Monday, October 29, 2012
“To deny society, one must attack its language.” – Guy Debord.
The impossible is a closed universe. Nevertheless, we possess the key to it and, as we’ve suspected for millennia, its door opens on a field of infinite possibilities. More than ever, this field belongs to us, to explore and cultivate. The key is neither magic nor symbolic. The ancient Greeks called it “poetry,” from the verb poiein, to construct, to fashion, to create.
Ever since market civilization instaurated the reign of princes and priests – the lamentable remains of whom continue to swarm upon God’s cadaver – the dogma of the innate weakness and deficiency of men and women hasn’t ceased to be taught, at the expense of creativity, which is the human faculty par excellence. Do not the laws of power and profit condemn the child to age prematurely by teaching him or her to work, to consume, and to exhibit him or herself on the market of slaves, where competitive craftiness stifles the intelligence of the heart and solidarity?
We are exposed to a constant denaturation in which life is emptied of its substance, while the necessity of survival is reduced to the animalistic quest for subsistence. The uncertain right to existence is acquired at the cost of a predatory comportment that converts fear into cash and profits from it.
While socially useful work – natural agriculture, schools, hospitals, metallurgy, transportation – becomes rarefied and degraded, parasitical work – subject to financial imperatives – governs the States and peoples [of the world] in the name of a financial bubble that is condemned to implode. Fear reigns and responds to fear. The populist Right recuperates working class [populaire] anger. It designates interchangeable scapegoats – Jews, Arabs, Muslims, the unemployed, homosexuals, people from Mediterranean countries, intellectuals, outsiders – and thus prevents attacks on a system that threatens the entire planet. At the same time, the populist Left channels indignation into demonstrations, the spectacular character of which completely dispenses with any veritable subversive project. The nec plus ultra of radicalism consists in burning the banks and organizing gladiator combats between cops and rioters when such combat in the arena weakens the solidity of the banking-swindling system and the States that unanimously take on base works.
Fear, resignation, fatalism and voluntary servitude everywhere darken the minds of individuals and rally crowds to the heels of the tribunes and representative of the people, who draw from their cretinization the last profits to be had from an unsteady power.
How to struggle against the weight of the obscurantism that – from conservatism to the spiteful and impotent revolt of Leftism – maintains the lethargy of despair, ally of all the tyrannies, no matter how revolting, ridiculous or absurd they are? To have done with the diverse forms of gregariousness, whose bleating and screaming punctuate the route to the slaughterhouse, I do not see any other way than reviving the dialogue that is at the heart of each person’s existence, the dialogue between the desire to live and the objurgations of a programmed death.
By what aberration do we consent to pay for the goods – water, vegetables, air, fertile earth, renewable and free sources of energy – that nature provides us with? By what self-contempt do we judge it impossible to blow away – with the living breath of human aspirations – the economy that programs its own annihilation by monopolizing and sacking the world? How to continue to believe that money is indispensible when it pollutes everything it touches?
It is in the logic of things that the exploiters attempt to convince the exploited of their ineluctable inferiority. But what’s scandalous is that people who revolt and revolutionaries allow themselves to be imprisoned in the artificial circle of the impossible. I do not know how much time will pass before the bronze tables of the law of profit are broken into pieces, but a truly human society will not exist unless the dogma of our incapability to found a society on the true richness of being (the faculty of creating oneself and recreating the world) is broken.
Perhaps it would be indispensible to repeat the following tirelessly, until these life-bearing words create an opening in the petrified forest where frozen and gelatinous words consecrate the power of a coldly profitable death: yes, it is possible to have done with corrupt democracy by instaurating direct democracy; yes, it is possible to push further the experiment of the Spanish libertarian collectives of 1936 and put generalized self-management to work; yes, it is possible to recreate abundance and what’s free by refusing to pay and putting an end to the reign of money; yes, it is possible to get rid of racketeering [affairisme] by strictly adopting the recommendation “We will take care of our affairs ourselves”; and, yes, it is possible to pass beyond the diktats of the State, the threats of the financial mafias, and the [demands of] political predators of every stripe.
If we do not exit from economic reality by constructing a human reality, we will once more allow market cruelty to rage and perpetuate itself.
The battle that unfolds, on the terrain of everyday life, between the desire to live fully and the slow agony of an existence supported by work, money and rotten pleasures is the same battle that attempts to preserve the quality of our environment against the ravages of the market economy. The schools, natural agricultural products, public transportation networks, hospitals, health clinics, herbal medicines, water, invigorating air, renewable and free energy-sources, and socially-useful goods (made by workers cynically despoiled of their production) belong to us. Let’s stop paying for what is ours.
Life surpasses [prime] the economy. The liberty of the living revokes the liberties of commerce. It will henceforth be on this terrain that the battle is fought.
(Published in L’Impossible #2, April 2012. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! on 16 May 2012.)
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Letter of the Community Guarani-Kaiowá of Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay-Iguatemi-MS for the Government and Justice of Brazil
We (50 men, 50 women and 70 children) Guarani-Kaiowá communities originating from tekoha Pyelito kue / Mbrakay, we write this letter to present our historical situation and a final decision before the dispatch order expressed by the Federal Court of Navaraí MS, as Case No. 0000032-87.2012.4.03.6006, on 29 September 2012. We received information that our community will soon be violently attacked and thrown out of the riverside by the Federal Court of Navaraí, MS.
Thus, it is evident to us that the very action of the Federal Court generates and increases the violence against our lives, ignoring our rights to survive on the riverside and around our traditional territory Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay. We understand clearly that this decision of the Federal Court of Navaraí-MS is part of the action of genocide and historical extermination of indigenous people, native of Mato Grosso do Sul, ie, the action itself of the Federal Court is violating and exterminating our lives. We want to make clear to the Government and the Federal Court that finally, we have already lost the hope to survive with dignity and without violence in our old territory, we no longer believe in the Brazilian Justice. To whom will we denounce the violence committed against our lives? To which Justice of Brazil? If the Federal Court itself is generating and fueling violence against us. We have evaluated our current situation and conclude that we will all die very soon, and we do not have nor have the prospect of a dignified and fair both here on the riverbank as far from here. We camped here 50 meters from the riverside where already there were four deaths, two by suicide and two due to beating and torture of gunmen’s farmers.
We live on the riverside Hovy for over a year and we are without any assistance, isolated, surrounded by gunmen and we resisted until today. We eat food once a day. We pass through all this to recover our old territory Pyleito Kue/Mbarakay. In fact, we know very well that at the heart of our ancient territory are buried several of our grandfathers, grandmothers and great-grandparents, there are the cemeteries of all our ancestors.
Aware of this historical fact, we are about and we want to be dead and buried with our ancestors right here where we are today, so we ask the Government and the Federal Court not to order the eviction / expulsion, but we ask to them enact our death collectively and to bury us all here.
Please, once and for all, do declare our total decimation and extinction, besides sending several tractors to dig a big hole to throw and bury our bodies. This is our request to federal judges. We now await the decision of the Federal Court. Declare our collective death of Guarani and Kaiowá of Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay and bury us here. Since we fully decided to don’t leave here alive or dead.
We know that we have more chance to survive with dignity here in our old territory, we already suffered a lot and we are all massacred and dying apace. We know that we will be expelled from the riverbank by the Federal Justice Department, but let's not get out of the river. As an indigenous people and indigenous history, we decided collectively merely being killed here. We have no choice, this is our last unanimous decision before the dispatch of the Federal Court of Navaraí, MS, Brazil.
