the opposite of the spontaneous. And yet, without an openness to the spontaneous, without a sensitivity to the order of what happens – in other words, “material conditions” – it could never have come about. The crisis is the necessary but not the sufficient condition of the commune. When we tore down the fence the city erected to keep us from the returning to the plaza, we did so not only because we had to, not only because we wanted to, but because we chose to.
Curiously, nihilism has become the philosophical vogue among radicals at the precise historical moment when, for once, people can do things that actually matter. Of course, if you plays the odds, nihilism is the safest bet. Most of what we do doesn’t matter. Chances are that capitalism will be succeeded by something as bad as it or worse or by centuries of total ruin. Furthermore, any sober assessment of the enemy and the state of those who have avowed their total opposition to the status quo can only lead one to conclude that any force capable of establishing some other way of living must emerge not as a result of willful, voluntary antagonism but in response to new historical developments, new “objective conditons” among people who are not now, in any sense, declared enemies of what exists. But what such a standpoint misses is that we are history, too. We are those objective conditions. This is why the moment of crisis is significant, because it is a moment when the spell of “objectivity” is broken, when the myriad apparatuses and institutions designed to ensure that what we do doesn’t matter – from the police to the universities to the media – stop functioning, when they can no longer fulfill their task of neutralizing, displacing, misrepresenting or repressing antagonism. Crisis is the moment where what we do matters because the apparatuses for containing antagonism have failed. Because there are consequences.
Crisis is the condition. It is the conditional term in the proposition, the if phrase, but crisis is not itself capable of producing consequences, of turning an if into a then, a condition into a consequence. So many people – friends and strangers – who did what needed to be done, who recognized the opportunity! None of this just happens. It takes tremendous effort, preparation, intelligence. It is the fruit of years of conversations and friendships and projects. Though none of this will ever be acknowledged openly, and no names will be shared, each of us knows the dedication and ferocity and courage of our friends, as well as the incredible things done by people whose names we will never know. We know what it took: from the most mundane tasks to the most thrilling, all of it necessary.
Two years ago, “occupation” was adventurism or vanguardism, the suicidal plunge of the lunatic fringe that barricaded university buildings or rioted in the consumer corridors of university districts or marched insanely onto freeways. The signs read we are the crisis because we were, we were the first expression of a crisis become general, the insane children of an insane world. But now we are no longer merely the crisis. We have grown up; we have graduated (even those of us who never went to college or were already quite grown). We are the consequence. We have moved from the futureless universities into the presentless squares of our cities, from the sites of the formation of labor-power toward the place of its circulation, and finally, with the general strike, the place of exploitation. Small though they were, those flares lit the way: they provided moments of theorization and practical elaboration which have pointed now, finally, to the centers of all our cities. The slogan Occupy Everything, once absurd, is now banal. Though occupation has up until now remained bound by semi-public property – university buildings and parks – the general strike now looming promises the possibility of taking occupation to private property itself. We can start taking the things we really want and need: the buildings we will need to survive the winter months, for example. There will be consequences to what we do on the November 2. Let’s make them as brutal and beautiful as possible.
–The Society of Enemies
Filed under: Milwaukee area, update | Tags: 11 x 17, austerity, conference, crimethinc, crisis, end notes, fist, gender mutiny, look to wisconsin, may 20th, poster, yadira lopez
Filed under: Milwaukee area, update | Tags: austerity, capitalism, conference, crisis, glenn beck, insurrection, look to wisconsin, milwaukee, UWM
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.
It is in this spirit that we are calling for a brief conference concerning these increasingly pertinent themes, offering and providing space for a discussion of how we might envision responses to recent and future events which might far outrun us if we fail to grasp the present of our conditions. The fever of activity that shocked many has come to a lull in Wisconsin, though we know that this is not over either here or elsewhere. Instead this lessened pace allows time for reflection that was not afforded to us within a situation that demanded throwing ourselves fully into it. We intend to take full advantage and we encourage others to join us in doing so.
The conference starts Friday May 20th and events TBA will take place throughout the weekend.
For more information in general, about housing and updates please check:
Sponsored by UWM Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous