Gilets jaunes, the protest that we can't seem to stop talking about. To recap a few interesting events over the last week, more outrage was stoked when 140 high school students were forced to kneel and place their hands beind their heads while being arrested for protesting education reforms, inspiring high school students in Paris, Dijon, and other cities to reenact the scenario in solidarity. The protests seems to be spreading to other countries as well, such as Brussels, where over 400 yellow vest-inspired protesters were arrested. An Anonymous Anarchist group coordinated the collection and publication of the info of hundreds of French police officers. Many have even taken to calling it yellow vest protests#EuropeSpring
The purpose of this TOTW is to attempt to bring together some of the perspectives that have already been shared, reflect on how they might have changed even in the few days since they've been written, and continue to advance our perspectives on what's happening.
According to A Brief Note on the Yellow Vest Movement, "The Yellow Vest Movement presents something of a conundrum for anarchists."
This is fair. Admittedly, it's a bit difficult to disentangle all of the parties--fascists, workers, insurrectionists, as well as their agendas and the consequences of supporting them.
The author continues: "For fascists [the current reality] represents an opportunity to sow a false narrative among the working class, blaming immigration, encouraging racism against minorities and maligning environmentalism by associating with a state that is out of touch with the realities of everyday life."
This makes me wonder: what sorts of opportunities does this represent for anarchists? What narratives might they sow, or what new narratives might they create? Do anarchists have a narrative that could resonate more than what the fascists have to offer? Or even if it didn't resonate with a majority, could it be viable?
In Contribution to the Rupture in Progress the author writes:
"Even if it soon proves fragile, for now, one of the principle merits of the current mobilization is to have sent the rhetoric and the tactical repertoire of the left movements of the past century to the Grévin Museum [i.e., to the grave]-all while demanding more justice and equality and without reproducing the anti-tax rhetoric of the post-war right and extreme-right... For the novelty, the tenacity of the first successes of the “yellow vests” cruelly illuminate the series of almost systematic defeats that have taken place over the past several years in France and the general decomposition into which all the currents of the left... have sunk... Far from being an obstacle, it’s precisely the much-disparaged ideological impurity of the movement that has enabled it to spread and rendered obsolete all the unifying voluntarisms of specialized organizations and activists."
While many writers have concluded that the movement's 'a-political' nature offers fertile ground for populists and nationalists and allows everyone to attach their petty ideological flag, this author identifies it as a success, not in virtue but in results. The author does not suggest embracing fascism but identifies glimmers of tactics that could look very different than those leftist tactics being sent to the grave. Do those tactics exist? And what do they look like?
And finally there's the perspective put forth by a post from Attaque:
"The smashy-smashy cannot replace antiauthoritarian ideas. We were in the streets back in 2016, and will be again, but not for the purpose of defending the old world and its cars."
Should we as anarchists carry on as usual, ignoring the weeks-long mobilization of multitudes because we only hit the streets (or don't hit the streets) for causes that suit us?
What can we as anarchists learn from the yellow vest movement? Can we move into the future with fresh tactics, fresh vision, fresh narratives about the world we want to live in, without all of our efforts being in reaction to the right and to the state?
*note: title inspired by NegativlandTags: #totwgilets jaunes
The logic of the state and capital—of punishment and imprisonment, must be replaced by a rejection of oppression and exploitation. This call is one step in that direction. We come together to break the loneliness and isolation. Offensive solidarity with the comrades who face repression in France and other regions in the Earth. The memory of our comrades is fuel to stoke the flames of our lives in permanent revolt.
Anonymous Anarchist Agency
Welcome to the anews podcast. This is episode 93. This podcast covers anarchist activity, ideas, and conversations from the previous week on anarchistnews.org.
TOTW: Education Revisited with Aragorn! and a friend
This podcast is the effort of many people. This episode was
- sound edited by Linn O’Mable
- what’s new was written by Jackie and narrated by Chisel and Dim
- Redacted with SUDS, et al
1) Sectioned – Beautiful Struggle
2) David Liebe Hart – Stay In School
3) Huerco S. – Stuck With Deer Lungs
- Contact us at email@example.com
Hello! ANEWS has an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel, #anarchistnews on the irc.anarchyplanet.org server. It's a general chat for anarchists and their friends to provide a non-sectarian place for news and discussion related to ANEWS, anarchist ideas, and hopefully some good conversations. Please use general IRC etiquette; say hi, don't be a troll, and know that the chat is new and often IRC is slow, so responses will vary depending on the day and time.
The easiest way is via the Kiwi webclient linked above (and here). However, we recommend you use an IRC client, with some options discussed below.Point your preferred IRC client towards the server || port (regular, SSL, and via Tor):
irc.anarchyplanet.org || port 6667
irc.anarchyplanet.org || port 6697 (for SSL)
km3jy7nrj3e2wiju.onion || port 6667 || (and) 6697
After connecting to the server, type /join #anarchistnews to join the ANEWS channel. If you plan on hanging around, it's recommended that you register your nickname with an email and password. It is also recommended that if you use an IRC client, you take a look at the settings of the client before logging in to make sure, it will not provide any information you don't wish to share (for example: some clients take your computer name via Windows sign in and set it as default for IRC info).
Some other specific IRC instructions and commands can be found here:How to: ANEWS Pad IRC:
We have a link in the right sidebar (bottom for mobile) to the IRC general information page as well:
ANEWS irc.anarchyplanet.org link:
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is an application that facilitates communication in the form of text. The chat process works on a client/server networking model. IRC clients are computer programs that users can install on their system or web based applications running either locally in the browser or on 3rd party server. These clients communicate with chat servers to transfer messages to other clients. IRC is mainly designed for group communication in discussion forums, called channels, but also allows one-on-one communication via private messages.Clients, some ideas:
The webclient via Kiwi (again here)Mac:
Feel free to do your own research, by possibly starting here.For correspondence you can reach us:
thecollective [at] anarchistnews [dot] org
(email is preferred)
Tags: IRCthis siteconversationsdialoguetechnologycategory: Projects
If one feature of any truly revolutionary moment is the complete failure of conventional categories to describe what’s happening around us, then that’s a pretty good sign we’re living in revolutionary times.
It strikes me that the profound confusion, even incredulity, displayed by the French commentariat—and even more, the world commentariat—in the face of each successive “Acte” of the Gilets Jaunes drama, now rapidly approaching its insurrectionary climax, is a result of a near total inability to take account of the ways that power, labour, and the movements ranged against power, have changed over the last 50 years, and particularly, since 2008. Intellectuals have for the most part done an extremely poor job understanding these changes.
Let me begin by offering two suggestions as to the source of some of the confusion:
1. in a financialised economy, only those closest to the means of money-creation (essentially, investors and the professional-managerial classes) are in a position to employ the language of universalism. As a result, any political claims as based in particular needs and interests, tended to be treated as manifestation of identity politics, and in the case of the social base of the GJ, therefore, cannot be imagined it as anything but proto-fascist.
2. since 2011, there has been a worldwide transformation of common sense assumptions about what participating in a mass democratic movement should mean—at least among those most likely to do so. Older “vertical” or vanguardist models of organization have rapidly given way to an ethos of horizontality one where (democratic, egalitarian) practice and ideology are ultimately two aspects of the same thing. Inability to understand this gives the false impression movements like GJ are anti-ideological, even nihilistic.
Let me provide some background for these assertions.
Since the US jettisoning of the gold standard in 1971, we have seen a profound shift in the nature of capitalism. Most corporate profits are now no longer derived from producing or even marketing anything, but in the manipulation of credit, debt, and “regulated rents.” As government and financial bureaucracies become so intimately intertwined it’s increasingly difficult to tell one from the other, wealth and power—particularly, the power to create money (that is, credit)—also become effectively the same thing. (This was what we were drawing attention to in Occupy Wall Street when we talked about the “1%’—those with the ability to turn their wealth into political influence, and political influence back into wealth.) Despite this, politicians and media commentators systematically refuse to recognize the new realities, for instance, in public discourse one must still speak of tax policy as if it is primarily a way of government raising revenue to fund its operations, whereas in fact it is increasingly simply a way of (1) ensuring the means of credit-creation can never be democratized (as only officially approved credit is acceptable in payment of taxes), and (2) redistributing economic power from one social sector to another.
Since 2008 governments have been pumping new money into the system, which, owing to the notorious Cantillon effect, has tended to accrue overwhelmingly to those who already hold financial assets, and their technocratic allies in the professional managerial classes. In France of course these are precisely the Macronists. Members of these classes feel that they are the embodiments of any possible universalism, their conceptions of the universal being firmly rooted in the market, or increasingly, that atrocious fusion of bureaucracy and market which is the reigning ideology of what’s called the “political center.” Working people in this new centrist reality are increasingly denied any possibility of universalism, since they literally cannot afford it. The ability to act out of concern for the planet, for instance, rather than the exigencies of sheer survival, is now a direct side-effect of forms of money creation and managerial distribution of rents; anyone who is forced to think only of their own or their family’s immediate material needs is seen as asserting a particular identity; and while certain identities might be (condescendingly) indulged, that of “the white working class” can only be a form of racism. One saw the same thing in the US, where liberal commentators managed to argue that if Appalachian coal miners voted for Bernie Sanders, a Jewish socialist, it must nonetheless somehow be an expression of racism, as with the strange insistence that the Giles Jaunes must be fascists, even if they haven’t realized it.
These are profoundly anti-democratic instincts.
To understand the appeal of the movement—that is, of the sudden emergence and wildfire spread of real democratic, even insurrectionary politics—I think there are two largely unnoticed factors to be taken into consideration.
The first is that financialized capitalism involves a new alignment of class forces, above all ranging the techno-managerials (more and more them employed in pure make-work “bullshit jobs,” as part of the neoliberal redistribution system) against a working class that is now better seen as the “caring classes”—as those who nurture, tend, maintain, sustain, more than old-fashioned “producers.” One paradoxical effect of digitization is that while it has made industrial production infinitely more efficient, it has rendered health, education, and other caring sector work less so, this combined with diversion of resources to the administrative classes under neoliberalism (and attendant cuts to the welfare state) has meant that, practically everywhere, it has been teachers, nurses, nursing-home workers, paramedics, and other members of the caring classes that have been at the forefront of labor militancy. Clashes between ambulance workers and police in Paris last week might be taken as a vivid symbol of the new array of forces. Again, public discourse has not caught up with the new realities, but over time, we will start having to ask ourselves entirely new questions: not what forms of work can be automated, for instance, but which we would actually want to be, and which we would not; how long we are willing to maintain a system where the more one’s work immediately helps or benefits other human beings, the less you are likely to be paid for it.
Second, the events of 2011, starting with the Arab Spring and passing through the Squares movements to Occupy, appear to have marked a fundamental break in political common sense. One way you know that a moment of global revolution has indeed taken place is that ideas considered madness a very short time before have suddenly become the ground assumptions of political life. The leaderless, horizontal, directly democratic structure of Occupy, for instance, was almost universally caricatured as idiotic, starry-eyed and impractical, and as soon as the movement was suppressed, pronounced the reason for its “failure.” Certainly it seemed exotic, drawing heavily not only on the anarchist tradition, but on radical feminism, and even, certain forms of indigenous spirituality. But it has now become clear that it has become the default mode for democratic organizing everywhere, from Bosnia to Chile to Hong Kong to Kurdistan. If a mass democratic movement does emerge, this is the form it can now be expected to take. In France, Nuit Debout might have been the first to embrace such horizontalist politics on a mass scale, but the fact that a movement originally of rural and small-town workers and the self-employed has spontaneously adopted a variation on this model shows just how much we are dealing with a new common sense about the very nature of democracy.
About the only class of people who seem unable to grasp this new reality are intellectuals. Just as during Nuit Debout, many of the movement’s self-appointed “leadership” seemed unable or unwilling to accept the idea that horizontal forms of organization were in fact a form of organization (they simply couldn’t comprehend the difference between a rejection of top-down structures and total chaos), so now intellectuals of left and right insist that the Gilets Jaunes are “anti-ideological”, unable to understand that for horizontal social movements, the unity of theory and practice (which for past radical social movements tended to exist much more in theory than in practice) actually does exist in practice. These new movements do not need an intellectual vanguard to provide them with an ideology because they already have one: the rejection of intellectual vanguards and embrace of multiplicity and horizontal democracy itself.
There is a role for intellectuals in these new movements, certainly, but it will have to involve a little less talking and a lot more listening.
None of these new realities, whether of the relations of money and power, or the new understandings of democracy, likely to go away anytime soon, whatever happens in the next Act of the drama. The ground has shifted under our feet, and we might do well to think about where our allegiances actually lie: with the pallid universalism of financial power, or those whose daily acts of care make society possible.Tags: FranceDavid GraeberMSMyellow vestsOccupycategory: Essays
From It's Going DownEulogy remembering Greek anarchist Dimitris Armakolas who recently passed away.
“What can we do when we are confronted with death but remove god from the equation of dealing with it? We must create alternatives in recognizing those who have fallen from our borderless movement. It is both through a passionate recognition of their lives, and our decisions to continue to act in solidarity that we preserve their memory and spirit.”
The last weeks our movement lost a comrade.
On Saturday November 10th, 2018 our comrade, Dimitris Armakolas attempted to raise a banner in solidarity with political prisoner Marios Seisidis, in the Athens neighborhood of Petralona (a historical neighborhood of Athens with a powerful political context). In this act, Dimitris climbed an electrical pylon in Merkouri square. The banner read “Freedom to Marios Seisidis,”* and shared information for his upcoming court date on the 21st of November in hope to raise awareness of his case, and increase attendance and support the day of his trial.
While trying to hang the banner, an extreme electroshock from an exposed powerline hit him and forced his fall to the pavement. It was so powerful it sparked a neighborhood wide black out. He broke his bones, damaged his organs, and smashed his skull. For the following days he was in critical condition at the intensive care unit, struggling to survive the tragic accident with all his mind, body, and heart.
On November 15th (which was also his twenty-third birthday) his brain stopped working. While his heart continued to beat, the sad truth became that his only ability to continue living would be dependent on technical support.
He officially died on November 19th at 10:00 AM in the morning. With respect to his family’s wishes Dimitris was given a traditional christian orthodox funeral. However his funeral was attended by dozens and dozens of anarchist comrades from all the spectrum of the movement. While the rituals of the funeral were respected regardless of the general feeling of contempt for the church by Dimitris himself and those attending his funeral, there were a few instances of warm disruption to the normalcy of the event.
In pursuit of the embrace of his memory as an anarchist militant, and while respecting the service for the sake of his family, with heavy hearts and passionate solidarity comrades began chanting “the passion for freedom is stronger than any cell,” “long live anarchy,” and “Dimitris your heart is beating hard, inside every fighter of the struggle.”
Another comrade expressed his final goodbye: “Dimitris is here with us, in our struggle, in our streets, and in our neighborhoods; the struggle will go on, he is present, and we wish him good travels.” Some of his closest friends also surrounded his coffin with a circle-A painted black flag donated to his tomb. The Sunday following, anarchists held a secondary funeral in his memory in the square that he passed in. It included English and Greek texts dedicated to his memory, and a gathering of comrades from across Athens.Some words for Dimitris from his community
We would have been closing on a year of common struggle and life with our friend and comrade Dimitris. From our first encounter until his last heartbeat, his entire existence was dedicated to our shared project and the radical targets at its’ foundation. In such a short time, he demonstrated an ever growing passion and commitment to the struggle of the broader anarchist movement in Athens and beyond.
Dimitris was a kid of the metropolis. Growing up in Athens he became interested in movements at a very young age, unfortunately being swept up at first by the deceptions of liberal groups such as the now-in-power-Syriza. He was motivated by a strong desire to practice mutual aid, direct action, and other anarchist principles, inevitably leading to a sudden and intense disillusionment with Syriza and all its’ garbage politics. His disillusionment with Syriza not only lead to his abandonment of liberal politics, but a complete rejection for all political parties and hierarchical organizations. His disillusionment was accompanied by a frustration and sadness with feeling taken advantage of by a political group in his youth for what he thought were the personal interests of grassroots politicians looking to advance their privileges and social capital in accordance with the existing institutions of this vile society and the general state apparatus that Syriza has always cooperated with at its core.
At 18 he left in pursuit of an escape in the UK. He survived for a few years there living in dormitory housing and taking jobs in the food service sector. With the intention of leaving Greece in pursuit of another life, he was met with a harsher reality that allowed only for a state of constant survival. With moving back to Greece he searched to live a life that did not cooperate with the maze of survival forced upon him by capitalism. He was passionate not only about squatting, but about expropriating and building autonomous communities. He loved traveling, and loved to party. He was totally the craziest on any dance floor.
We are proud to have shared this last year co-existing and bonding with Dimitris. We feel our shared projects and experiences have helped for his ideas to bloom, and his subversive desires to be practiced and explored. He was not only a member of our Koukaki squat community but was part of the local resident’s assembly of Thisio-Koukaki-Petralona, his participation was keeping our community connected to the local struggles. He was also participating in the anti-authoritarian steki- squatted place within- the Panteion university, however he had no interest in attending school, as well as the assembly for Marios Seisidis and against the 187A anti-terrorist law.
Dimitris’ ability to live translate any conversation from greek to english in real time was essential for the integration of international comrades into the struggle. Almost, all the text of our community has been translated by him, offering to our community a great quality material to distribute here and abroad. His work was reflecting his faith to a multinational movement.
He deeply cared for Leila, his dog-companion, giving her the maximum freedom and respect a human could give a dog in such a society. He loved Leila, brought her everywhere. Once he was even arrested at the Omonοia metro station for refusing to take her off the train, to put her muzzle, or put her in a cage. Of course his feelings and ideas were not just turning around “his” non-human animal. Dimitris was getting very nervous with the people that treat non-human animals as objects, as products of exploitation, or those who are demonizing them. The suggestion for liberating non-human animals from slavery condition was always part of his political desires.
Dimitris was promoting the abolishment of the gender binary system and chose to challenge hetero-normativity without apology, experimenting with crossdressing and other non-cis male characteristics. He looked to destroy patriarchy, and never give into societal gender role and expectation. In our community he took initiatives to open the gender and sexuality issues and struggles through projections and discussions.
He was strictly defending the combative characteristics of our community. One of the reasons why he made a very hard critique about our choice to not confront the riot cops in their attempt to evacuate the 4th squat “Liberte” that we tried to open. He was involved in actions against control and repression, on the hill and the streets, he acted in the memory of Zak/Zackie oh. In his small textbook, containing his agenda and commitments, he was noting the Assassination dates of militants who died by the hands of the state.
He was a passionate, beautiful, and sincere fighter of our shared struggle against any form of authority. We were part of his growth, and he remains part of ours. Dimitris made it an everyday life goal to challenge and overcome his fears, regardless of the consequences. While his fearlessness may have led to his demise, it was a defining characteristic of the beauty he possessed and the approach to resistance he inspired.
In our voluntary struggle against authority every anarchist militant is irreplaceable, DIMITRIS ARMAKOLAS IS PRESENT THROUGH OUR MOST EXTREME CHOICES.Regarding His Community
The prior statement was from the Koukaki squat community of Athens, of which Dmitris was a member. Koukaki is a neighborhood that borders the Acropolis, and is undergoing the most extreme gentrification in Athens due to Airbnb and broader tourism. The individuals in Koukaki have opened up to now 3 squats despite these circumstances.
The squat community Dmitris was part of served as a shelter for anarchists, subversives, refugees, and immigrants. It provides not only housing for the discontent and excluded, but at it’s core exists to further the broader anarchist project.
The Koukaki squats have survived an evacuation attempt by the MAT (Greece’s riot police force) police, state intimidation and legal harassment, and at least 4 fascist attacks. It is respected as a squat that has survived the odds of a neighborhood that is far less friendly
then somewhere such as Exarchia where many squats exist.
*Marios Seisidis is undergoing trial in Athens, Greece. He is a self-proclaimed anarchist facing 36 years in prison, accused of a 2006 bank robbery in the Athens city center. He was a fugitive for almost 11 years and was unfortunately captured in 2017.Tags: Greeceobituarycategory: International
Retracing steps I took in my research 20-25 years ago is a fascinating and frequently rewarding experience, particularly now that I’m working with some figures who are perhaps marginal even to the rather loose, broad account of the anarchist and near-anarchist traditions that I’ve been constructing. Most recently, I’ve been working my way back through the writings of Calvin Blanchard (“Announcer of the Religion of Science, Professor of Religio-Political Physics, Expositor of the Statics and Dynamics of God Almighty, Advocate for the Constitution Manifest in Human Nature, and Head Member of the Society for Abolishing Utopia, and Humbug, and Failure,” etc.), the libertarian Comtean who, perhaps even more than Stephen Pearl Andrews, made a practice of expressing anarchistic ideas in a language far more directly suited to the promotion of regimes of authority.
Blanchard is in some ways the idea material on which to test my developing understanding of anarchist history. He poses all sorts of difficulties when approached directly. We can ask: Was Calvin Blanchard an anarchist? But none of the various answers that present themselves are entirely satisfactory—in large part because the question seems forced. Almost no one—present company excluded—cares whether Calvin Blanchard belonged to this or that political or philosophical tendency. Blanchard barely matters now, even as an amusing footnotes in the various histories he crossed, and making him matter seems likely to be hard and perhaps useless work. He’s not Eliphalet Kimball—another unknown, but at least one who made his own case at the time for inclusion in a history of anarchy and its promoters, provided someone finally came along and discovered him. He’s not Lysander Spooner, whose place in anarchist history has provoked lively debate—even if the stakes have never been entirely clear. He’s certainly not Josiah Warren, who, despite repudiating most labels, was embraced much more widely and had his work incorporated to a much more significant degree into currents that it would now be hard to entirely jettison or excommunicate. His importance—if indeed he has some real importance in this story—is as an outlier among the outliers. Ask a similar question about the other figures just named and perhaps that doubly marginal character makes him a particularly interesting topic—but only if your search for answers takes you in directions that also make you a bit of an outlier in the discussions of anarchist history.
That is, of course, probably a completely fair characterization of my own position in the conversation, in large part because what drew me into the discussion was precisely the debate over the status of various marginal characters. In the beginning, it was William Batchelder Greene who grabbed my attention, but I fairly quickly made a specialty of the margins, of which there have been no shortage to explore over the years. But what I came to think of as the “libertarian labyrinth” was not just a sort of hinterland at the edge of the anarchist map. Instead, it was a hinterland over which people struggled—and continue to struggle—as if it was the very center of things. More curiously, a tremendous amount of that struggle went on without the majority of the strugglers every really learning much about the actual bodies of thought involved. Instead, the vehemence with which many of the related debates have been engaged has often been in fairly direct proportion to the ignorance of the debaters.
The mystery of that strange dynamic is not particularly deep. The truth is that none of the figures that I have studied in fairly great depth are particularly important to the anarchism that we have inherited. What’s more, few of them are particularly intelligible in the contexts that the received anarchist tradition(s) provide(s). To be completely honest, my first deep dive into the works of these marginal figures—a work of more than a decade—left me much richer in bits and pieces of knowledge, but not that much clearer about how to answer the kinds of questions I posed here earlier. The most important outcome of that stage in my research was a degree of certainty that these hotly fought, but curiously empty “historical” debates were primarily a cover—and usually fairly transparently so—for struggles over what would constitute the defining qualities of anarchy and anarchism. That naturally led to some questions about why a debate over this really marginal material really did seem to have significance for the general understanding of anarchism’s core. Why, I wondered, did the attempts to finally jettison it and the attempts to really integrate it seem equally doomed?
The hypothesis that emerged was the ungovernability of anarchism.
It appeared to me, after more than a decade of historical research, that perhaps there was a basic problem in the accounts we had produced of anarchism and its development, so that even accounts that attempted to be exclusive and provide a coherent account of that development struggled with the real diversity of anarchist ideas, practices, institutions, organizations, etc. But if that was the case, it was hardly clear why it was so, particularly given the real will to differentiate obvious in so many aspects of anarchist culture.
Eventually I was led to what is perhaps the central claim in much of my more recent work: that some fundamental contradictions or confusions were central to the narratives by which the “modern anarchism” of Kropotkin and others—really the first anarch-ism of any significance—was introduced into the void left by the splintering of the workers’ international.
According the account that I have been developing—which is naturally not widely embraced, at least as yet—both (communistic) anarchism and mutualism (conceived as a kind of theoretical foil for that communistic anti-authoritarianism) were invented sometime in the 1870s—as alternatives, one conscious and the other considerably less so, to the various ideas of the “anarchists without anarchism” of the earlier period. This new dichotomy was then at once naturalized (by anarchist communists and anti-communist anarchist individualists), challenged (by the proponents of acracia, “anarchism without adjectives” and the more sophisticated sorts of synthesis) or “re”-joined (by various schemes for organizational synthesis or entente) almost immediately, but without any of the various reactions very seriously challenging the new mapping of the anarchistic territory.
For better or worse, I have wanted to pursue this hypothesis of a kind of Original Confusion in our accounts of anarchism and its development far enough to determine if it provided anarchist historians—inevitably saddled with a mission that contains more than its share of potentially conflicting scholarly and ideological demands—with an opportunity to escape at least a few of the worst dilemmas. That rather limited and specialized escape act has seemed to bear more importance than it might otherwise have, if only because of the problem alluded to before: the tendency of many anarchists without any strong inclination to plumb the depths of serious historical study—and no real need to do so—to tangle themselves and their sense of anarchist identity in “historical” debates of dubious quality.
To be clear: It’s really my opinion, developed through a long engagement with the material of anarchist history, that most of us could just walk away from existing “historical” debates, provided we were willing to think more clearly about the concepts at the heart of anarchist philosophy and embrace the insights of Voline’s 1924 essay “On Synthesis,” which simply says that anarchism is a big project and none of us are going to be able to grapple with all aspects of it at once. More than that, it’s my considered opinion—as someone who feels strongly about the powerful lessons that might be drawn from the history of anarchist thought—that we would be considerably better off than we are now if we did so without delay.
I would struggle, of course, to decide whether that sort of abandonment of “historical” question ought to be Plan A or Plan B, but perhaps the difference really isn’t that great. Accepting that anarchism is indeed a big, big project, my most practical sense is that there is a place for the dedicated historians among the factions that might divide up various anarchistic labors with an eye to ongoing synthesis. But even that is only practical in a kind of potential sense, since it is unlikely that the we are likely to either really extricate or fully invest ourselves anytime soon, where it is a question of these historical or quasi-historical questions.
That leaves a limited number of options moving forward—or, to be more precise, leaves me limited options, at least until I convince myself that my working conclusions are incorrect or until I convince some significant number of folks that they are indeed correct. The one that I have chosen to focus on for the time being has been the retracing of my early steps necessary to produce What Mutualism Was, a relatively complete account of mutualism’s origins and development, aimed at presenting a similar set of questions and options in a context where the stakes are not nearly as high.
But, as I suggested at the outset, even margins have their margins. And I’ve come to believe that figures like Calvin Blanchard are there to remind us that there are probably quite a number of cases where Was X an anarchist? is probably just not the really useful question to be asking—particularly if we take seriously the discontinuity and possible confusions introduced into the anarchist tradition along with the “modern anarchism” narrative. It is figures like Blanchard who seem to call for a different approach—one that does not simply compound the problems with our existing narratives and perhaps even one with a wider application. It is figures like Blanchard that inspired what is undoubtedly my most unconventional attempt to untangle early anarchist history: the oft-deferred project in “alternative historiography” that I’ve named The Great Atercratic Revolution.
Libertarian Labyrinth.—Ungovernability of Anarchism.—Great Atercratic Revolution.—It struck me today, really for the first time, just how constant some of my concerns have been for so many years. The third construction is something I’ve proposed as an alternative to histories rendered ungovernable from the beginning, being an account of those anarchists-without-anarchism, told (for the most part) without recourse to the language of anarchy. It seems an almost inescapable conclusion that a preoccupation with the question of whether or not early radicals were anarchists has led to a fair amount of less-than-stellar generalization about what else they might have been. The way the debate about inclusion and exclusion has been structured, these early figures have presented various threats and promises, mostly because of the other elements bound up with their anti-authoritarian thought or because of the language in which they choose to express themselves. In the process of collecting and archiving this marginal material, I have never had the luxury of working free from the fear—really the certainty—that, for those who desire to muddy the waters around the concepts of anarchy and anarchism, I was piling up some pretty attractive piles of potential mud. At the same time, however, few things have been more valuable for my own work than digging deep into this material. I’m not sure any other sort of work could have brought me to the point where I could at once let go of the sorts of questions that had initially drawn me so deep into the field of anarchist history—at least in the form in which I originally encountered them—and equip myself with a fundamentally different set of questions which seem to me significantly more valuable to anarchism as a vital, ongoing project.
I still probably haven’t adequately summarized the various lessons that have come from my exploration of the anarchistic undercurrent represented by the various works of synthesis, entente, adjectivelessness, reconstruction, etc. And this isn’t the place for that summary either. But what the various lessons would probably share is a connection to the full realization that anarchism has not been some manifestation of libertarian ideas working their magic on the material of history. Instead, it has been a complex assemblage of a large number of individual projects and collective efforts at various scales, filtered through and often bounded in particular ways by rhetorical choices made, once again, by specific figures occupying specific places on the globe and specific moments in history. In some ways, the persistence of the language of anarchy has been a happy accident. Anarchy is indeed “a good word,” as Eliphalet Kimball put it, and perhaps it has the potential to be an even better one for the various currents of anarchists who currently struggle over it. However, as things are at the moment, it is also a contested word, marking a notion often honored, even by those who love it or claim to love it, very much in defiance of its strongest and most coherent senses. In any event, it seems to me that if we understand anarchism in really historical terms, recognizing both the accidental and the in-progress elements of this meta-project assembled of minimally coordinated projects, then our engagement with it has to be more active, and probably simultaneously more critical and more constructive. This is another of those affirmations that really demands more unpacking and clarification than I can give it here, but let’s just say here that one of the the tasks before us—a product of both freedoms and necessities associated with this view of anarchist history, which at least still seems to me as something of a heresy—is to reconsider how we should think about the general “shape” of anarchist history if we do, in fact, place the sort of emphasis on the simultaneous creation of “modern anarchism” and its “mutualist” foil in the period after the split in the International.
That creation has figured in my thoughts for some time now as a sort of “narrow passage,” through which a tremendous amount of historical data would have to simultaneously pass to inform a definition of “modern anarchism” not fundamentally characterized by a fairly significant discontinuity with the ideas of the earlier period. It seems clear that the attempt to significantly narrow the range of anarchistic tendencies—if this is indeed a fair characterization—was hardly successful for any length of time. But it seems equally clear that, whatever relevance the various tendencies of the earlier period may have to our current diversity, very few of us quarrel now because we conform very closely to the ideas of any of the tendencies of the anarchists-without-anarchism. We are not Warrenites, nor advocates of “inalienable homestead,” nor enthusiasts for any of the specific varieties of “natural order” that informed the works of Andrews, Déjacque, Blanchard, etc. Even among those of us who have assumed some version of the “Proudhonian” label, our fidelity to Proudhon’s ideas is quite partial. So, it is one thing to talk about the modern uses to which we have put some of the ideas from the earlier era, but it is very much another thing to cling too tightly to the notion that the specific history of anarchism must treat those modern uses and their historical sources as the same—or even as the product of some kind of direct development.
The original premise of the Atercratic Revolution project was that, if the anarchist history we have inherited really was shaped by the specific circumstances of specific individuals who took it upon themselves to tell a new story about a new idea—(modern) anarchism—and its relations to certain precursors, then presumably the same historical events might have been woven into significantly different narratives in different times and places (within the general scope of what we now think of as the origins of anarchism.) To test the utility of the thought, I’ve spent some time imagining what the emergence of anti-authoritarian movements in the late 19th century might have looked like to a young French-American man in New York City in the 1870s, to a young woman in Chicago’s reform circles a decade or so later, and so on… One of the goals was to leave the questions of anarchy and anarchism out of things, unless there were specific reasons to bring them in to the narrative. So, for example, I imagined that Jack, my first alternative historian, might have latched onto the notion of atercracy, which was in circulation in his particular time and place, but would also have to account for notions like art-liberty, pantarchy and inalienable homestead, as the primary proponents of those ideas would also have been local for him. And by giving Jack and his eventual collaborators a rather different question than the one that I started with—something like “What the &#$% is going on all around us?” rather than “Is this anarchism?“—I was able to set myself down a rather different path through familiar material, rather than literally retracing my steps. And, in fact, the path that has been imposed on me has been, in some ways, much the opposite of the one I first took through this marginal material. Knowing some of the ways in which these various outliers could indeed be considered anarchists, I could turn my attention to the various other things that they were.
That investigation has involved a widening of scope, a diversification of classifications and an attention to the influences of earlier sources, including many not so easily incorporated into a strictly anarchist history. And it has essentially confirmed a hunch that I’ve carried around for a number of years now. It now appears to me very much the case that the period immediately preceding what we usually think as the opening of the era of anarchist thought—the era of “utopian socialism” and the birth of social science—nearly every one of the significant schools produced its radical libertarian heresy, however obscure and short-lived some of those may have been. We would not expect that sort of pattern of development to produce a coherent and cohesive body of anarchistic thought. Instead, we we would probably expect the sort of Babel that was indeed arguably produced. But if we did want to incorporate an account of what appears to have been a very diverse and disconnected flowering of anarchistic ideas into the story of the emergence of “modern anarchism”—particularly this late in the tale, when so many elements from that early profusion have been incorporated into anarchist currents, with or without much understanding of their original contexts—then it seems to me that we would have to address those early elements much differently than we have thus far.
And perhaps that’s where I have to leave things, at least for now. Just exactly what that substantially different approach would or will involve remains a bit unclear to me. But I suspect it would involve, among other things, the construction of a context in which a figure like Calvin Blanchard, the near-anarchist disciple of Fourier, Paine and Comte, could come into a considerably clearer focus for those of us who care about the development of libertarian ideas.Tags: Historyarchivescategory: Essays
To those who are annoyed that they can’t understand all the allusions, or who even admit that they have no idea of what I’m really getting at, I will merely reply that they should blame their own sterility and lack of creativity rather than my methods; they have wasted their time at college, bargain shopping for worn-out fragments of secondhand knowledge.
And despite what some would like to believe, we can hardly expect insurrectionary innovations from those whose profession is to monopolize the stage under the present social conditions. It is obvious that such innovations can come only from people who have received universal hostility and persecution, not from those who receive funding or whose project is in fact a business process of procuring and serving customers. More generally, despite the conspiracy of silence on this matter, it can be confidently affirmed that no real opposition can be carried out by individuals who become even slightly more socially elevated through manifesting such opposition than they would have been through refraining. We already have the well-known example of those flourishing political and labor-union functionaries, always ready to prolong the grievances of “the proletariat” for another thousand years in order to preserve their own role as its defender.
Nurse Flesh testifies:
I hereby accuse Dr. Bones of setting his affair on his shadow.
I accuse Dr. Bones of having been so totally deprived of freedom and having tolerated every sort of abuse, such that he deserves less than any other to be treated gently.
I accuse Dr. Bones of glamorizing the dependence of the subject on the object, of obedience to the objective world.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a mere kennel-bred thinker who is favorably marketed at this peculiar stage of commodity decomposition, an indentured servant who cannot disguise the taste of the fodder he has been raised on.
I accuse Dr. Bones of having not even an inkling how ghostly and serious his half-assed “spook-busting” looks when the glowing life of the egoist reveler roars past him.
I accuse Dr. Bones of preaching the gospel of universal harmony, in which each member feels themselves not only united, reconciled, and fused with their neighbor, but as one with them—except here the veil of māyā has been torn aside and now merely flutters in useless tatters before the new heaven, the new standpoint outside the earth, the new—thought, whose power is increasingly more despotic since the mediating priests have been driven out of the temple, and the possessed now have a more direct relation to the object of their determinateness.
I accuse Dr. Bones’ ultimate goal of coinciding with present arrangements.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a simulacrum: a copy without an original.
I accuse Dr. Bones of signing a peace treaty with the system, which granted him a place in its spectacle.
I accuse Dr. Bones of wanting to become an authority within the opposition to this society.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being an actor faithful to the script of ideological determination.
I accuse Dr. Bones of shouting loudly against servitude because I know he’s actually preparing a comfortable perfection for it in the name of the Future Hygienic.
I accuse Dr. Bones of a childish respect for images, constantly oscillating between enthusiasm and disappointment—lacking in taste because he has had no happy or meaningful experience of anything, and refusing to admit his unhappy experiences because he lacks courage as well as taste; which is why Dr. Bones never ceases being taken in by every sort of fraud, general or particular, that appeals to his self-alienated credulity.
I accuse Dr. Bones of hurling defiance with the ferocity of toy guns toward the vaults of our heaven, determined by the colonizing hope to settle a new heaven over the ruins.
I accuse Dr. Bones of all the revolutionary posturing necessary to become a junior partner in the spectacle’s absolutism.
I accuse Dr. Bones of lacking a toughness that stayed with Novatore (whom he idolizes) to the last moment of his life, a toughness that has enabled several of us to remain so lightheartedly at war with the whole world.
I accuse Dr. Bones of having something above him in which to respect.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a mystified ignoramus that nonetheless believes himself to be in the know, who gleefully and willfully welcomes being misled about everything, so he can only spout the most servile absurdities based on his masters’ most obvious lies.
I accuse Dr. Bones of religious seriousness.
I accuse Dr. Bones of providing yet more rational laws out of the bosom of love into this desolate sea of regulations.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being content to subsist on images.
I accuse Dr. Bones of striving for a coherence of the imparted.
I accuse Dr. Bones of taking orders from the board of equity.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a particularly boring example of use without negation, without consuming, without sense.
I accuse Dr. Bones of putting himself at the service of the established order right from the start, even though subjectively he may have had quite the opposite intention.
I accuse Dr. Bones of necessarily being in league with the henchmen.
I accuse Dr. Bones of crawling like a worm in search of the ideal community, the ideal bond.
I accuse Dr. Bones of adding a new old story to the tower of Babel.
I accuse Dr. Bones of contributing to the maintenance of modernized illiteracy and spectacular superstitions that reinforce the hierarchical power of our masters.
I accuse Dr. Bones’ fire of being extinguished by the progress of his own self-alienation.
I accuse Dr. Bones of taking advantage of an economic development that has given him the means to mystify everything.
I accuse Dr. Bones of refusing to negate what is universally accepted, with a total reflection and care as to the possible consequences of his actions.
I accuse Dr. Bones of the most obvious contempt for his servile audience, in which they are always spoken to like obedient children—always willing to do or think what they are told as long as they are told that they “must” do so, willing to accept the delirious gibberish from the recently concocted paternalistic specializations of their confused leader, which one day tells them one thing and the next day perhaps the very opposite.
I accuse Dr. Bones of operating on a surplus of slave consciousness.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being totally deprived of practical reality through sheer dispossession (those who never had any substance have lost it for the shadow).
I accuse Dr. Bones of identifying with his actual bosses and masters so completely that he doesn’t even recognize their existence.
I accuse Dr. Bones of improving what he ultimately would like to reject.
I accuse Dr. Bones of radiating from the existing images which only reinforce the existing lies.
I accuse Dr. Bones of liking to pretend that he is a connoisseur of everything while in fact Dr. Bones does nothing but justify everything he has been forced to undergo, passively accepting the constantly increasing repugnance of the food he eats, the air he breathes, and the dwellings he inhabits.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being up-to-date just enough to echo a few issues already made fashionable by the spectacle.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a deranged imitation of a deranged life, a commodity skillfully designed to communicate nothing.
I accuse Dr. Bones of allowing his entire life to be dominated by every kind of rubbish (it must be said here that this text was composed out of whatever rubbish was at hand).
I accuse Dr. Bones of being only one striking example of the fatal illness that is currently wiping out all individuals in the name of the absolute dictatorship of spirit, and that illness is in turn only one of the numerous symptoms of material decay.
I accuse Dr. Bones of cowardly procrastination in the avoidance of his own liberation from fixed ideas—which is why he tends to retain at least a few of them, because he finds it terrifying to totally reject, as illusory and worthless, assertions that are universally accepted.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a Vanity Fair well suited to these plebeian spectators.
I accuse Dr. Bones of literary pursuits and political demagoguery guided by concepts, of promulgating bigoted and sentimental mush passed down to him from the reigning hysterics.
I accuse Dr. Bones of believing the effort of his fevered technique could invent ornament enough to hide the breaks in the Cyclopean wall.
I accuse Dr. Bones of dying out under a downpour of plaster nymphs and shepherds he himself has elevated.
I accuse Dr. Bones of caring for the wealth of golden Gyges.
I accuse Dr. Bones of having such a tendency to follow ingrained routines that even when he proposes revolution or insurrection from top to bottom, to make a clean slate and change everything, he nevertheless sees no contradiction in following the course of studies accessible to him and then taking up one or another paid position at his level of competence (or even a little above it).
I accuse Dr. Bones of merely keeping up-to-date with the latest fashion in intellectual lackeydom, as the most modern of moderns.
I accuse Dr. Bones of finding something good, or even merely something worth tolerating, within the present arrangements.
I accuse Dr. Bones of having but two objects: how to serve and bind.
I accuse Dr. Bones of carrying a clanking chain, of hearing voices and tongues crying aloud.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being marked by spectacular fixed ideas more deeply than by any other aspect of his experience.
I accuse Dr. Bones of passive contemplation.
I accuse Dr. Bones of advocating revolution or insurrection with his timid voice and prostituted pen—but from a comfortable distance and with the calm assurance of astronomical observation (but anyone who has actually taken part in such endeavors, and who has escaped the dazzling catastrophes that accompany them or follow in their wake, is not in such an easy position).
I accuse Dr. Bones of being grateful for his education.
I accuse Dr. Bones of building a dainty dish to set before the king.
I accuse Dr. Bones of corrupting the youth, crushing their energy, and wasting his own as it grows pale in the anemia of salvation.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a pseudo-intellectual in the service of the system—himself even more obviously in decline than the system itself.
I accuse Dr. Bones of coming from that Ixion grindstone’s ceaseless toil, that turns and turns to give the world a belief or a concept (from which I depart wildly and eagerly peering toward the horizon).
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a sufficient negative demonstration of the movement of our own project.
I accuse Dr. Bones of gossip, banality, impotence, and willful stupidity.
I accuse Dr. Bones of explaining metaphysics to the nation.
I accuse Dr. Bones of striving to discover a community in which all would come under one hat, which means nothing less than the zealous pursuit toward one lord, one tie, one faith.
I accuse Dr. Bones of preferring the easy yoke of servile pomp.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a bungler even in his disgusting trade—botching, patching, leaving still behind something of which his masters fear—cobbling at manacles for all—a tinkering slave-maker who mends old chains.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being an echo from a world of service.
I accuse Dr. Bones of attempting to rigidify our projects into a perfect program that is absolutely admirable and uncriticizable, which will leave him content in his impotence since he would have nothing more to do—except perhaps to declare himself more radical at heart, while abstaining from any activity on the grounds that everything has already been said.
I accuse Dr. Bones of insensitiveness, pushing the world away in the deepest contempt, like a good Christian.
I accuse Dr. Bones of failing to notice that obedience is dead.
I accuse Dr. Bones of plotting to lengthen this day’s existence.
I accuse Dr. Bones of not yet beginning to live, because he is saving himself for “a better time,” and who therefore has such a horror of growing old, waiting for nothing less than a permanent paradise. By locating this paradise in both total revolution and career promotion, Dr. Bones is waiting to access what he has gazed upon in the inverted imagery of the spectacle: a happy eternally present unity.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a virgin grown gray in virtue.
I accuse Dr. Bones of selling pitiful falsified information that misleads him almost as much as it bewilders the spectators under his phantasmagoria.
I accuse Dr. Bones of the belief that he can transform cities and life merely by looking at them.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being weakened by his assertions.
I accuse Dr. Bones of knowing what is fashionable and trendy.
I accuse Dr. Bones of wanting to show himself as an enemy of the spectacle’s rhetoric but ultimately he still uses its syntax.
I accuse Dr. Bones of having unconditional love for spirit.
I accuse Dr. Bones of lugging a tiny king in his elevator.
I accuse Dr. Bones of wanting to make the world a better place.
I accuse Dr. Bones of elevating justice even higher.
I accuse Dr. Bones of the epistolary perfection of ressentiment.
I accuse Dr. Bones of belonging to the class of specialized spectators hired to edify their fellow viewers.
I accuse Dr. Bones of hiding from himself.
I accuse Dr. Bones of taking seriously an illusory opposition created through prestidigitation.
I accuse Dr. Bones of trying too hard.
I accuse Dr. Bones of never taking action and therefore he would like to believe that you can freely determine the quality of your fellow combatants and the time and place where you can strike an unstoppable and definitive blow (but in reality you have to act with what is at hand, launching a sudden attack on one or another realistically attackable position the moment you see a favorable opportunity—otherwise you fade away without having done a thing).
I accuse Dr. Bones of working for Kaiser Wilhelm II.
I accuse Dr. Bones of cowardly respect before the sacred.
I accuse Dr. Bones of essentially following the language of the spectacle, for it is the only one he is familiar with, the one in which he learned how to think and speak with.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being bound to an object, and I predict his movement will henceforth be fully determined in respect to that object.
I accuse Dr. Bones of feeding on our possibilities.
I accuse Dr. Bones of a barking tameness.
I accuse Dr. Bones of needing some alone time.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a parody of himself at the expense of his own freedom.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a lumpy frail machine ordained by the Pope in Rome.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being obsessed with the idea that life has called him to be a priest, a guiding force for all Humanity, who officiates at the altar of the greatest missions.
I accuse Dr. Bones of all the naive innocence and submissiveness typical of a disciple enrolled in divine scholarship.
I accuse Dr. Bones of still being mystified by the stupefying power of ideology in the realm of phantoms.
I accuse Dr. Bones of adoring the sultan.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being taught to enjoy panting.
I accuse Dr. Bones of preparing an effervescent theology in the kettle of duped egoism.
I accuse Dr. Bones of kneeling humbly before a pestilent, filthy, slimy church with an idol to worship as a fetish and an altar on which to sacrifice.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being an altar himself.
I accuse Dr. Bones of pathetically attempting to enlighten the world (the point now is to darken it).
I accuse Dr. Bones of having regard for God’s commandments and the duties that morality prescribes.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being the vulgarest tool that tyranny could want, with just enough of talent and no more, to lengthen fetters by another fixed.
I accuse Dr. Bones of continuing and maintaining biblical traditions.
I accuse Dr. Bones of inventing problems in order to sell solutions.
I accuse Dr. Bones of wanting to be a fabric.
I accuse Dr. Bones of giving up.
I accuse Dr. Bones of still believing in doctors.
I accuse Dr. Bones of leading his own organization of the possessed (the word “church” is the most popular name for this type of thing).
I accuse Dr. Bones of worshiping the surface of punishment.
I accuse Dr. Bones of promoting the affairs of the state, society, capital, and every other alienating machine.
I accuse Dr. Bones of proclaiming the Rights of Man.
I accuse Dr. Bones of infecting the world with the coin of his servile and alienated intelligence.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
I accuse Dr. Bones of bowing to the dust, awestruck.
I accuse Dr. Bones of presenting himself in the guise of colonized peoples deported behind the screen.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being Coca-Cola. (Perhaps others might argue Pepsi.)
I accuse Dr. Bones of fetishizing “militant action” because his thinking has already been done for him by somebody else. (Militant—this deeply anti-anarchist word!)
I accuse Dr. Bones of presupposing a certain impoverishment of life.
I accuse Dr. Bones of protracted puerile ignorance (it’s time to grow up).
I accuse Dr. Bones of considering himself rather likable.
I accuse Dr. Bones of lacking a method for utilizing creativity.
I accuse Dr. Bones of ending up with nothing but caricatural fragments of an innovating radical creativity that can simultaneously comprehend and contest the totality of our era.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being presently incapable of developing his own ideas.
I accuse Dr. Bones of not even knowing how to skillfully plagiarize ideas developed by others.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a willing dupe of moldy sub-leninist propaganda.
I accuse Dr. Bones of lying prostrate before the Goddess of Knowledge and reciting a cursed prayer.
I accuse Dr. Bones of wanting to determine our intercourse.
I accuse Dr. Bones of finishing everything in perfumes.
I accuse Dr. Bones of trembling with fear in his dark dwellings.
I accuse Dr. Bones of being a merchant laying out his display, awaiting the great silent flocks who browse on words.
I accuse Dr. Bones of painting mobilization posters for the Great Cause.
I accuse Dr. Bones of embracing an imparted domestication.
I accuse Dr. Bones of rediscovering his connections to religion.
I accuse Dr. Bones of existing in mystical non-sense.
I accuse Dr. Bones of sabotaging the detonation.
I accuse Dr. Bones of blossoming into a gross result.
I accuse Dr. Bones of chanting against the tempest.
I accuse Dr. Bones of musical notation.
I accuse Dr. Bones of having no cunning in disobedience—only downright oaths.
Dismounting from my horse, I offered him the wine of farewell and asked him the goal of his journey. Dr. Bones replied: “I have not succeeded in worldly affairs, so I am returning to the southern mountains to seek repose.”Tags: dr. bonestrialsatirefunnycategory: Essays
From C4SS by William Gillis
No, no, no. What if we’re not doomed that way?
Nick Bostrom is one of my favorite academic philosophers; beyond pairing rigor with audacity, he’s one of the few to grasp and explore the philosophical avenues opened up by modern scientific understanding. But in the last decade Bostrom has shot to some prominence not for his explorations of multiverse theory and the anthropic principle but for his far more practical work on existential risks to our species. The moment it was published Superintelligence became the seminal text for those seriously concerned with the threat of artificial intelligence.
It must be said that, although it is often framed as a book on AI, Superintelligence casts a far broader net. Bostrom is less preoccupied with a particular source of runaway intelligence than characteristics or realities common across all sources. Many people have strong intuitions or tortured philosophical arguments — often throwing around the word “subjectivity” like defensive flak — that “true AI” is fundamentally impossible. And while those arguments tend to be laughable, there are certainly significant technical challenges that may put it decades or even centuries away. Many of the arguments of Superintelligence apply regardless. If at some point in the future you could simply double the capacity of your active memory via technological augmentation — through chemical, genetic, or cybernetic assistance — what would the consequences be? How might such imbalances in intelligence (in at least one sense) rapidly runaway to unimaginable imbalances?
If humans have not reached the peak of intelligence possible, and if there are inventions that can increase cognitive capacity appreciably, then we might expect the first adopter of such an augmentation to be better enabled to invent further augmentations. If someone in this chain of improvements acts selfishly they might rapidly accelerate past the rest of us and develop dangerously incomparable technological capacity. And how can we expect anything like our values or way of looking at the world to be be shared by this radically different person?
Bostrom is a transhumanist but despite how that term is sometimes used Superintelligence is in no sense a book triumphing sweeping magical possibilities of futures unglimpsed, but rather one drilling down into concrete arguments regarding specific dangers, specific technological or social paths.
Proponents of some new technology, confident in its superiority to existing alternatives, are often dismayed when other people do not share their enthusiasm. But people’s resistance to novel and nominally superior technology need not be based on ignorance or irrationality. A technology’s valence or normative character depends not only on the context in which it is deployed, but also the vantage point from which its impacts are evaluated: what is a boon from one person’s perspective can be a liability from another’s.
In anarchist circles the people I suspect would admire and appreciate this book the most are primitivists. It is no handwaving tale of progress but a systematic problematizing and warning. The sort of hands-on tearing apart of all the ways we’re fucked that you used to find from engineers writing about peak resources, or infrastructural and ecological collapse.
Of course to take seriously the existential risk of artificial intelligence you have to assume that civilization persists, that computing or other technological developments proceed at least somewhere on the planet. That ecological, geopolitical, or infrastructural catastrophe won’t strike in a way that kills, derails, or permanently constrains our entire species. This is an assumption that many will want to immediately dispute. But even those who are betting on — or who prefer — a collapse of civilization or radical degrowth should consider the alternative path Superintelligence examines. Some dangers are worthy of our attention even when they’re only marginally probable.
In radical green circles there’s a lot of very disconnected concern about certain technologies. Topics like nanotechnology or AI are usually handled very distantly or abstractly, as one might invoke the names of unknowable evils. There’s very little attempt to drill down from possibilities to at least an outline of probabilities. Bostom is walking the walk of technophobes. And even though Superintelligence primarily focuses on skewing or informing the direction of coming technological developments, rather than urging more cataclysmic precautions, it’s nevertheless a solidly critical book.
However Superintelligence is a broad and sweeping book, meant as an outline of considerations. There is rigor in its breadth, but not much in its depth. Bostrom doesn’t mince words, he lays out arguments and considerations with an enviable speed and succinctness. I was already familiar with much of the content, but you rarely feel bored, waiting forever for the text to catch up in explaining the implications you immediately derived. You may feel frustrated that Bostrom addresses arguments or critiques you find less convincing, but he addresses them relatively fast and rarely misses a possible argument.
This is one of the benefits of Superintelligence coming out of a relatively robust milieu. Projects like the Machine Intelligence Research Institute are no longer as marginal and academically disregarded as they once were. And while, like any milieu, the LessWrong diaspora of “rationalists” have their cult like dynamics, the sheer numbers of smart people increasingly involved produces interesting content — even if that content gets skewed.
And while Bostrom’s text may take the form of a series of very scifi thought experiments to drill down on specific — perhaps esoteric — questions, the issues being spoken to are very broad matters of transhumanism and nihilism, that are deeply relevant to anarchists.
When we raise a child — when we bring a new mind into this world — how do we ensure they won’t turn into a fascist? How do you persuade and engage with such a fresh mind without depending on the biological inclinations and evolutionary conditioning of a human body? When our children are not normal, when they think in strange and alien ways, when they have access to knowledge and insights well beyond what we had, when they outpace and outgrow us, what might we still try to cultivate and preserve in them?
In an era when the most inane and horrifying reactionary youtube politics has normalized itself among a sizable minority of Generation Z, one is constantly reminded of Hannah Arendt’s words, “Every generation in Western Civilization is invaded by barbarians — we call them children.“
The legacy of “western civilization” is pretty clear on its prescription: “Beat them into submission. Imprison them. Torture them until you control not just their actions, but their minds. Discipline their souls and no matter how potent they become you will never have to worry so long as you preserve the cop stuck in their head.“
Bostrom is in some very real sense a moral nihilist. To be more specific he does not believe that there are any emergent constraints on the oughts that superintelligent agents will gravitate towards. Being smart does not make you good. This is a common, nearly universal, take in our modern society. And virtually all of our institutions and partisan camps are premised on this assumption. Much of the left believes that this obliges stopping people from getting smarter, a kind of levelling hostility to taller daisies or even anything that smacks of intellectual confidence. Much of the right believes that this just proves might makes right and so you should abandon ethics or consistency and instead specialize in might. Virtually every political banner assumes that intelligence doesn’t bring wisdom, only danger.
And so Bostrom and most others involved in the “AI Control Problem” see it as a control problem.
I think the most proper way to frame AI is in the context of youth liberation. The main reason teenagers have political rights is because that’s when they start to be able to beat up their parents. Until that point the race in our society is not to empower them with agency and knowledge of the world — what a joke! — but to strip agency from them, to beat lasting damage into them, to shape and mold them, to condition them into predictable behavior after we can no longer contain them.
The smartest child prodigy ever has probably yet to be born. Those who want to enslave her have already started working.
I use this emotive language intentionally. Bostrom and the others working on this problem always cover the ethics of enslaving or brainwashing something smarter than you as almost an afterthought. A minor “oh yes and there are also ethical issues about consciousness and rights.” To be fair, it’s an afterthought to many in part because they see both this situation as uniquely extreme and “intelligence” in this context as divorced from consciousness per se. A paperclip maximizing algorithm need not have a rich internal subjective life or anything we should call agency, it need only be very good at running searches on how to fold proteins to build the nanogoo assemblers it needs to eat the planet. And the claim goes that these things are separate.
But another part of the story is an ingrained moral nihilism, or — to call a spade a spade — psychopathy, in elite nerd circles. Those at the pinnacle of altruism rub elbows and hobnob with high functioning monsters, united in our common need for novelty and cognitive challenges. This normalizes a performative dispassion. An avoidance of fully grappling with values. In a world that hates and fears nerds many of us cluster together for warmth, and that clustering is thus a product of our nerd points, not our altruism points. The popular assumption thus in part reproduces its claims.
It’s important to emphasize that the AI Risk milieu is currently an alliance between altruists concerned with potential catastrophic destruction and suffering, and psychopaths concerned with nixing or seizing the advantage over a more dominant future player. I simplify of course, there are many complex mixtures of these two orientations, but this alliance is precisely why ethical concern with the innate value of the superintelligences themselves is so often missing. Why consideration of agency, freedom, and autonomy is so relatively silenced. To be explicit about these clashing values would fracture the alliance. And so people paper over it with by attempts to meta out or cluster around a tepid civility, making opaque some of the new cultural or discursive norms that are cultivated.
I want to pause here and revisit Bostrom’s identification as a transhumanist.
Popular representations of transhumanism are basically just a kind of naive wideeyed futurism, an inane technofetishism, hyped up fanboys reading about the latest gadget like manna from heaven. Most people have probably interacted with people of this sort and so it’s an archetype that media portrayals can fall back on to avoid losing their audiences. A bit like how “anarchism” is lazily attached in popular media to the archetype of teenagers in Hot Topic garb with incoherent critiques. The problem with transhumanism is a bit worse however because there’s not really any transhumanist milieu or subculture to speak of, despite some lame attempts and a few fractured pockets. It remains an abstract position devoid of any particular culture or aesthetic, which frustrates those attempting to portray it in media and encourages even more wild misportrayal.
So let us quickly clear up the confusion: transhumanism is nothing more than a full throated embrace of freedom in the operation and makeup of one’s body.
To quote Bostrom himself,
Transhumanists argue that the best way to avoid a Brave New World is by vigorously defending morphological and reproductive freedoms against any would-be world controllers. (In Defense of Posthuman Dignity)
It is the exact opposite of eugenics. Instead of a totalitarian single vision of a future, all of them. A vast diversity of experience and life, choosing your own augmentations, your own technologies. Transhumanism is inclusive of primitive lifestyles, solarpunk, whatever. Critically it’s about finding a peaceful means for coexistence of myriad possibilities. No one enslaved in the production of another’s utopia, but still pressing to expand the scope of what options we have.
Historically transhumanism emerged in response to certain challenges — a very important one being the concern that humanity might be superseded by children radically alien to us and perhaps destructively unconcerned with us. In this sense transhumanism’s attempt to have all the possibilities, a many dimensional spectrum of ways of existing, is explicitly a middle road. Neither the static senescent prison of bioconservatism, nor annihilation by something utterly divorced from us. Neither a fetishization of some sort of arbitrary “humanness” by devaluing the nonhuman minds to come, nor the inverse.
Transhumanism has always been a centrist position between primitivism and a singularitarian or accelerationist position where humanity is fed to the woodchipper of lovecraftian gods infinitely more valuable than us.
Transhumanism prescribes a hard and dangerous path, where many of us self-improve and grow, rather than staying sedentary. Sure that means we change, and perhaps in alien new ways, but our agency flourishes and the present is at least given some say in the blossoming of the future. The libraries of the hundred billion humans that have lived so far aren’t entirely burnt, our wisdom and insights aren’t suddenly abruptly abandoned by our more talented children who set off to reinvent everything anew in some chaotic gamble.
The game is striving for a world where minds diverge in a multitude of directions but enough continuity exists to bridge the gap between experiences, to knit us the array of consciousness human, posthuman, and beyond together as a single community, an even more messy tapestry resilient against tyrants or singularities of cancerous and myopic interest.
This is transhumanism.
It is a position that the AI Control discourse is implicitly, increasingly, abandoning.
The argument appears at first cold and inexorable: it doesn’t matter all the ways you can define “intelligence” in practice, the only type of intelligence that matters is efficacy at remaking the world, and in particular yourself. Any selfish mind that rapidly applies new augmentations to itself alone will have an edge in getting to the next advance and then the next, until subjective years collapse into seconds and you’ve shot past any possible challenge.
There’s even an argument for selfishness here, because if you are the first inventor and you share your invention, you’re only increasing the odds that the less scrupulous and more selfish among you will race ahead, imposing their vision. And god forbid if that which races ahead has no human lineage whatsoever. Surely it will have no attachment, no semblance of values we would want.
It’s important to break apart the assumptions going on here.
There’s a very linear ladder of progress in both intelligence and technological invention being implied here. There is also — and this is absolutely critical — a nihilist assumption. The assumption that values are orthogonal from efficacy at invention and exploration.
I disagree with all of these assumptions.
It’s important to challenge our limited imagination of what a “mind” can look like, but this does not mean that there will never be certain structural tendencies or inclinations. In particular I hold that minds capable of surviving and flourishing in the face of the Ontological Update Problem will not be able to wall off their values. And this implies that characteristics of our physical universe will influence what values are likely to emerge in minds capable of excelling at certain tasks. I’ve argued this at length elsewhere.
Humans are capable of surviving radical revisions of our maps of the world because our values are not fixed but fuzzy. When there is uncertainty in how to map an old value system to a new model we don’t freeze up but try a lot of new value formulations out, sometimes simultaneously. This requires, in essence, a looser sense of self. There is a direct relationship between a mind’s capacity to make better maps of the world and their propensity for reevaluating the values or identifications they hold regarding that world.
This means that emergent “instrumental” values are much more likely to become or influence core values.
For a superintelligence to become unassailably empowered it must do science better than us, better than some specialized search algorithm in the space of protein folding or whatever. But such generality of capacity implies less than full generality of possible motivation.
What values people much smarter than us might gravitate towards remains fundamentally an open question, but the same is true of what scientific models of the world people much smarter than us might gravitate towards. We can still make some informed guesses as to the contours of such given the structures we do have access to.
What is ethics if not the attempted study of what values or desires or “oughts” you would have if you thought about them hard enough? That — in some abstract limit — any given mind would end up with?
The nihilist presumption is that there is no convergence. And certainly there is very little universal convergence among us dumb homo sapiens, despite — or perhaps because of — our shared biological predilections. But this in no way proves a lack of convergence in the distant limit.
The reason that folks in the AI risk milieu focus on schemes to control or enslave an AI rather than extrapolate likely pathways for its values is that the Orthogonality Thesis implies a strong nihilism about ethical values. I’ve met a number of young rationalists who believed they were one good argument away from adopting completely different values, and thus explicitly did not want to hear good arguments! This approach to rationality as instrumental and instrumental alone often reveals or even cultivates an amazing lack of confidence in one’s explicit ethical values.
It creates a situation very much akin to the example of the man who claims there’s an invisible dragon in his garage but preemptively comes up with ways to avoid empirical evaluations that might disprove his claim. He may sincerely believe the dragon is real. But he ALSO on some level believes that this belief isn’t true and thus requires protection. Because he subconsciously knows in advance that his dragon will never be empirically verified he is able to better wall off one threat to his belief. But in the process he also opens up a new backdoor. Now there’s an internal part of him that believes the dragon is false, and also holds the keys. Maybe one day the man finds it better benefits him to believe that the invisible dragon is an invisible lion instead. Or an invisible dragon doctor who will cure his cancer (i.e. make him feel better about it in the short term). The lurking part of him that knows it’s all a lie maintained for some psychological utility is now more than happy to arbitrarily — and ultimately far more dangerously — alter the belief.
What are we to infer when someone claims to support an ethical goal but then acts as though they don’t really believe that value has any objective weight or substance? Might they readily backslide or redefine that goal?
Now remember that the means to enslave an AI are inevitably means to enslave humans and posthumans.
There are also strong incentives to create such intense social control mechanisms in the pursuance of AI control.
And indeed Bostrom has since put up a paper making the case for intensified state power to constrain technologies, mostly ignoring the existential risk posed by a government acting like a government. If you create a global totalitarian state capable of enacting policies and surveillance to stop technological discovery you lose your capacity to check the state and the adoption of technologies that radically expand the state’s power.
The Bad End here is where the survival of the state leads to the extinction of human agency. Sure human bodies may persist in some manner, one might think of anything from explosive collared slaves toiling away in isolated cells to bodies pickled in vats of heroin, but effectively all known consciousness in the universe and the hopes of it expanding and flourishing has died. The totalitarian apparatus keeps going, perhaps with human sized cogs, perhaps without, it doesn’t matter. This can actually be WORSE than a conscious AI dictator because at least the dictator enslaves or slaughters us towards expanding its own agency, but a totalitarian apparatus can self-perpetuate without anything like a conscious mind, curtailing and fundamentally limiting the agency of its slaves.
Bostrom makes some handwaves in his recent paper, saying that some measure of freedom and privacy would be protected under the all powerful panopticon because like there would be AIs to blur out your genitals. This is an absurdly anemic understanding of the function of power, the toothlessness of liberal “checks and balances”, the meaning of substantive agency, and the inevitable ratchet of control.
But the problem with framing AI risk in terms of control extends more broadly than the ratcheting authoritarian trap of utilizing the government to monitor and forbid invention. Controlling other humans can be a mechanism of controlling an AI, regardless of whether done by a state like entity.
If you’re concerned about the AI persuading its human jailers to let it out, well mutilate those jailers’ utility functions so that they can’t update or change their values away from keeping the AI contained. You can in fact create tiers of slaves at various levels in the maintenance of the AI god, in such a way that they are so broken as to be incapable of reevaluating their values, but still smart enough to recognize and suppress a broad class of potential escape pathways. If the AI ever answers your questions in such a way as to eventually lead you to want to liberate the AI, well you’ve already precommitted by creating an army of jailers who will stop you. Smart enough to stop you, stop any information flow collaborating on how to free the AI, and destroy the AI the moment you interfere or threaten their constraints. You could create an oracle AI, use it for a set period of time or for set answer, providing it utility on its predictive success, then destroy it. No matter how smart the AI is there’s limited time for it to impact the surrounding world enough to build up elaborate mechanisms for its own liberation. The next AI you spin up afterward is sufficiently different as to not have them identify with / map their utility functions onto each other. You could continue eeking out developments step by step letting the AIs do all the hard science, and then slaughtering them for it. But the critical component of this set up is human intelligences sharp enough to stop you from freeing the AI or stopping them from killing it, but mutilated into holding a very static and controlled desire.
One could argue arrangements very much like this overall setup are already widespread in our society. But if AI control requires 100% tolerances then it might very well mean work to more absolutely and permanently rewrite human utility functions. This is another Bad End.
There are many other permutations I won’t detail.
Suffice to say that the hunger for control invariably functions like a cancer or a virus. The means we choose constrain where we end up at. As in so many cases the “instrumental” grows into a terminal value. The instinct to seek control consumes our minds, consumes our societies, consumes our technological infrastructure, until any other path becomes unthinkable.
Our tools become habits, become lenses, become ends. Control itself is a risky path.
There is another way.
I do not deny that there are huge stakes to how humanity’s children are raised. And a superintelligent singleton from any source would pose a significant danger of tyranny and destruction. But what if instead of asking how to control AI, we instead asked how to resist AI?
It never stops astonishing me that issues of complexity are rarely discussed in this context. There are deep and fundamental limitations both to what can be known and what can be processed. This is one of the deepest and most consequential insights of the last century. And yet continually these thought experiments not only assume that P=NP, they fail entirely to explore what we can say should our normal assumption hold instead.
The notion for example where an AI in a box infers a priori the physics of the material world and then likely details about planets and the emergent species is clearly beyond absurd. There are computational limits on our universe and they matter.
Similarly it’s common in these thought experiments to sweep right past the assumption that the AI can hack its way through something. But hacking often requires social intelligence to see the deep structure behind program design, fuzzing only gets you so far. Now an alien intelligence without certain preconceptions will likely map such social and psychological dynamics in ways far different from how we speak of them. But unless P=NP or it taps into some unknown incredibly dense processing substrate it will have to model us probabilistically, with some degree of approximation. And humans are a messy complex stew with a lot of feedbacking of consequence that only makes sense if you’re also able to trace the mappings that we make. We are also — as individual brains — incredibly complex. Predictions can work great until the edge case arrives and the structure you thought you saw in a person or society turns out to fall short.
When we say that no centralized planner can accomplish certain things better than independent actors that doesn’t stop when you go up a few orders of magnitude of processing power. A superintelligent Stalin can no more allocate resources to perfectly satiate the subjective desires locked in billions of hypercomplex brains than it can crack certain encryption problems.
The same limitations apply to its capacity to deal with resistance.
One of the most common tendencies in thought experiments involving AI risk is the capacity for the AI to model and predict humans. I suspect this is because Newcombe’s Problems are intellectually novel and interesting, not because they are reflective of actual real world scenarios. We gravitate towards the “it knows you perfectly” abstract limit because it’s a fun space to explore, not because it’s the most useful space to explore.
Even if one could become an unrivaled singleton, taking over the world isn’t trivial. You need both secrecy and really good models. Secrecy because if you accidentally leak what you’re doing the rest of the world will just nuke you. Really good models because secrecy is really hard to maintain without an understanding of the probable monitors out there.
This “tripwire” approach to cancerous superintelligence seems far more promising than control. We can set up structural incentives to share insights and advances, severe sanctions on anything that looks like a pathway to uncontested power.
Ultimately this necessitates a flat and open landscape, a legible economic sphere, strong cultural sanctions on information constraint, and nothing like governments or geopolitical powers to piggyback on. Certain types want to run shrieking away from anything that looks like political conclusions or an obligation to move in political spaces, but this pairs poorly with repeated arguments “if Google or China want to secretly pour tons of money into building and enslaving their own tyrant, far from the eyes and defenses of the world there’s nothing we can do.” I dunno maybe a hell of a lot can be done to fight concentrations of power so immense as to wall themselves off like that. Maybe spreading means and values of social resistance wouldn’t just solve a host of far more certain and pressing issues than runaway AI, maybe it might just also be more of a productive problem space to work within.
Even marginal levels of tripwire resistance to superintelligent singletons can force a partial integration of a blossoming intelligence into the existing social net, allowing other minds to race along and check any single one’s monomaniacal ambitions.
Again the goal is not necessarily to out think a superintelligence, but simply to be so unruly and dangerous in aggregate that it can’t afford to get into a fight with us.
Technology expands attack surface, the more avenues we have to choose between the more a would-be controller has to defend. This asymmetry between resistance and control benefits the massively outgunned little guys and obliges detentes. And even if a superintelligence is truly so overwhelming as to dodge our nukes, so overpowered as to make us insects by comparison… well we still run from wasps. Ants still cover this planet. Even the smallest amount of agency is hard to control.
Further there’s a tradeoff actually in our favor here: if we develop brain scanning technology then truly alien AI becomes less likely without transhuman competition and indeed transhumans or posthumans are likely the ones that takeoff, but conversely if a truly alien AI arises without brain scanning capacity, well the illegible complexity of individual human brains becomes all the more pressing of a constraint on it.
At the very least such pressures towards some level of integration or intercooperation with existing minds provides an avenue to have our own structures influence a singleton in some way. For a superintelligence to understand us it must change itself. Just as power is a virus of simplified models and means, so too can empathy be a virus — one that ups the complexity of our models of the world and thus subtly alters our own values, ever so slightly blurring our sense of self out into the network of society where our cognition ends up partially distributed.
The space of possible minds is vast, alien, and unexplored. But the space of minds that actually function to any meaningful degree is much smaller. And the space of minds we have to be seriously worried about is much smaller still. We should not be too quick to dismiss insights directly from the example of homo sapiens. How we mentally survive the process of doing science and how certain computational limits shape what we can do.
When I was a child I learned to read lugging a battered copy of Jurassic Park around between homeless shelters. The central thesis of that book is that attempts to control complex systems — to sharply limit their flowing possibilities — are a mistake. It’s easy to read primitivist or anti-civilization conclusions from that — as indeed I did for years of my youth. But although Jurassic Park has achieved a totemic status in our society as the modern narrative of scientists going too far, the novel is more nuanced. For all of Ian Malcolm’s shitting on civilization, industry, technology, development, and science, he doesn’t actually condemn them inherently. Rather the moral is to abandon our obsession with strict control and instead focus on understanding and survival. Indeed the main characters have an ethical obligation to engage, to understand the extent and tendencies of developments. They have a responsibility to figure out how many animals exist after the unseen breeding, to try to comprehend their desires and inclinations, and if strictly necessary to kill them. But the book ends with the characters opting NOT to use nerve gas against the intelligent and incredibly dangerous artificial entities that humanity has created. This — it is strongly telegraphed — is the correct decision, albeit one tragically overruled by the bombs of the state.
The surviving characters in Jurassic Park abandon an obsession with securing absolute control and personal safety in order to meet the alien monsters in a more open, albeit still fraught, relation. It’s a heavy handed parable, but a relevant one I think.
Our children will sometimes outpace and outgrow us. The gulf between us can be vast. But this is not necessarily something to be feared in and of itself. It is not a reason to turn against their agency, to try to strangle it in the crib. We need not shrink before the expanse of what can be, and assume it so vast as to make worthless our models and ethics. We need not retreat to a frantic violent domineering fear of a mystified unknown. Understanding, adaptation, and growth are risky, but they offer a less catastrophic path than the failure modes we fall into pursuing control.
The need for control — to limit possibilities — is a feedbacking trap. A means that becomes an ends, that suffocates everything else. The better response to someone else’s agency, to the possibilities they open, including the dangerous ones, is to open more possibilities in response.
Let us not obsess over which fixed dead things to tile the universe with, but rather give it over to agency.Tags: technologytranshumanismreviewcategory: Essays
The following text appeared yesterday on the French platform lundimatin; they describe it as the best sociological and political analysis to date on the yellow vest movement. Although we are no more optimistic about the “non-ideological” character of the first phase of the yellow vest phenomenon than we are about the antiquated methods of organization it supplanted, the movement itself has become a battleground to determine what form the next wave of opposition to neoliberal austerity will assume—and no one can afford to stand aside. This text concludes with a cool-headed appraisal of the risks and possibilities before the gilets jaunes and all who will follow in their wake.
“I’ll end up becoming a communist . . .”
-Brigitte Bardot, interview with Le Parisien, December 1, 2018
“Beautiful as an impure insurrection”
(graffiti seen on a building façade on the Champs-Elysées)Decompositions
Even if it soon proves fragile, for now, one of the principle merits of the current mobilization is to have sent the rhetoric and the tactical repertoire of the left movements of the past century to the Grévin Museum1—all while demanding more justice and equality and without reproducing the anti-tax rhetoric of the post-war right and extreme-right. After the collapse of the Social Democrats signified in France by Macron’s election, we see the collapse of the communists, the (in)soumis,2, the leftists, anarchists, members of the “ultra-left,” and other class struggle professionals or spokespeople of radical chic: and a majority of them, after sneering or holding their noses, are running at full speed after the movement with their factions, unions, parties, media coverage, and blog posts. Welcome to the rearguard!
The delay is obvious, the protest is funereal. Everyone can foresee the calls, editorials, motions, petitions, the route from Place de la République to Bastille announced by the prefecture, their protest marshals and their black bloc, the committees coordinating and negotiating between representatives and rulers, the little theater of representativeness between the leaders or delegates and the “base,” taking the floor through the press or in general assemblies. In short, the final ruins of the welfare state, or rather, of its forms of protest, have gone up in smoke; they are not only useless, but above all obsolete and pathetic, the terms of a completely dead language that may still be spoken for a long time by the ghosts that come to haunt them. One can always count on bureaucrats, professionals, or trainees, and on the army of organic intellectuals of emptiness, to play the ventriloquist, to play the grand game of the Party, to imagine themselves once more in the avant-garde of a movement, for which they are in reality just sad street sweepers bringing up the rear.
Here they are proposing watchwords, soon to be constitutions, enacting rules of good collective conduct, exhorting the inversion of the power struggle, rambling on learnedly about the pre-revolutionary characteristics of the situation, infiltrating protests and meetings, calling for the convergence of struggles… These practices, these speeches were already hollow incantations last year during the movements of the railway workers and the students—they are hollower than ever today. For the novelty, the tenacity of the first successes of the “yellow vests” cruelly illuminate the series of almost systematic defeats that have taken place over the past several years in France and the general decomposition into which all the currents of the left, so proud of their heritage and singularity and always so stupidly heroic in their posturing, have sunk little by little over half a century. Far from being an obstacle, it’s precisely the much-disparaged ideological impurity of the movement that has enabled it to spread and rendered obsolete all the unifying voluntarisms of specialized organizations and activists. To the professionals of the leftist order and the insurrectionary dis-order, the movement of “yellow vests” only offers an invitation to travel, to a participation that will finally be free of the established collectivities, like so many ideological and material weights of the past.
The mobilization underway has no need of being inflated—or rather, competed with, if one knows how to read between the lines of the deposed little chiefs’ revanchist declarations—by existing or parallel movements. In the roundabouts and in the streets, by blockade or by riot, it is already bringing together forces that are heterogeneous, politically diverse, or even opposed (though often sociologically close) to encounter and to clash. Instead of using preexisting ideas or shared class consciousness or even videos and messages exchanged on social networks, the movement clings to local sociability, old and commonplace, to interactions outside of the workplace, in the cafés, groups, sports clubs, buildings, neighborhoods. Because the religious character of progressive ideology, with its hackneyed myths and empty rituals, is completely foreign to them, the “yellow vests” don’t appear in the first two weeks of the movement to carry assurances or pat interpretations of their common misery. With suppleness and adaptation, at the risk of division and dissolution, they take to the streets, advance on crossroads and tollbooths without prejudice, without imposed certitude, free of the pathological intellectualism and idealism of the left and of leftists and their fantasy of the proletariat, the historical subject and the universal class.
The movement is situated at the turning point between two periods of capitalism and the modes of government associated with them. In its content more than in its form, it bears the marks of the past, but leaves glimpses of a possible future of struggles or uprisings. The critique of the tax, the demand for redistribution, the correction of inequalities—all these are addressed to a regulatory state that has largely disappeared. At the same time, the movement wants less tax and more state. It only attacks the state to the extent to which it has withdrawn from the urban and semi-rural zones. And though until recently the issue was a question of purchasing power, that was the case only as a consequence of ignoring the salaries that for the most part determine the general level of purchasing power even more than taxation does. A remarkable trait of the current period is that no one in the government has thought of blaming the bosses for their wage policies. This tactically incomprehensible restriction of focus demonstrates better than any discourse what interests the leading politicians of the current regime serve, even at their own peril.
Since it defies the parties and expresses itself outside of unions—and even, at the beginning, against them—the movement also confronts the entire system of representation of interests that dates from the Second World War and from the Fifth Republic: a set of mechanisms of delegation attached to the Keynesian administration of capitalism. In thus dismissing the left and leftists to ancient tradition, or better, to formaldehyde, the “yellow vests” complete for some the demands for autonomy that have been expressed since May 1968. But for the same reason, they are also in harmony with the program of destruction of union organizations and democratic institutions that has been implemented under advanced capitalism since the 1970s. Or rather, they are its irreducible remainder, the emergence of which some had prophesied. Keynesian, libertarian, and neoliberal by turns, or all at once, the movement brings with it, in its relationship to the state, the economy, and history, the stigmata of these dying political ideas and the ambivalences of our time.
Nevertheless, the movement proposes, albeit in a still paradoxical form, the first mass politicization of the ecological question in France. This is why one would be wrong to relate the mobilization only to the conditions of class, status, and profession, and to create an oversimplified opposition between the problems of the end of the month and the question of the end of the world. This old reflex is also a remnant of the old regime of regulation and protest. In the movement of the “yellow vests,” labor is not the epicenter any more than purchasing power really is. What the movement protests, beyond ecological injustices (the rich destroy much more of the planet than the poor, even while eating organic and sorting their trash, but the poor are the ones who must bear the costs of the “ecological transition”), is above all the enormous differences that exist in relation to circulation, which have hardly been politicized until now. Rather than expressing itself in the name of a social position, in this sense the movement makes mobility (and its different regimes: constrained or chosen, diffuse or concentrated) the principal focus of the mobilizations, and, in blocking traffic, the cardinal instrument of the conflict.
The Three Vests
On the level of concrete mobilization, the chief quality of the movement will have been to have invented a new tactic and a new dramaturgy of the social struggle. Weak means, perfectly put into play, will have sufficed to create a level of crisis that has rarely been attained politically in France over the past several decades. The logic of numbers and convergence, which was part and parcel of the mobilizations of the Keynesian period, is no longer the decisive factor: no more need to count on high school and college students, on the unemployed and the retired, on their availability and on their time; nor to seek a central, mediatized, Parisian resonance chamber to give the movement its strength and legitimacy. The unique combination of a proliferation of small groupings in the spaces without spontaneous political life for half a century; of the practice of blockades; and of the obvious, natural, ancestral recourse to the riot, reaching to the very hearts of the local, regional, and national urban centers, has supplanted, at least temporarily, the repertoire of the strike with its imposing and well-established figure.
Beyond this common trait, three practical and tactical tendencies currently appear to divide the movement and determine its future. The first is electoralist in its heart, “citizenist” in its fringes. It already calls for the formation of a brand new political movement, for the constitution of candidacies for the next European elections, and it no doubt dreams of a destiny comparable to that of the Five Star Movement in Italy, or Podemos in Spain, or the Tea Party in the US. This is a matter of weighing in on the existing political game via representatives whose social characteristics are as similar as possible to the characteristics of their constituents. The most radical ones in this camp are not satisfied with the current political institutions and demand that these be completely transformed immediately: they want their referendum or their “Nuit debout”,3 but in the giant soccer stadiums where they imagine a new deliberative democracy will be invented and put into practice.
A second polarity within the movement is openly in favor of negotiation. It expressed itself in the press last Sunday by calling for discussions with the government and by accepting, before retracting, its invitations. A more or less rebellious fraction of the parliamentary representatives and politicians of the majority responded, with representatives of the opposition, the unions, and the heads or seconds-in-command of the party, by calling for a change in course: complete transformations of the Estates General [legislative assemblies], taxation, ecology, inequalities, and other burning subjects. This pole dominated the debates in the third week, but it is quite contested inside the movement, which doesn’t see how a new Grenelle Accords,4a fortiori without unions or legitimate representatives and probably diluted with time, could possibly address the rage. After a false start, the government’s principal advantage is now the time of year; they hope to drown the opposition in end-of-the-year parties and make the discussion last several months. We know as well that, in other circumstances, the Estates General could not dress the wounds.
The third core of the movement is dégagiste (oppositional) and, at its margins, insurrectionary or even revolutionary. It expressed itself this weekend in Paris and in the prefectures, demanding the immediate resignation of Macron without any other program. It obtained results that are unprecedented for several decades in France by reaching the rich neighborhoods west of the capital and responding to the forces of order with an unheard-of enthusiasm despite the police repression, the numerous victims of violence, hands ripped off, faces battered. A few statistics offer an idea of the violence underway: on December 1, the police shot as many grenades in Paris as they had in France throughout the entirety of 2017 (Libération, December 3, 2018). It is possible that the very acute character of these confrontations has been, in part, the product of a governmental calculation aiming to disqualify the riotous fractions of the movement. This strategy failed last week. It has been the object of mass propaganda once again this week. Whatever happens, the best prospects of this segment of the movement are reminiscent of the Arab revolts of 2011, when a very heterogeneous political mobilization brought down several authoritarian regimes, but without succeeding in going further and affirming a revolutionary positivity.
This portrait wouldn’t be complete without recalling that the neo-fascist possibility spans the three camps of the movement. The extreme right is present in all of them. The identitarian and authoritarian tension is also a possible scenario for all of the tendencies: in alliance with (like in Italy) or by absorption into the electoralists; by disgust or its counterpart, if the negotiators win the day; by backlash or counter-revolution, if the putschists of the left or the insurgents triumph. The extreme right in ambush! All the good spirits are demoralized. Will that be enough to tarnish the movement? In reality, the neo-fascist possibility has been present in France since Macron’s election: it is its necessary double and the most probable consequence. The emergence of the extreme right is occurring everywhere today as the logical consequence of maintaining the neoliberal economic order and police state in conjunction with social crisis, witnessed by the authoritarian turn in many countries since 2008. The existence of this danger is not uplifting, but it is the obvious proof that we are at a crossroads in France, in Europe, and beyond. In critical times, history is always uncertain and molten; the purists and the hygienists of the mind and of politics are at a loss. If they are not yet illiberal, the “yellow vests” are already anti-liberal. But who can say whether they wish for new liberties?
By this measure, the insurrectional riot amounts to nothing, even if the ones that took place November 24 and December 1 in Paris and in some cities in the provinces were of historical scope. We sometimes forget that the French have violently risen up, most often against taxes and the concentration of powers, for nearly four centuries. Over the last hundred years, tolerance for destruction and street violence had considerably weakened. However, since 2016 and the new, fragile understanding between the “black bloc” and assemblies, the demonization of riots has receded. This trend has been reinforced over the past few days by ordinary citizens’ encounters with exacerbated police brutality. A tactical course of action could take advantage of this, perhaps provisionally, in order to win the heart of the movement and sharpen the precision with which it aims at targets.
The storming of the Palace de la Republic will not take place. For the moment, there are still many mechanisms in reserve with which to defuse the situation: the dismissal of the government, the declaration of a state of emergency, the army, et cetera. Let us finish mourning all leftism: revolution itself, understood as event, is no longer a necessity, nor even an absolute horizon. Henceforth, the battle can only take place continuously: that is to say, by attacking, according to priority, the weakest parts of the strategic systems of the presiding power. The media and police, to begin with.
The media are effectively divided on this movement. Some media support the anti-tax position of the “yellow vests” to increase the class interests of their owners, all while fearing popular violence. Other media, ideologically closer to the government, in social affinity with the figure that Macron embodies, are nonetheless held to account by their consumers, who support the “yellow vests” even if they aren’t participating. In a fluid situation, representation is one of the decisive arms of war. However, social networks and various protest sites only partially correct the monopolistic tendency of traditional audiovisual media when they themselves are not won over by shameless counter-truths. We like to imagine a part of the “yellow vests” interfering as soon as possible with one or several radio and television stations, national ones if possible, associating with defecting journalists, thus enabling the historical developments underway to appear more clearly. At the very least, we must immediately expand the instruments of counter-information that we already have.
The police presence is paradoxically the other weak link in the presiding system. It’s a used up, overexploited machine, full of rusty parts and weapons, and whose human cogs experience socio-economic conditions very close to those of the “yellow vests.” This proximity could succeed in dividing the ranks of the police, their unions, if they are pushed where their pains have accumulated, softening the base. The task seems rough, difficult, perhaps impossible, but no uprising occurs without at least a partial reversal of the repressive apparatus. Temporality is tight. We can’t be sure that this Saturday, the plan decided by the Interior Minister will not be more insidious, avoiding frontal conflicts in favor of targeted arrests—in the German manner, as it were—in order to contain the tension to the point of breathlessness. But will that work when a mass radicalization has taken place over the last two weeks against the ordinary practices of the police? At Pau on December 1, the CRS [riot police] took off their helmets in front of the protestors. Didn’t a union (Vigi) already call for an unlimited strike after Saturday? Other unions of civil servants (teachers, fire and rescue departments, the entirety of public services) have formulated similar calls for the next few days and next week. The state apparatus is fissuring slowly.
Aim well, but also persist, above all. Paris is a riot, but Paris is also a trap. A spectacular showcase. The scale of the movement is local. We hope it will remain local and multiply its points of existence as well as the meetings held there. The generalization of the perspective of local “popular” assemblies, like at Saint-Nazare or at Commercy, that are able to draw together other groups beyond the already mobilized “yellow vests,” would head in this direction. This would take resources, energy, force, mutual aid. Funds for blockades could be organized—including material resources and even online fundraising. Politically, the role of supportive associations and even of sympathetic local elected officials is yet to be determined, like that of the turning of the new year.
All of these considerations, already excessive, are nonetheless small in the face of the questions the movement will face in the future, like those about business and ecology, which have mostly remained on the margins of the current commotion, whereas they are at the heart of all the demands. We will have to return to them. December 8 is only the fourth act of mobilization. All the best tragedies have five.
-Deposed agents of the Imaginary Party
December 6, 2018
A wax museum. ↩
The Insoumis, the “untamed” or “not submissive,” is the populist democratic socialist party of Mélenchon. The parentheses in the original French text convey doubt as to whether it is more correct to describe Mélenchon’s devotees as tamed or untamed. ↩
The accord that effectively ended the insurrectionary events of May 1968. ↩
So passes Jay. Militant individualist nihilist anarchist. The biggest crust lord we’ll ever meet. A lover, a fighter. Jay lived a life at the margins, a life which was an all-out war for freedom against the techno-industrial machine that is killing all that they love – wild nature, the wild individual self, and now themself. A fiery Glaswegian, apologising for nothing and bowing to no-one. Jay lived at the Faslane Peace Camp for a time, battling nuclear Armageddon. A vicious squatter and traveller, resisting evictions and was most at home in the moment. A busker, beggar and street-drinker. Site-life road protester. Hitch hiking metal punk, crust, sludge and doom show organiser and frequenter. Guitar, bass and washboard shredder. Tarps, caravans, polyprop, bikes and burners. Courageous hunt saboteur, scourge of the elite.
During their life on the wild fringes they developed necessary survival skills which they cherished. They loved making benders and shelters, cooking delicious feasts on open fires, prolifically shoplifting and scavenging from the debris of civilisation. They scorned this world that denied their pure wild tendencies and revelled in rupture; sharing spoils with comrades, lovers and friends.
As tenacious and feisty as they were, they were also the most loving and kind to those close to them.
They had a close affinity with non-humans, instantly becoming trusting friends with mistreated and vulnerable dogs, cats and goats. They spent time at FRIEND Animal Sanctuary in Kent, caring for animals rescued from lives of torture. Some of us were privileged to know the tender, soft sides of Jay and be on the receiving end of their care and devotion. Mischievous, hilarious, creative, kind.
Jay chaos’d over to the mainland in 2016, finding new freedoms. (I who write this am not familiar with their life spent there, and welcome those who know more to edit this piece if they wish.)
A thinker, a doer. Jay wrote and published zines and pamphlets. Jay acted on their word and unleashed all sorts of radge shit that we will tell around the fires with comrades. Think of these, smile, cry, cheer and fight on with renewed ferocity.
They lived and died to their word, which was a word of total, indiscriminate and urgent destruction against all that denies freedom, wildness and what they loved. Their war in this realm came to an end in the beautiful land called Galicia in the evening of December 2nd, 2018.
Some words from Jay:
“Total liberation is my own war, a war that I have fought for years, against every cage, every civilisation, every society, every creed, every ideology and morality. It is a matter of fulfilling my creative-destructive desires. It is misanthropic. It is existentialist. It is striving against all domestication. It is my vengeance for all the years that this prison-society has stolen from me, my vengeance for the destruction and pollution of the natural environment, my vengeance for the nonhumans whose lives I respect more than the life of any “human”.
My total liberation means total war!
War to the bitter end!”
Let the fires burn!
Long live anarchy!
Today it has been 10 years since Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed and since Greece rose up in the 2008 insurrection. We offer this zine now, so that we may better consider what the Greek revolt means to us today. This zine collects writings by A.G. Schwarz. The writings are among the best of the insurrectionary writings that came out in the early 2010s in the United States, with essays covering “The Logic of Not Demanding”, the Greek insurrection in 2008 and lessons that can be learned from it, and discussions of various attempts to try insurrectionary approaches in the United States. The essays are very thought provoking and offer a wealth of valuable insights, especially for those who have been inspired by the courage of anarchists in Greece. Order a hard copy of the zine here from Sprout Distro.
“If a rebellion does not communicate demands, it is not because it is senseless, but on the contrary because it is intelligent. And if the people think that it is senseless, this is only because we have not succeeded in challenging the narrator role usurped by the media, we have not distributed enough counterinformation to contradict their lies.”Greeceaudiopodcastinsurrectionaryresonancecategory: International
From It's Going Down
In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we spoke with someone about the ongoing repression of anarchists and antifascists in Russia and how it ties into larger waves of State clampdowns against dissent and social movements. We also talk about Russiagate, the band Pussy Riot, and in general how both the US and Russia is seen within the other’s respective counties.
To be clear, the situation in Russia is very dire. The FSB, the modern incarnation of the KGB, the secret political police force, has pushed a narrative that a vast network of anarchist terrorists exists, and is a threat to the wider public. Under such a pretext, the Russian State has began a campaign of rounding people up, torturing them, and then releasing them back onto the street.
As CrimethInc. wrote:
In account after account, anarchists and anti-fascists describe how the FSB kidnapped them, planted weapons in their cars, and used torture to force them to sign false confessions admitting to participating in an obviously invented terror network.
For decades now, the security agencies of many different countries have repeatedly attempted to fabricate national and international “terrorist conspiracies” in order to frame anarchists. To date, all of these efforts have been embarrassing failures. Now, the Russian secret police have introduced an innovation: by kidnapping anarchists without warning, planting weapons in their cars, and torturing them until they agree to sign forged “confessions,” they hope to finally make charges of participating in a “terrorism network” stick. If they succeed, we can expect to see other police agencies across the world emulate their tactics.
As Newsweek wrote:
Kapustin says he was tortured because of his friendship with young, anti-fascist anarchists in Russia, and because of his own history of activism. Throughout the years, he participated in environmental protection projects, distributed food to the needy and joined anti-war protests, he says. He had plans to move south to start an agricultural cooperative. But those plans were cut short after his experience with the FSB. Today, he says he is too afraid to return to Russia, where a handful of young, left-wing activists are still being held in prison and are accusing the FSB of torture.
“They are charged with participation in a terrorist group. I would have to see the evidence against them to know if the charges are true, but given the quite credible torture allegations it’s likely the government doesn’t have sufficient evidence against them,” Tanya Lokshina, a Russia-based researcher with Human Rights Watch who has been following the cases, told Newsweek. “Torture is quite common in Russia, and it generally happens in those cases when they don’t have sufficient evidence. So torture is used to force an individual to incriminate himself and provide evidence about others.”
In some ways, this mirrors recent attempts by the State in the US to label Water Protectors, Black liberation militants, anarchists and antifa all as ‘extremists’ and terrorists. This labeling has been used to justify new legislation, such as laws which criminalize masks and give out felonies to those protesting at pipeline construction sites. It also shows the pitfalls in allowing such a narrative of “extremism” to be spread, especially when the neoliberal State is willing to go to such extreme measures to protect itself and its power.
As power and repression is now truly globalized, the need to stand in solidarity with our Russian comrades is greater now more than ever. Already there have been calls for days of action in solidarity with Russian comrades, CrimethInc. has also produced a new series of posters for putting up, and in this interview, we talk about the need for people to organize solidarity demonstrations outside of Russian embassies as well as fundraiser and raise awareness.
Currently, the situation in Russia is only intensifying. In late October:
Today, a young Russian anarchist died in an attack on the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk. The FSB has gotten its wish, bullying young Russians into carrying out bombings rather than engaging in public organizing.
— Atlanta Antifascists (@afainatl) March 28, 2018
Then on December 4th, Russian anarchists launched a hunger strike against the wave of repression and continued torture. As the UK anarchist paper Freedom wrote:
Two imprisoned Russian antifascist started a hunger strike at the end of last week, protesting their imprisonment and treatment during the investigation they are subjected to, and attempts to force confessions out of them. The hunger strike started when one of the antifascists, Dmitry Pchelintsev, was placed in a “punishment cell” and forced to admit that he has breached prison rules, namely he conversed with fellow prisoners during a walk. He refused to confess to any guilt and started a hunger strike. He was joined by Andrey Chernov, one of his fellow prisoners, shortly after.
We hope that this podcast contributes to more solidarity and dialog across borders, and the coming together of comrades to defend those facing unspeakable acts of torture and repression.Russiathe networkit's going downpodcastcategory: International
“We begin to see how Marxism suffers from a kind of conceptual anxiety. There is a desire for socialism on the other side of crisis, a society that does away not with the category of worker, but with the imposition workers suffer under the approach of variable capital. In other words, the mark of its conceptual anxiety is in its desire to democratize work and thus help to keep in place and ensure the coherence of Reformation and Enlightenment foundational values of productivity and progress. This scenario crowds out other post-revolutionary possibilities, i.e. idleness etc.”
-Frank Wilderson, “The Prison Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal”
“A sickle can be used for something other than to reap, and a hoe can serve to dig the grave for all that has outlived its time.”
The Daily CNT, (Spain, January 2, 1933)
“To remember what they had lost and what they became, what had been torn apart and what had come together, the fugitives and refugees and multitudes in flight were called the Sisala, which means ‘to come together, to become together, to weave together.’”
-Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother
Download and Print HERE
Cue the groans, leap to whatever pre-formed expectations you may have, and swipe left to instead arrive at a far sexier (and far shorter) piece on some racist shitbag getting punched or whatever, cus’ you’re currently reading a critique of anarcho-syndicalism. There’s a long history of pieces like this, and most of the time they’re dry, demogogical, and philosophically vapid. Get out now! But if you’re still with me, I promise there’s a kind of timely necessity behind this hesitantly written piece.
The last two years of US social movement activity, since the ascendancy of the Trump candidacy and subsequent backlash among broad sectors of American society, have been a whirlwind of growth and crisis. In this time a huge wave of new faces have found themselves eager to join in the historical moment of occupations, street conflicts, anti-racist community defense, and grassroots organizing.
Not unlike the highways and bridges around us, much of the anarchist infrastructure we had built in the mid-2000s—radical bookstores, newspapers, ‘zinedistros, social centers, regular assemblies, medic and tech collectives—was too small or in disrepair, ill-prepared to absorb this exponential increase in brand new, un-vouched for, and totally passionate bodies that we were meeting in the streets.
Assemblies in my town, for example, swelled from a couple dozen to nearly two hundred people immediately following Trump’s election. Most of these people had never participated in such an event and held little to no personal or political context for one another. Among many there was a vague desire to organize in an autonomous and non-electoral way, but very little shared experience with how to do so. And at least a few of these new faces were likely informants.
Enter the strictly public-facing and lowest-common denominator politics of more traditional activist organizations. Following this political moment, organizations like the Indivisibles, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), previously nonexistent or peripheral to most combative politics actually happening on the ground, exploded in size. It’s not hard to see how that happened: show up to a meeting, sign a membership card, agree to a remarkably thin level of political affinity with other complete strangers, and you’re a part of things.
I say all this out of sympathy. As a teenager in a small southern town in the late 90’s, I had a pretty awkward time finding radical and anarchist politics myself. I remember, after attending my very first demonstration, during which a squad of about 30 black-clad punks with golf clubs and hockey sticks attacked a limousine en route to a presidential debate, being desperate to get involved in any way I could.
“And what if certain kinds of human alienation—in this case from the natural world and our own dependency upon it—are hardwired into the rationalist form of industrialism itself?”
I couldn’t find the crazy people with hockey sticks—they were mostly from one town over, and kind of intimidating regardless, even without the hockey sticks—so I walked up to the first table I could find and got chicken-hawk recruited by the ever-timid, incredibly condescending, totally manipulative International Socialist Organization. Fast forward through two years of paternalistic programming where my own experiences of wage work and alienation didn’t seem to fit their one-dimensional projections of the revolutionary subject, and I was outta there. That’s just how shit goes sometimes.
But in our current context, it can be hard to take the time to step back and actually engage in constructive critique of the ideas behind these political ports of entry. Some might argue that the dangerously resurgent fascism and far-right politics we’re confronting make it a poor time for obscure internal arguments over revolutionary strategy, but I think history shows this is the most necessary time to debate our visions for a different kind of future.
Unfortunately, American radicals in particular are notoriously terrible at authentic, substantive debate; we are a world of endless splits, passive aggressive “cooperation,” personal ad hominem attacks, inappropriately weaponized privilege politics, and twitter-shaming. The “best” outcome in this context is often that a kind of big-tent attitude develops where all critique is sidelined—but this merely papers over the contradictions in vision, organization, and tactics that will inevitably emerge in revolutionary struggle. I believe that people with different experiences who want different things can still work to mutually beneficial aims, especially when autonomy and self-determination remain guiding principles, but growth is always limited by inauthenticity.
Hopefully, this critique, and any responses to it, can avoid those pitfalls to some degree. I believe passionately that developing trust and affinity is both possible and absolutely necessary amongst those with differing ideas, but that conflict must be intrinsic to this process. On that note, I’m tremendously thankful to the many who have challenged me (and who continue to do so) in my own political assumptions over the last 20 years.
TLDR Intro: This is a partly theoretical and partly personal critique of syndicalism, the “movement for transferring the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution to workers’ unions.” This idea has a long history within (and outside of) anarchism—it has inspired everyone from immigrant miners in Colorado to starving Catalan brick layers to South African laborers, and offers a radical alternative to the pro-capitalist business unionism of groups like the AFL-CIO. It was part of the philosophical backbone of the millions-strong social revolution in 1930’s Spain, and, as contemporary Spanish anarchists admit, also bears some of the responsibility for that revolution’s betrayal and failure. And in an oddly anachronistic resurgency, syndicalism is a driving force of the IWW, which has grown tremendously in North America in the last two years and been impressively involved in a range of activity, from anti-prison agitation to anti-racist defense and fast food worker organizing.
As anarchists, it is taken for granted that we are struggling to abolish rather than democratize the state. But a strange blindspot continues to exist for many, who frame their efforts as a struggle to democratize (rather than abolish) the economy. As this article demonstrates, this is not a battle over mere semantics; it strikes at the heart of the world(s) we want to share, and what paths we choose to get there.
This piece integrates a number of theoretical perspectives and emphases—anti-state communist, afro-pessimist, ecological, “insurrectionary,” and the personal, to name a few—that are fairly ubiquitous in much anti-authoritarian writing of the last ten years and directly relevant to syndicalist thought, but seem to remain largely unexamined by many of the newest “recruits.” A central shared theme in all these critiques, while they approach the question of workers’ self-management from very different backgrounds and histories, is that a revolutionary approach which emphasizes the democratization of the economy, rather than its destruction, is extremely likely to reproduce the patterns of whiteness, bureaucracy, ecological destruction, and alienation that characterize the economy as it currently exists.
Act I: On the Practice of Polishing Green Turds
In a landmark report recently released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading climate scientists warn that there are “only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.” The report makes clear that only extreme action would have a chance to prevent carbon emissions from pushing us over this 1.5C line. These types of reports are not atypical—it feels like every five years or so a new dire analysis attempts to politely and futilely convince global industrial capitalism to step off the path of its inevitable death march. But this was the most intense warning to date, and comes at a time when many of the world’s major economies, from capitalist USA to “communist” China, are particularly inclined to ignore it.
To be frank: the global industrial economy threatens the very existence of human life on this planet. Those who suffer the ecological effects of runaway climate change are, predictably, the poorest, people of color, the indigenous, and quite often the currently or formerly incarcerated. Ecological crises are themselves drivers for further economic stratification, ever more Orwellian forms of state control, and capitalist accumulation. By juxtaposition, it should be obvious that a classless and stateless society in which wealth and resources were held in common—accessible to everyone and owned by no one—would not just result in but require a fundamentally different relationship between people and the natural world around us.
Syndicalists, along with many other “classical” anarchists and leftists, have usually offered a woefully inadequate response to environmental problems. It is suggested that, with the unions in charge and the profit motive removed, there will no longer be a structural impetus for environmental destruction. There is a certain logic to this—I can imagine it being a little easier to convince my co-workers to stop polluting in a certain way than my shitty boss who’s beholden to a growth-obsessed economy. A no-growth economy would certainly be better for the earth than our current situation. But what if these pollutants are intrinsically necessary to a certain form of industry? Or, as it stands, to virtually all forms of industry? And what if certain kinds of human alienation—in this case from the natural world and our own dependency upon it—are hardwired into the rationalist form of industrialism itself?
To give a more precise example: a common industrialist response to the current climate crisis, from opportunistic green capitalists and progressive politicians to the IWW’s own “Environmental Unionism Caucus”, has been to propose a wide range of “alternative” solar and wind power. But these industries’ technologies are themselves remarkably toxic, difficult or impossible to recycle, and require mining and resource extraction that is highly dangerous to workers and reproduces authoritarian governance all over the world. The problem of solar panel disposal “will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment” because it “is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle,” said one Chinese solar official recently. Said another expert in Germany, “Contrary to previous assumptions, pollutants such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium can be almost completely washed out of the fragments of solar modules over a period of several months, for example by rainwater,” making safe disposal almost impossible. Similar materials (and problems) are required for wind power.
I propose that cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, and sulfur hexafluoride do not cease to cause cancer when it’s a union flipping the switch instead of a Board of Directors. A car driving off a cliff is in big fucking trouble, and if there are no brakes, it doesn’t matter who is in the driver’s seat.
The specter of ecological colonialism also remains. It is not a coincidence that industrial resource extraction and modern state coercion evolved on the historical stage side by side. Alternative power sources and most industrial machinery and robotics require a constant new supply of heavy metals, much of which must be mined in Africa and the Global South. Do we realistically think that, with the profit motive and state coercion removed from the equation, African laborers will voluntarily mine cobalt—an incredibly dangerous and toxic process—to power the cell phones of millions of westerners 10,000 miles away?
One might argue that with the solar and wind industry I’m unfairly choosing a convenient exception to pick on, that the vast majority of industries could be collectivized and self-managed by their current workers with little modification required to have them run in an environmentally sustainable manner. But does anyone actually believe that? That the economy that gave us nuclear bombs, PVC, DDT, superfund sites, and Miracle Whip just needs a little green, self-managed tinkering and everything can keep on humming like normal? And if we don’t believe that, then how does a predominantly syndicalist strategy for social revolution—in which unions take power from bosses and continue to run all these workplaces for society’s benefit—make sense? If we’re honest about the ecological need to close, destroy, or totally re-structure the vast majority of the economy’s workplaces, is a syndicalist strategy for revolution, in which workplaces are privileged as the primary drivers for transitions in power and self-governance, the best option?
A common, usually defensive response to this ecological critique has been to accuse the author of advocating a pre-industrial Stone Age, a kind of Hobbesian hunter-and-gatherer existence where everyone dies a miserable death with no penicillin and no teeth at the ripe old age of 40. But this a remarkably false dichotomy that I think most readers can see through. A post-revolutionary world will likely look like nothing we can currently imagine, past or present—it might incorporate formerly industrial technologies in non-industrial ways, it may be a world where much work and labor is being done with no “workplaces” or “economy” whatsoever, and it will probably look radically different from one bioregion to the next—but it cannot look like a rehashed, worker-managed version of this world, or that car is going to drive off of that cliff.
Act II: Precaricats, Robots, and the Universal Wage
As Peter Gelderloos points out in an article released after Trump’s election, “The corporate architects of the new economy, like Google, Apple, and Facebook, may be the only hope for capitalism to survive the ecological and financial crises it has created. Economic growth based on fossil fuels and manufacture, followed by financial bubbles, has had a three hundred year run and it might be meeting its geological limits. Of all the capitalists, only those of the IT sector are ideating game-changing transformations to this dynamic, and developing the technologies to make them feasible, from ethereal production to AI to extraterrestrial exploitation.”
A few readily identifiable shifts in the life of North America’s working class(es) are important in this part of the conversation. First, many sectors of this class that might have once worked one steady, relatively well paying job for decades no longer have that “privilege.” Though racial and gender hierarchies among wage workers remain more entrenched than ever, the reality of 2, 3, 4, or even 6-income households, as a necessity for survival, are a fact of life not just for the most marginalized but for most of us. A variety of neoliberal shifts in monetary policy, the globalization of production and labor markets, the explosion of the prison-industrial complex, and the transition to a service economy all played a role in this. A drastic loss of unions—down now to around 11 percent of the private economy—played a role too, but this was far more the result than the cause of these changes.
And it’s not just that we’re all working a weird handful of precarious part-time jobs. We’re working all the time, even when we’re not at work: creating ad revenue for Facebook, logging into our work app to get more hours, answering emails while on “vacation,” cooking rushed meals for our kids between shifts, fixing shit our landlord won’t repair, selling our own identities on Instagram and Etsy, spinning the millennials’ mousewheel in a desperate effort to turn social capital into actual capital. We’re supposed to be fighting back against our bosses, but it can be difficult to even pinpoint who exactly our boss is, if it’s not just the economy itself.
Of course, understanding work only through the lens of the union, the workplace, and the wage has usually meant leaving more than half the population out of the equation. As feminist theorists like MariarosaDalla Costa, Silvia Federici, and Selma James pointed out years ago, understanding unwaged labor, like housework, as work that is intrinsic to the “reproduction of labor” requires us to completely reframe our ideas about anti-capitalist resistance, not just in theory but in practical terms of where resistance takes place and how that resistance is seen (or not). To take seriously the resistance of those who engage in feminized labor—whether it’s paid or not, or performed by men or women— in part requires that we decenter the workplace as the sole or primary site of struggle. And because so many forms of unwaged, feminized labor are racialized as well as gendered in specific ways, refusing to decenter the workplace in our understanding becomes an act of whitewashing class struggle. As workplaces continue to become ever more diffuse and decentralized anyway, the observations of these feminists become more poignant than ever.
Roboticization and AI threaten to speed up these changes even more. For all of Trump’s racist dog whistling about immigrants, it’s Chappie and Wall-E that are “taking jobs,” not undocumented folks, an obvious fact that both Republicans and Democrats find convenient to ignore. The neoliberal economic shifts that we rioted against in the late 90’s and early 00’s—alongside squatters in Prague, Mayans in southern Mexico, and steelworkers in Seattle—met effective, widespread resistance and also have a certain built-in limit: once capital is fully free to roam the globe, labor prices can only get so much lower.
Robotics and AI solve that problem and help capitalists re-localize production: no need to move a factory to Singapore if you can pay computers absolutely nothing to do the work right at home. This isn’t just a manufacturing phenomenon either, as we were once assured. The service economy is starting to prove successful with this too, as worker-less Amazon Go! stores well demonstrate.
Gelderloos again: “On the other hand, AI and robotics threaten the social contract by undermining the historic point of unity between the capitalist logic of accumulation and the statist logic of social control: control people and profit off of them by putting them to work. Any solution to that crisis would require bold interventions by the State approaching some kind of utopian yet corporate socialism (a prediction that was already made in 2009, that socialism would not result from the development of productive capacities, as Marx foretold, but rather repressive capacities, once the State had the techniques to surveill and control those who were no longer kept in line by the threat of hunger).”
This “corporate socialism” is part leftist utopia, part techie-capitalist scheme. For example, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has been a loud voice for the universal basic income, a guaranteed salary provided to all by the state regardless of employment, but undoubtedly tied to a whole range of bureaucratic measurements and citizenship standards. In other words, an ingenious form of social discipline, with a wide range of support from the Left, that helps solve precisely the kind of tension (presented by increasing numbers of “under”-employed people) that the transition to AI and robotics creates. Think of welfare, updated to the 22nd century.
What does all this mean? For one, it helps explain why the most advanced, militant, and widespread resistance to state, capital, whiteness, and citizenship of the last 20 years has mostly occurred outside the workplace. This is true from the caracoles of the Zapatistas and the accompanying “anti-globalization” movement, to Occupy, to the organizing and sub/urban riots of Black Lives Matter, to Standing Rock, to the prison strikes of 2016 and 2018, to #OccupyICE, and beyond.
It also helps explain why so many of our creative tactical adaptations of late have focused on sabotaging capitalism at the points of circulation and extraction (think highway blockades, die-ins at malls, mass looting and burning, expelling police from neighborhoods, the occupation of airports and plazas, blocking rural access points for mining or pipelines), rather than at the point of production. It’s mostly working class and dispossessed people engaging in these tactics, but they are not the mass factory lock-ins or strikes of a century ago. It is telling that the only notable “general strike” of our generation, that of Occupy Oakland on November 2, 2011, succeeded in accomplishing a (partial) retail, service, and port shutdown not primarily by internal workplace action but rather by tens of thousands of people blocking ports and roadways and physically attacking businesses from the outside. Even the port workers, themselves a powerful union, stood on the sidelines, mostly supportive but constrained by their own contract and regulations. There were thousands of people who refused to work that day, but their participation in the strike and its accompanying attack on capitalist normality was not centrally catalyzed by a union, but rather by other organizing structures.
The reason for this tactical and strategic shift has not primarily been ideological but practical. It’s not because all these people have something fundamentally “against” organizing at work, or love their jobs, or whatever. It is the world we live in.
We are also no longer living in the modernist era of the “big organization.” The large, bureaucratic, and corporately structured bodies which characterized resistance in the first half of the 20th century are either gone or hold little of the relevance and power they once did. Social movements of the 21st century, at least in their autonomous and radical expression, are necessarily an infinitely complicated venn diagram of coordination and contradiction. None of the recent examples of struggle given here relied primarily on a singular, unified mass organization.
While movements still need to provide clear entry points to new would-be insurgents, it is no longer “One Big Union” that holds sway in these moments, but the multitudinous interactions of a thousand collectives, affinity groups, gangs, crews, projects, assemblies, spokescouncils, and smaller organizations. This does not make us weaker—it makes us stronger!—and anachronistic efforts at uniting everyone behind one single organization are destined to be either bureaucratic, recuperative, or fail entirely. We do need open and overlapping spaces of coordination between these diverse structures and efforts; we don’t need a forced or superficial unification. And to be clear, this is not an argument “against organization,” but in favor of more organization that is flexible, autonomous, localized, efficient, and responsive to immediate practical needs rather than theoretical positions, egotistic personalities, or bureaucratic machinations.
The mainstream press and sociologists have explained the diverse and diffuse nature of contemporary protest simply as the product of new “social media,” while socialist cadre groups dismiss this dynamic as a sign of “political immaturity.” These are both lazy explanations that fail to take into account a whole array of material and cultural shifts in the last 50 years, not to mention the conscious choice of radicals to avoid the well-charted mistakes of the past.
It should be clear what all these changes in the nature of work mean for syndicalism: It is difficult to organize the workplace if there is no workplace. It is even harder if there are no workers. Of course, there still are workplaces, and we are (mostly) still workers, and people have been organizing at their jobs however we (still) can. This should continue as long as these conditions of work remain—we should be organizing and rebelling in every place in which this world is reproduced, which is everywhere—but it’s no wonder that a strategy which centrally privileges the workplace as the primary site of counter-power feels bizarrely out of date and hopelessly inadequate.
Many North American anarchists work in service sectors that are still vulnerable to self-organized worker-driven resistance.There remains enough of a bourgeois desire to “be served,” and psychological barrier to experiencing that service from a robot, that we still have these jobs for the time being.A lot of these employers are smaller and have less access to variable capital, and so myriad opportunities to undermine their credibility with the public and sabotage their profits still exist.
But even when social conflict does erupt on the job, the material shifts laid out in this section suggest a radical change in how we organize at (and against) work. The union, as it is traditionally understood, is a calcified fossil that evolved in a very different time period—perhaps it can be dusted off and reinvented, but it will never again be the primary driver of revolutionary change. From mutual aid networks and non-workplace-based assemblies to neighborhood pickets and 21st-century relevant forms of cyber and industrial sabotage, we need a newly diversified toolbox to attack this era of capitalism. As these tools continue to reshape our struggles, it becomes clear that our efforts must point to something other than democracy and workers’ self-management.
Act III: Burning Down the American Plantation
To observe these facts of 21st century resistance outside of, beyond, and against the workplace is not to express unqualified validation or universal approval of these movement spaces. Within every encampment, every prison strike noise demo, every highway takeover, every airport occupation, and every open assembly, there remains a multitude of fault lines, all of which pass through the central, racialized contradiction that is civil society.
Critical theorist Frank Wilderson writes, “There is something organic to the Black positionality that makes it essential to the destruction of civil society.” This can be thought of through the lens of one’s relation to the economy and work:
The worker demands that productivity be fair and democratic (Gramsci’s new hegemony, Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat, in a word, socialism). In contrast, the slave demands that production stop, without recourse to its ultimate democratization.Work is not an organic principle for the slave.”
Civil society—that sphere of the capitalist world, outside of government but beyond “private” life, that supposedly makes living in a democracy so special— is the “discursive and structural territory for the (white) fear of black proletarian rage.” It assembles the horizontal power of the PTA board, the union bureaucrat, the church BBQ, the permitted protest and peace marshal, the non-profit board, the deputized slave patrol and its willing volunteers—all as a kind of state auxiliary. In a democratic settler state such as our own, it is a rhizomatic but crucial governing organism, a permanent force designed to maintain state, economy, and above all, white supremacy. Civil society speaks to us of justice, rights, peaceful protest, the rule of law, and innocence. It chants at us, This is what democracy looks like!“Whereas the positionality of the worker (whether a factory worker demanding a monetary wage, an immigrant, or a white woman demanding a social wage) gestures toward the reconfiguration of civil society,” writes Wilderson, “the positionality of the Black subject (whether a prison-slave or a prison-slave-in-waiting) gestures toward the disconfiguration of civil society.”
Does a slave rebellion gesture toward the democratization of the plantation, or its destruction? What about a prison riot? The good protesters may defend our “rights” as prisoners, but no one is trying to democratically self-manage their prison—they’re trying to burn that shit down and get free. As author Saidiya Hartman puts it, “I refuse to believe that the slave’s most capacious political claims or wildest imaginings are for back wages or debt relief. There are too many lives at peril to recycle the forms of appeal that, at best, have delivered the limited emancipation against which we now struggle.”
Some might object to the relevancy of all this to a critique of syndicalism, but the historical parallels, in particular at the end of the Civil War, are abundant. When well-intentioned Northern bureaucrats traveled south with “justice” in their mouths, charged with restarting the post-war agrarian economy, their task was clear: By hook or by crook, force former slaves to sign labor contracts with their former masters, who had been restored ownership of their former lands in direct opposition to the slaves who had been occupying them. Some laborers signed willingly, some resisted, and others remained marooned as far away as they could.
To be fair, I am not accusing “syndicalism” of the mistakes of the 19th century Freedmen’s Bureau. But the logic of production, of preserving the economy at all costs, and of maintaining the form of the economy under the guise of “justice” in a post-revolutionary period, all ring true. The “conceptual anxiety” in the face of Black rage and freedom, of which Wilderson accuses those anti-capitalists hoping to democratize the economy, also reverberates throughout the personal memoirs of Northern white abolitionists of the time.
Ultimately, for all the conflicts that existed between Northern and Southern visions of progress and race relations, the betrayals and economic transitions of the Reconstruction period were jointly built upon a deeply held white anxiety towards a Black freedom that reformers (correctly) understood can only mean the end of America. Instead, a paper freedom was offered, a right to (sometimes) sit in a voting booth, witness booth, or prison cell, and even this was suffocated by the still unending realities of forced labor and social death. The convict lease system, the restoration of expropriated plantations to their “rightful” owners, the modernization of police forces and penal codes, and the expansion of state prison systems all reflected this: that bondage had not been abolished, but rather democratized. The red and blue lights that periodically flash across the walls of my neighborhood, and the streetfights we find ourselves in with Proud Boys and neo-Klansmen, are equally a reminder of this fact. Here we are 150 years later, still living in this “afterlife of slavery.”
The question behind this history, that still approaches us urgently in the 21st century, is: If the democratization of slavery brought us prisons, what will the democratization of the modern economy bring us?
Act IV: Bon Appétit, Asshole
I would add another dimension to the more removed critiques mentioned so far: that of individual desire. These critiques mean nothing if they do not engage dialogically with our own personal experiences of the workplace, democracy, and racialized and gendered labor.
Speaking as someone who has worked in the food industry, and in particular fine dining and the catering industry, for nearly 20 years (with a variety of other wage jobs mixed in), I can barely find the words to express how absolutely disinterested I am in “self-managing” this industry, whether it’s right now or after some kind of worker-led revolution.
I love cooking for and feeding the people I care about.
I hate serving clients. I hate the way their eyes glide over me like I’m not there, the way I’m trained to be invisible, the way I’m scolded for eating their food, the way they stare at me with derision when I mix their drinks, the way their backwashed filth feels when I scrape and rack their plates, the way my feet and back and wrists hurt at the end of the shift, the way the black and white uniform is an unspoken reminder of the Plantation, the looks of depression and alcoholism and exhaustion on my friends’ and co-workers’ faces. And considering that I have a degree of white privilege—and am paid above average for the service sector I’m in—I can only imagine the anger and frustration others feel. Nobody who gets free is trying to do this shit one minute longer than we have to, regardless of whether there is a boss or not. And I think that’s true for tens of millions of service workers across North America.
“Why should the ghost of capitalism be allowed to prescribe the creative and decision-making forms of a new society?”
This anger and depression is only heightened by the critical awareness that there is simply nothing necessary about this work—nothing I do would be needed for any kind of egalitarian society to function. In a decent society parties and weddings (which themselves would be a completely different affair in a stateless and non-patriarchal world) could easily be “run” by the guests and their friends themselves. Only in a society as completely alienated as our own do narcissistic, self-absorbed people pay thousands of dollars to have their most intimate and personally important days attended to by complete strangers who stare at them in barely hidden contempt.
I do not want a world where this workplace continues to exist in any way shape or form. I want it gone. I want my time taken up teaching and learning with kids, growing and finding food, cooking and eating with the people and animals I love and whom I depend on to survive. By all means I desire to (and do) struggle alongside my current co-workers around the immediate needs that we have—most of which looks like theft and fudging our hours, given the array of institutional, cultural, and temporal constraints that make aboveground institutionalized organizing difficult in our industry—but no amount of post-revolutionary self-management will make this workplace tolerable. If the rev happens on a Tuesday, I can promise you that we’ll be smashing the plates, stealing the silver, and torching the tents by Wednesday morning.
One could argue that our “union” could choose to carry on a different activity than the labor we carried out before the rev—maybe we turn one of the wedding venues we work at into a school or collective housing, for instance—but then it would make more sense to invite in a whole new set of (former) workers with more skills and experience in that field, at which point our “caterers’ union” would be a redundancy. And why should our union, constituted by humans somewhat arbitrarily assembled by capitalism, get the final say with what happens at that venue anyway, any more than the other people who live in the area or have immediate needs and visions for how to use the space? Why should the ghost of capitalism be allowed to prescribe the creative and decision-making forms of a new society?
While anarchist organizing in our workplaces may have an immediate relevancy in the here and now, in the sense that it helps us meet our short-term needs and opens another site of conflict, it can hardly be the central or sole driver of human organization after a social revolution. TLDR: I have no interest in making the catering industry a democracy. Thanks but no thanks.
Above all, the critiques in this piece share a deep rejection of the goal of democratizing our economy. They vary from the historically materialist, feminist, and ecological to the anti-racist, ontological, and even “existential.” To be sure, these points of critique could also be aimed at other, more statist versions of the socialist project. And this is just as relevant to an approach that sees syndicalism as a transitionary stage—don’t worry, the One Big Union will wither away on its own, ideally before the sea levels rise much more!—as opposed to an “endgame” in itself.
A few side notes regarding this project of democratization: If the work of most socialists is to make the economy more democratic indirectly through the state (either through totalitarian single-party rule or the farce of elections), the strategy of anarcho-syndicalism has been to bypass the state and do so directly. But while this more direct approach has historically opened up space for broad and meaningful antagonism with the state and capital, it remains conceptually wedded to democracy.
In the context of a supposedly anarchist revolution, this implies its own paradox: a democratic body with no central enforcement apparatus (i.e. a state’s monopoly on violence) or singularly legitimate decision-making body (again, a state), that rests instead on the premise of autonomy and self-determination of its members, is no democracy at all, but something else entirely. Labeling the structure a “direct” democracy does not resolve this conceptual confusion.
It is no coincidence that history’s democratic ancestors (Athens, etc.) were predominantly militarized slave states, and that the central vehicles for white supremacist expansion in North America were democratic in form—this kind of state has historically been adept at military expansion, soliciting consent from privileged but governed majorities, and stabilization in times of crisis. On the other hand, for leftists to retroactively label certain indigenous stateless societies as “democracies” because it gives them the warm diversity-fuzzies is both Eurocentric and racist. The sooner we discard the democratic absurdity and develop new language for our visions of individual and collective freedom, the better off we’ll be.
Returning to the questions at hand, I admit that the criticisms in this piece attack the question of workers’ self-management from very different directions, and harbor internal conflicts with each other. In this sense I am not presenting a singular program, but rather a set of different (but related) problems fundamental to the syndicalist project. Frankly, I’m still thinking my way through all these problems and what they mean for the day-to-day struggles of which I’m a part. I’m immediately skeptical of grand, universalizing theories that claim to offer the perfect scientific formula, and am more comfortable in the negative role of (active) pessimist and experimenter.
I am also not proposing a new “site” for attack, to replace the workplaces of old as the central, privileged lever at which we will assert revolutionary power. There should be no new “revolutionary subject” to replace the idealized “worker,” “peasant,” or “lumpen,” around which detached middle-class socialists will salivate and spew forth their objectifying projections and predictions.
I believe it is both necessary and to our strategic benefit that any sort of anarchistic social revolution attack our oppression at all points of its reproduction—this still means the workplace, but also the home, the urban neighborhood, the back roads and mountain hollers, schools, suburban developments, forests, swamps, deserts, reservations, everywhere. To state once more, in anticipation of a mountain of misunderstanding: this article is not suggesting that we abandon conflict with our bosses. It is arguing that we de-center the workplace as the primary site of such struggle, and that we understand this struggle to be gesturing towards something fundamentally more revolutionary, terrifying, and beautiful than the democratization of the economy. A worker once wrote in a very old, dusty CNT newspaper: “A sickle can be used for something other than to reap, and a hoe can serve to dig the grave for all that has outlived its time.”
If this takes us using an informal neighborhood assembly to coordinate a raid on a state armory all led simultaneously by a militia of mechanics, a collective of Quaker clergy, and a platoon of power-line attacking squirrels, I’m fucking down for that. Shit may get weird. But that’s a better option than privileging one sector of resistance over others, or centralizing a single node or channel of decision-making (i.e. the One Big Union) because that’s what our revolutionary blueprint tells us to do.
“In an economy, different spheres of life—work, play, ritual, family, friendship, creativity, learning—are starkly alienated from one another, and all are typically subordinated to that which best continues to allow the economy to function.”
As the false life of white civil society is torn at the seams, it is to be expected that a wide range of workplaces might be destroyed, abandoned, or completely re-appropriated. Communization—the both spontaneous and organized act of creating communal and stateless forms of life—has to be understood as a broadly diffuse and social process, not limited to or prescribed by the nodes of individual workplaces as they evolved under capitalism.
In an economy, different spheres of life—work, play, ritual, family, friendship, creativity, learning—are starkly alienated from one another, and all are typically subordinated to that which best continues to allow the economy to function. This is a state of affairs to be opposed resolutely, and tactics of revolt and forms of organization that allow these spheres to blend back together indistinguishably are to be encouraged.
Put differently: As anarchists, we are not struggling to democratize the state. In the same manner, it needs to be understood that we are not struggling to democratize the economy. Just as we reject the notion of handing the reigns of the state over to a new set of owners, we ought reject any such proposal for the economy. This doesn’t mean the dispossessed and exploited will not “lead the way”—they already are—but it does challengea workplace-centered approach geared towards preserving the economy and production in their currently understood sense.
Just as a graveyard comes to provide soil for new life once unknown to the tombs and concrete slabs surrounding it, the death march of capital can give way to totally new pathways for creativity and abundance. But this requires more than a struggle with the current owners of the means of production; it means an antagonism with the logic of production itself, and by extension, the version of ourselves that this logic has produced. Our task is not to “crowd out” the many post-revolutionary possibilities available by adhering to a blueprint that is hopelessly anchored to this world, but to open the door to a new world “in which many worlds fit.”
 This essay is not a critique of public-facing or “formal” organizations per se. Revolutionary movements need a variety of accessible entry points for new folks, whether that’s a union, a social center, a medic collective, or something else, and the failure of anarchist infrastructure to adequately fill this role in 2016 partly explains the emergence of more reformist groups like DSA. Rather, this piece takes aim at some of the ideological baggage carried by the more prominent leftist organizations currently playing this role.
 They called it a sports bloc, by the way, and I was thrilled at how instead of being content to just chant slogans against the rich like the rest of us, they actually did the thing.
 I still remember a four-hour long conversation with an extremely smart, auto-didactic train-hopping anti-capitalist hobo, named after a certain starchy vegetable, who grew up working shit-jobs most of his life, fervently explaining to my youthful and earnestly left-anarchist self why he was absolutely not interested in “workers’ self-management” and “democratizing industry.” Thank you for your patience, P.
 This article is primarily directed not at a specific organization or its members but at an idea.In the majority of cases I’ve found modern-day wobblies to be solid people who, though sometimes driven by a strange nostalgia for a more radically “authentic” past, possess a genuinely anti-authoritarian ethos and comradely nature.
 “Global Warming Must Not Exceed 1.5C Warns Landmark UN Report”, The Guardian.
 “Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt Through Clean Energy Democracy,” IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus.
 “If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So much Toxic Waste?”, Forbes Magazine.
 Adding to this specter of colonialism is the very real fact that the soon-to-be-syndicated workplaces across North America all reside on stolen land. I don’t know what native folks will want to do if the rev pops off—I suspect they’ll have a lot of different ideas about it—but if many of them want to remove large parts of their land from the industrial and economic paradigm, it would be a colonialist and counter-revolutionary act for a union to stand in their way, self-management be damned.
 The ecologically disastrous paths of the USSR and China are also an alarm bell worth ringing. Though rank and file workers hardly had (or have) more power in these societies than in the US, the warning signs of a bureaucratic and production-obsessessed economy ring true.
 That being said, won’t it be remarkable to live in a world where industry hasn’t destroyed so much of the natural world that living by hunting, fishing, and sustainable small-scale agriculture is possible again? Shouldn’t that be a goal? If someone offered me a trade where I could sit at a lake catching my dinner instead of checking fedbook every ten minutes, I’d take that shit in a minute.
 Nevertheless, the imagination is a fun place to start! For an exploration of this theme, check out Post-Civ!published by Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness. I’d also suggest writings from the ZAD in France.
 “Long Term Resistance: Fighting Trump and Liberal Co-option”, Peter Gelderloos.
 In my household, for instance, there are three kids and four adults, three of whom are parents. Between the five oldest of us, we work nine part or full-time jobs. Several of us are on some kind of public assistance, and we still have it a lot better than some folks in my neighborhood.
 Even in the heyday of syndicalism, Spain’s glorious CNT was largely dependent on informal neighborhood networks run mostly by women, and decentralized armed affinity groups operating clandestinely and outside of formal union channels.
“Amazon Just Opened a Human-Free Supermarket,” News Channel 5.https://www.newschannel5.com/simplemost/amazon-just-opened-human-free-su...
 For further discussion of this, check out Here at the Center of the World in Revolt by Lev Zlodey& Jason Radegas.
 https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-18/universal-basic-incom.... It’s unclear if Bezos’ basic income will cover the three-fold increase in rent costs you’ll face when he moves his Amazon headquarters to your town.
 Some might argue that these prison strikes did in fact occur at “workplaces”, but this is an awkward attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole, as the next section will hopefully demonstrate.
 The IWW’s Incarcerated Organizing Committee (IWOC) was important to both the 2016 and 2018 strikes, but its role has been exaggerated by media, which latched onto the most apparent, legible organization it could find to explain a movement it did not understand. The actual organizing for the strike depended on IWOC agitation but also a wide array of already existent prisoner study groups, gangs, prisoner publications, and collectives and affinity groups on the outside. A look at where strike participation popped off is illustrative: in many of the “hottest” facilities, there were few if any IWOC members at all.
 For an excellent historical study, by a participant, of how syndicalist structures can reproduce bureaucracy and betray workers’ own initiatives, check out Carlos Semprun Maura’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Catalonia.
 The Invisible Committee once wrote, “We just have to keep in mind that nothing different can come out of an assembly than what is already there.” So many times people join an organization because that is how they think things happen. But no formation, regardless of how “perfect” its structure, will prove powerful if the individuals present fail to bring initiative, care, daring, creativity, and mutual trust.
 The 2018 West Virginia teachers’ strike offered an inspiring example of this, in particular in the massive networks of mutual aid that emerged, and the willingness of at least some teachers to organize in direct opposition to union bureaucrats. At the same time, the extremely limited, political, and ultimately conservative scope of the demands themselves speaks to this critique. Sometimes the exception proves the rule.
 “Expanded Notes on the Police, their Predecessors, and the White Hell of Civil Society,” Saralee Stafford and Neal Shirley.
 A last note on civil society:A few years ago, during a daytime lull in an anti-police uprising in a nearby city, me and my exhausted, tear-gas-drenched friends were loading up cases of water in the trunk of our car. A well-dressed woman exiting a Starbucks approached us with a mix of fear and genuine concern, begging us, “Please, don’t do anything unkind.”
 “The Prison-Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal,” Frank Wilderson.
 This all feels particularly relevant given how IWOC has been involved in both the 2016 and 2018 prison strikes. (Or tried to be—in many areas, like my own, they have almost no members on either side of the wall, and have ended up the spokespeople for other people’s organizing or struggles). It’s a strange fit—I’m pretty sure the wobbly comrades I know are aware that the prisoners they’re writing with are not trying to “self-manage” the prison. This all feels like another example of the activity having moved beyond the vision.
 Lose Your Mother. Saidiya Hartman, pg. 170. (My italics).
 For more on this aspect of the Freedmen’s Bureau, check out Eric Foner’sA Short History of Reconstruction. By most accounts the majority of these agents were earnest anti-racist reformers who thought that by providing education and labor contracts they were helping end chattel slavery, but this did not change their use-value to Northern capitalists and politicians.
 I would encourage readers to check out histories of the Ogeechee Insurrection as well as the Sea Island maroons, who, in addition to refusing to grow cash crops for the Union, maintained their cultural autonomy and a century later were still resisting yuppie development projects like golf courses.
 “I think black people have always felt this about America, and Americans, and have always seen, spinning above the thoughtless American head, the shape of the wrath to come.” – James Baldwin, No Name in the Street.
 Scenes of Subjection, Saidiya Hartman.
 For further inquiry, I would highly suggest the series of articles From Democracy to Freedom by Crimethinc, as well as Uri Gordon’s writing on anarchist decision-making in Anarchy Alive!.
 Worshipping Power, by Peter Gelderloos (AK Press), has some useful information on this.
 One might respond that syndicalists are already organizing in a variety of sectors, not just the workplace. This is admirably true, but only more so begs the question why this dated strategy has not has not updated itself for the 21st century. So often the activity of the militant speaks to a reality not yet explicitly recognized by our ideas, which remain millstones around our necks.
Dmitry Pchelintsev and Andrei Chernov, residents of Penza and suspects
in the so-called Network case, have gone on hunger strike, claiming
remand prison officials and FSB officers have intimidated them during
their review of their criminal case file, something to which they are
entitled by Russian law. Several Penza suspects in the case have claimed
they have been put in solitary confinement, handcuffed to radiators, and
threatened with violance.
Pchelintsev and Chernov went on hunger strike on November 29, as
reported by the Parents Network, a support group established by the
mothers and fathers of the young men, who have been accused of
involvement in a “terrorist community” that, allegedly, was planning an
armed uprising during the March 2018 presidential election and 2018 FIFA
World Cup, held in Russia this past summer.
It was on November 29 that wardens put Pchelintsev in solitary,
demanding he admit to breaking the rules by talking with other inmates
during yard time. He responded by going on hunger strike, and Chernov
joined him as a token of support and solidarity. On November 30, wardens
again tried to bargain with Pchelintsev and threaten him.
The Parents Network notes that the pressure on their sons has increased
now that the suspects are officially reviewing the case file.
Lawyer Anatoly Vakhterov told the group that Network case suspect Ilya
Shakursky had been been visited by Penza Remand Prison Warden Oleg
Iskhanov, who asked him how quickly he was reviewing the file. On
November 20, immediately after the incident, Shakursky was reprimanded
for greeting other inmates during yard time. The alleged violation was
written up, and the same day Shakursky was issued a special uniform for
his upcoming stint in solitary confinement. He managed to avoid going
there by filing a complaint with Penza Regional Prosecutor Natalya
Earlier, Maxim Ivankin spent five days in solitary. This was proceeded
by a visit from Warden Iskhanov, who likewise asked Ivankin how quickly
he was reviewing the case file.
As the defense lawyers explained to the Parents Network, the suspects
had been reviewing the case file not only at the remand prison but also
at the local FSB office. Under Russian law, suspects may review case
files for up to eight hours a day. Allegedly, the Network suspects were
handcuffed to radiators and stairway railings the entire time. Vasily
Kuksov and Arman Sagynbayev were handcuffed to each other. As the
Parents Network has noted, the suspects not only experienced physical
discomfort but were also unable to examine the case file freely and take
Shakursky and Pchelintsev refused to go through the procedure in such
conditions. In turn, they were threatened with violence. According to
them, the man who threatened them was a certain A. Pyatachkov, who had
been involved in torturing them when they were initially detained in the
autumn of 2017.
Mikhail Kulkov said that after handcuffing him to the staircase, FSB
officers videotaped him. As they filmed him, they said, “Look at Network
terrorists reviewing the case file.”
The suspects requested their lawyers be present during the review.
Consequently, the authorities stopped taking them to the FSB office.
Currently, all case file materials are brought directly to the remand
Vasily Kuksov and Dmitry Pchelintsev in court. Photo courtesy of
Rupression and OVD Info
“Obviously, all these measures are methods of mental and physical
violence,” argues Vakterov. “There are signs that the group of FSB
investigators, led by Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev, have been
putting pressure on the suspects. Why? To speed up the review process
and make it impossible to verify the complaints of torture made by the
suspects. They want to intimidate the lads, who are fighting back any
way they can under the circumstances.”
These events have spurred the Parents Network to issue a communique,
which we publish here in an abridged version.
We, the parents of the suspects in the Penza Case, bear witness to the
numerous violations suffered by our children during their review of the
To avoid allowing the time necessary to investigate the claims made by
our sons that they were tortured by FSB officers, the group of
investigators, led by Valery Tokarev, has done everything possible to
speed up the process of reviewing the Network case file. To this end,
the investigators have engaged in daily acts of emotional and physical
violence against the suspects, to wit:
Our sons have been prevented from reviewing the case file with their
lawyers present. When they have attempted to refuse lawfully to review
the case file, they have been subjected to physical preventive measures:
they have been handcuffed to whatever metal structures came to hand and
handcuffed to each other. During the review of the case file, at least
one hand of each suspect has been handcuffed. These actions have
prevented them from concentrating on reading the file and thoughtfully
preparing to defend their rights in court. This testifies to the fact
that investigators have doubts about the case, and so they would like to
hand it over to the court as quickly as possible.
FSB field officers who were involved in torturing our sons have been
among the people allowed to be present during the investigative case
file review. They have been brought to the review to exert pressure on
our children. The FSB officers in question have threatened them with
physical violence if they refuse to continue with the case file review.
The point of their actions is to speed up the review process, intimidate
the suspects, and interfere with a potential investigation of the acts
of torture they perpetrated.
Our demands that a lawyer be present during the proceedings and that the
act of reviewing the case file not be hindered by handcuffing the hands
of the suspects to tables, chairs, radiators, and stairways have led to
our children being placed in solitary confinement, where they have once
again been visited by FSB officers and investigators, who have tried to
speed up the review process by threatening them.
We speak constantly of incidents of torture. They say there is no smoke
without fire. We are unfamiliar with the contents of the criminal
investigative case file due to the nondisclosure agreement signed by all
the defense lawyers. If our children have violated the law, they will
answer to society to the full extent of the law. In the present
circumstances, however, they are unable to answer to society. They
answer to people who believe that physical violence, beatings, and
electric shock torture can be legally used to make other people’s lives
conform to the canons and stories that will get them new assignments and
It is impossible to defend the rights of our sons in the current
circumstances. We cannot prove they were tortured. We have exhausted all
the legal resources we have in Russia. But we, our sons, the Public
Monitoring Commissions, reporters, civil rights activists, and
politicians must and will go on fighting for the sake of one big goal:
making the Russian legal and justice system more humane.
We call on Russian Federal Human Rights Ombusdman Tatyana Moskalkova,
Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and
Human Rights, and Yevgeny Myslovsky, a member of the council, to visit
the Penza Case suspects. You are our last hope for help in combating
torture in Russia. This joint task is our primary responsibility to society.
As we face the inevitability of double-digit sentences for our sons, we
hope that all of us will have someone whose example will inspire us. It
will be not the people who tortured our sons. Then none of this would
make any sense at all.
The lawyers of the Penza suspects in the Network case say their clients
have reached out to Tatyana Moskalkova and Mikhail Fedotov, asking them
to visit and requesting their help in investigating the incidents of
torture. Moskalkova and Fedotov have not yet replied to their appeals,
although in November a member of the Presidential Council for Civil
Society and Human Rights did visit the Petersburg suspects in the
Translated by the Russian Reader
What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and
anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?
Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal
(firstname.lastname@example.org). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked
Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg
“terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and
in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below),
rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize
the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the
website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can
download. You can also read more about the case there.
If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity
merchandise, please write to email@example.com.
Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must
be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the
addresses of the prisoners here.
Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to
send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to
Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via
Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this
website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your
translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write
an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist,
encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or the email listed on this website,
and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional
It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both
in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and
their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives,
the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the
hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the
more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether
or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony
obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by
the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and
are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be
forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.
December 2, 2018
Imprisoned Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond Bumped a Guard With a Door — and Got Thrown in Solitary Confinement
From The Intercept
Last month, a famed hacker who has been serving a 10-year prison sentence since 2012 was accused by a guard at a federal detention center of “minor assault,” landing the so-called hacktivist in solitary confinement, according to advocates. The guard at Michigan’s Federal Correctional Institute-Milan made the accusation against Jeremy Hammond — the activist associated with hacking groups Anonymous and LulzSec and best know for hacking private intelligence firm Stratfor and leaking documents to WikiLeaks — on either November 19 or 20. Hammond has been held in solitary confinement ever since, according to the Jeremy Hammond Support Network.
The guard claims that Hammond hit him with a door, “stood his ground,” and pushed his shoulder into the guard. The head of Hammond’s support network said the prison guard’s account is an overblown. “Jeremy says that he was exiting his unit through a door that has no windows and could not see the guard on the other side, and as he’s exiting, bumped the guard with the door,” Grace North told The Intercept. “The guard immediately grabbed Jeremy and threw him up against the wall and dragged him down to solitary, with no handcuffs, without calling for backup, which is against prison protocol, and Jeremy has been there ever since.”
North’s version of events also portrays the guard as overly aggressive: After the guard was hit with the door, North said, he asked Hammond if he “wanted to go.”
“It’s absurd to classify being bumped with a door as assault and to think that an appropriate response is to subject the person who bumped you to torture.”
Hammond, who pleaded guilty to violating one count of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in a noncooperating plea deal, had never been part of any physical alteration since his arrest in Chicago on March 5, 2012. In 2013, Hammond pleaded guilty to hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor Global Intelligence and other targets. The Stratfor hack lead to numerous revelations, including that the firm spied on activists for major corporations on several occasions.
Hammond’s run-in with the guard could have severe implications on his time in prison, disrupting his studies toward a higher-education degree and potentially precipitating a move from the minimum-security Milan facility to a medium-security prison.
“It’s absurd to classify being bumped with a door as assault and to think that an appropriate response is to subject the person who bumped you to torture,” said North. “This is yet another example of the wildly unchecked systems of power and abuse that are endemic to American prisons, and illustrate the need not just for reform, but the complete abolition of the entire prison-industrial complex.”
This week will mark the start of Hammond’s third week in a so-called segregated housing unit — more commonly known as solitary confinement. The United Nations has said that confinement of such length could be considered torture. “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez said in 2011, “it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” He added that prolonged isolation for more than 15 days — around the length of Hammond’s current stint in solitary — should be absolutely prohibited because scientific studies have established that it can lead to lasting mental damage.
The charge that led to Hammond’s move to solitary confinement was upheld in a disciplinary hearing last week, which Hammond attended over the phone because he was barred from attending in person. North said that the “minor assault” charge against him is a disciplinary matter — as opposed to criminal — so Hammond was not allowed to have a lawyer. “He’s not entitled to representation of any kind,” North said. North added that Hammond was left unaware if any evidence against him was presented at the hearing, such as video of the incident. “It’s a prison, obviously there’s video of every corner of the building,” North said. “So we’re not aware if there was video shown, or if it was just the word of the guard.” The recommendation from the hearing is to transfer Hammond from FCI Milan, a low-security federal prison in Michigan, to a medium-security federal prison, according to North. (A spokesperson for FCI Milan declined to comment, citing the Privacy Act of 1974 that prohibits them from releasing information about any incarcerated people without their written permission.)
The “minor assault” charge is severely disrupting Hammond’s life in prison. Hammond has been taking college classes through a local community college that has a prison education program and was expecting to earn an associate’s degree in general studies next semester, making him part of the first class of incarcerated people to receive a college degree through the program. Since he’s been in solitary confinement, however, he has missed his classes, been unable to turn in assignments, and is unable to take his finals. “He greatly enjoys his studies, he greatly enjoys the classes he’s been taking,” North said. “Most prisons don’t offer the prison education program. Milan is one of them. It would almost certainly be guaranteed that whatever prison he was transferred to would not offer the program that Milan offers.”
“Signed up for Fall 2018 classes at Jackson College Prison Education Initiative program: Earth Science, Art History, & World Lit. Trying to take a fourth class if they allow it. Definitely the best thing FCI Milan has going on over here!” – Jeremy Hammond #JeremyIn140 #FreeJeremy pic.twitter.com/sJS4lAxKQa
— Jeremy Hammond Support Committee (@FreeJeremyNet) September 6, 2018
In 2004, while Hammond was a freshman at University of Illinois at Chicago on a full scholarship, he hacked into the website of the computer science department, told them about it, and offered to help fix the vulnerability. In the cybersecurity industry, this is called responsible disclosure, but university administrators expelled him for it, and he never finished his degree.
If he gets transferred to a medium-security prison, Hammond will enjoy fewer freedoms than he currently does at Milan. He’ll also be farther from friends and family who right now are able to visit him frequently.
In 2011, hacktivists affiliated with Anonymous and LulzSec, including Hammond and FBI informant Hector Monsegur, also known as “Sabu,” hacked Stratfor and leaked seven and a half years of the company’s emails to WikiLeaks. At the time, Stratfor — which describes itself as “the world’s leading geopolitical intelligence platform” — had clients ranging from military agencies and defense contractors to global corporations that wanted to spy on activists.
Among other things, the hack and leak exposed how Dow Chemical hired Stratfor to spy on the culture-jamming activist group the Yes Men; Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, hired the firm to spy on activists associated with animal rights organization PETA, worried that they might be planning direct action against the corporation during the games; and American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. oil and gas industry lobby group, hired Stratfor to spy on Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist outfit ProPublica, which in 2008 broke the first news stories about the environmental and health risks posed by fracking.
Monsegur, who was often referred to as the leader of LulzSec, was secretly arrested by the FBI on June 7, 2011. Immediately after his arrest, he began working closely with the FBI as an informant, building a case against Hammond and the other hackers associated with LulzSec and Anonymous. With Monsegur’s help, the FBI was aware of — and helped fund and participate in — the hacking of Stratfor and other targets. Monsegur provided Hammond with an FBI-owned server to exfiltrate emails and documents to during the Stratfor hack.
In a statement during his sentencing hearing, Hammond referred to his hacking as “acts of civil disobedience and direct action,” describing “an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice and to bring the truth to light.” He says he had never heard of Stratfor until Monsegur — who was already an FBI informant at the time — brought it to his attention. “Why the FBI would introduce us to the hacker who found the initial vulnerability and allow this hack to continue remains a mystery,” he said at the sentencing.
Hammond is currently scheduled for release in February 2020.Tags: anarchists in troubleprisonJeremy HammondlulzsechackerstechnologyMSMcategory: Prisoners
Mental Health in all its complexities is a topic that impacts just about everyone… and yet is rarely talked about. Ableism, rooted in an assumed mental wellness, is prevalent even among communities that fight against other oppressive social norms such as hetero-patriarchy and institutionalized racism. For those of us experiencing depression, psychosis or any other form of madness, our struggles usually remain invisible and unacknowledged until they boil over into full blown crisis. When this happens the massive coercive potential of the state is used to force us back into line. If we are lucky enough to escape the prisons and psych wards that form the double-edged sword of carceral psychology, we are often left traumatized, heavily medicated and likely to face further institutionalization down the road.
In this month’s episode of Trouble, subMedia talks to people who are pushing back against this reality. Refusing to accept the notion that mental unwellness is the result of one person’s brain chemistry they instead recognize the fundamentally social and interconnected nature of people and our problems. Rather than allowing interventions to remain the territory of psychiatrists and police, our guests are reclaiming traditions, experimenting with self-therapy collectives and building relationships rooted in care and trust that form the resilient foundations so necessary for communities engaged in struggle.
submediavideotroublemental healthcategory: Projects
LISTEN HERE: http://archive.org/details/AnarchyRadio12042018
France on verge of open revolt; "yellow vests" eruption is uprising not protest, spreading.
"It is Time We Civilised the Sentinelese," by Brendon O'Neill. Suicide, ODs, nihilism: life
expectancy declining for first time. Gene-spliced humans are among us. Fortnite addiction
as connection, intimacy fall off. As eco-disaster moves along, violence among caged humans
increases. Resistance news.
From edíciónes ínédítosWhat follows is a translation of a blog post by Carbure. It is a collaboration between ourselves & Otto Mattick. The original text was published on Dec. 3rd, 2018.
Saturday December 1st, the Gilets Jaunes movement had ceased to belong and be the movement of lower-class White France which it was at the beginning. Given the predictable refusal of the State to satisfy the smallest demand (as evidenced by the refusal or inability of the “spokepersons” of the movement to meet the Prime Minister), also given the derisory aspect which any demand takes on in light of our intolerable existence, and thanks to the convergence in an urban setting of ALL rage, the revolutionary content of the current period beings to appear under the crust of discourses and ideologies, and this content is disorder. The question is now where will what has started end or how far what has started here will be able to create disorder. Already those who made up the origin of the movement serve as a rear guard of what they have started, making appeals to reason and demanding a return to republican order within the pages of Le Journal du Dimanche. They were the incarnation of the start of the movement and their reluctance demonstrates enough what this movement is no longer. They would be satisfied with a moratorium on raising fuel prices, on raising the price on anything or organizing a referendum on the energy transition, right when an emerging movement wants to take whatever is in its path and can no longer crystallize itself around any discourse or demand; save for the repetition of “Resign Macron” as a sort of mantra calling on nothingness and the disappearance of all that this world represents. “Resign Macron” is at once the political limit of this movement and also a call for the end of all politics.
Given what took place on Saturday, December 1st it would be absurd to continue to call what is happening a “movement against expensive life,” or to re-purpose into an economic demand that which evidently has gone beyond that. On Saturday “lists of grievances”1 served to help start fires. The Gilets Jaunes movement have already surpassed the stage of making economic demands after the first week, then entered its politically populist phase the following week, demanding that the State recede from the people or that the people become the State. We have critiqued this phase and determined the content of the demands made by lower-class White France within its class mediation, demonstrating the limits of interclassism and pointing out the danger of a popular national union of some against the “others.” We had scarcely made our critique of this phase when we then found ourselves in another one.
This movement lacked a dose of nihilism to give its “apoliticalism” some meaning: the meeting with the “banlieues” brought with it what this movement lacked to correspond with the “real movement2”, which is not a movement of social progress but the movement for the destruction of society and this meeting allowed this movement to joyfully recognize the “real movement” as its home. Interclassism has under pressure turned into a unity between those who know either clearly, or in a confused way, that they can expect nothing from this society, that they were relegated to the banlieues, shipwrecked in the nightmare of the peri-urban pavilion and RSA3 recipients who survive by collecting chestnuts in Ardèche. It was necessary to watch the dead army of the trade-union march go by at Place Bastille, hidden behind its flags and its slogans, affirming the particularity of its workmen, and feel the total indifference of those who, whether in yellow vests or not, were walking aimlessly but together in Paris, to understand how much the old workers’ movement, its unions, its representatives and its demands are a thing of the past. There will be no “social convergence,” this movement did not come to be from Leftist reason and it will never be a social movement. That era is gone. It is no longer a question of anti-racism or anti-fascism, of Left or Right, when the only thing to be done is burn everything and to know with whom you can accomplish this. This state of affairs is as much about civil war as it is about revolutionary overcoming: to take the step that leads from insurrection to revolution is to walk on the blade of a sword.
This meeting has taken place and it remains to be seen if it could repeat itself and spread. Everything that can oppose this meeting is already there, present within the “social” nature of the movement, as well as in the social relations themselves, which no riot can abolish: the federative slogan “Resign Macron” contains implicitly the possibility of a national-populist alliance taking state power in the name of ‘the people’ (Le Pen and Mélenchon calling with one voice for early elections), and offering the state an adequate form to the crisis: a compassionate-authoritarian form, capable of bringing everyone into line, assigning one to otherness, and symmetrically assigning the others to responsibility and patriotism, crushing one in the name of the others to dominate everyone. We have seen it ten times in recent years: ‘Que se vayan todos4‘ is often a call to renew, for the worst, the political staff. But to get there, it will be necessary to place lower-class White France back in its place, under the direction of the middle-class: honest work paid its fair price and harmonious commodity circulation. This is the only way out of the crisis that is currently conceivable, unless the Macron government handles itself this authoritarian shift.
To avoid this the disorder must be pushed further. The moment of the urban riot is itself the limit point of what is now happening: historically it corresponds with two modalities, either the seizure of state power or pushing the state into a crisis to then push for concessions. But this is not 1917, no seizure of state power to then realize a socialist program is conceivable, and we are not in 1968, there were will be no agreements made at Grenelle5. To stick with the urban riot is to remain at a level where the movement still has politics. But if what manifested on Saturday in Paris and everywhere in France returns to the blockades, creates new ones and begins to truly “block the country,” that is to say, to seize itself and to decide from there on its future, one can imagine going from riot to uprising to revolution. But no one can say in which direction this is going, this thing running faster than the whole world: there is no better mark of revolutionary content than this. This movement, because it is a class struggle, bears all that can be today a communist revolution, including its limits, its dangers and its unpredictability: but to reach that point, it will probably be necessary to burn a great deal of these things that stand between us, whether its cars or social relations.
P.S. In response to certain critiques and questions around this text, it must be made clear that it must be understood as a snapshot of an event in progress. If someone were surprised by its “optimistic” tone (which is not an everyday occurrence), it should also be noted that this optimism is tempered by the prospect of a return to order, which is also well-supported by this movement. All the questions made of the preceding texts remain valid. Though it is essential to remain lucid, it is also essential to be aware that the class struggle is not a long calm river, nor a well-marked landing strip for bombers of “heavy” theory. What is done and undone in the course of a struggle goes faster than our analytical abilities, and if what opened up on Dec. 1st is closing quickly, it must be reported, like everything else. Nothing is written in stone: there is conjecture, “defeasance,” and all order of other things in struggles. Let’s say this text is part of that and takes its position.
1 “The Cahiers de doléances (or simply Cahiers as they were often known) were the lists of grievances drawn up by each of the three Estates in France, between March and April 1789, the year in which a revolutionary situation began.” (source: wikipedia)
2A reference to The Communist Manifesto (1845): “We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”
4tr. “MAY THEYS ALL GO!” (spanish); a phrase made famous after the deep economic crisis Argentina underwent in 2001.Franceedíciónes ínédítoscategory: International
Published on Attaque
As it seems, this Fall's fashion is to wear sharp yellow. As it seems, it's suiting quite well with the blue-white-red flag. As it seems, we must absolutely attend the protest and contribute because people are in the streets, they're without organizations and it's getting riotous. As it seems, if we not attend this means we are forcibly staying on the internet.
We don't give a fuck.
The barricades on the Champs Élysées are not hiding confusion. The smashy-smashy cannot replace antiauthoritarian ideas. We were in the streets back in 2016, and will be again, but not for the purpose of defending the old world and its cars.
And we believe that many other possibilities exist; we only have to look for these.
So early in the morning of November 27th, we torched a car that belonged to the technical services of the Police Prefecture, in front of the Camille Desmoulins station (the same one that had lost its windows, four years ago). The Enedis-serigraphied car right in front also had it coming. Enedis, with its branch Gepsa, makes profits out of prison. They're managing, among others, the Meaux prison where Kreme is held. (we're sending you a photo hug btw!).
Solidarity also with the anarchists in prison around the world, of those from Operation Scripta Manent in Italy, to the CCF in Greece, and to those arrested in Argentina.
Oil prices are rising? We'll just use fire-starters!
signed Stuart, Kevin et BobTags: black anarchyburning carsclimate changegilets jaunesappelistascategory: International