Sincerely, Guarani-Kaiowá of Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay
Void Network invites all friends to express in all kind of methodologies the International Solidarity to Guarani-Kaiowa People as also to sign the petition for them here:
for more info about Guarani-Kaiowa Tribe see here:
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The anarchist tradition has been sharply divided in its relationship to religion, spirituality and nature. On the one hand, the mainstream of Western anarchism has in general been atheist, anti-religious and anti-clerical, and has looked upon religion as a supernaturalist negation of the natural world. On the other hand, there is a long history of anarchistic thought and practice having strong spiritual or religious dimensions, and very often these have taken the form of nature spirituality. The following discussion will examine first the more familiar anti-religious perspective of modern Western anarchism, then various anarchist tendencies across history that have held a spiritual view of reality, and finally, some contemporary anarchist views that exhibit both standpoints.
Almost all the major European classical anarchist theorists opposed religion and defended a secularist, scientific and sometimes positivistic view of nature against what they saw as religious obscurantism and other-worldliness. Max Stirner (18061856), the major individualist anarchist theorist, dismissed religion as a belief in illusory spooks that undermined the individuality and self-determination of the individual. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (18091865), the first important social anarchist theorist, stated that the concept of God was contradictory to rational thought and to human freedom, and that social progress is proportional to the degree to which the concept is eliminated. The anarchist anti-religious viewpoint is perhaps most widely associated with political theorist and revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin (18131876), who proclaimed, I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that, if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him (Bakunin 1970: 7980).
For Bakunin, religion denigrates human nature and the world, and is a means of oppressing humanity. In his view, it is a negation of nature, since it exalts a supernatural and transcendent reality and devalues the material and natural. He claims that there is an objective naturalistic basis for religion: it arises essentially out of the human beings feeling of absolute dependence on an eternal and omnipotent nature and out of primitive fear of its awe-inspiring powers. He contends that it begins with the attribution of this power to fetishes and ends with its concentration in an all-powerful God, which he sees as the reversal and magnification of the human image itself. Religion is thus essentially a misunderstanding of nature. The system of social domination makes use of this confusion to keep people in a state of subjection and submissiveness through the alliance between the coercive power of the state and the ideological power of the Church.
The large anarchist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in general shared the atheism and anti-clericalism of its theoretical founders. The Bakuninists of the First International (International Working Mens Association, 18641876) fought to make the workers movement officially anti-religious, and the large anarcho-syndicalist movements in southern Europe and Latin America defined themselves in part through their strong opposition to a generally reactionary and hierarchical Church and clergy. The Spanish Revolution (19361939), the most important event in the history of the anarchist movement, was marked by fierce opposition to the Church, to the extent of the desecration and burning of churches and harsh treatment of clergy. The Spanish anarchists largely shared Bakunins view that religion was based on a denial of the natural world. Yet a kind of nature spirituality emerged even within their milieu. This tendency was expressed in a cult of the natural, the romanticizing of nature, and practices such as health-consciousness, nudism and vegetarianism. In this regard, the movement was influenced by the anarchist philosopher-geographer Elisιe Reclus (18301905), who developed a non-theistic but holistic and spiritual view of nature, advocated animal rights, and wrote of the sublime and inspirational qualities of the natural world.
When one turns to the positive relationship between anarchism and spirituality, one finds a wealth of evidence in many cultures of the world. Some have found one of the earliest anarchist philosophies of nature and human nature in the ancient Chinese classic, the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu (ca. fourth century B.C.E). Daoism is the philosophy of the tao, or way, a term that refers both to the source of all being, and to the path of self-realization of all beings when they are allowed to act freely and spontaneously according to their nature. Lao Tzu presents a vision of nature and human society as an organic unity-in-diversity in which the uniqueness and creative activity of each part of the whole are valued. The natural world is seen as a dynamic balance (symbolized through the complementary polarities of yin and yang) that produces order and harmony when not disrupted by human aggression and domination. Lao Tzu describes this natural harmony in poetic terms: Heaven and Earth unite to drip sweet dew. Without the command of men, it drips evenly over all (Lao Tzu 1963: 156). Coercive and authoritarian social institutions are shown to destroy natural balance and the generosity of nature and produce disaster not only for the surrounding natural world, but also within human society itself. The ideal society is depicted as a decentralized, egalitarian community in which all value the Three Treasures of compassion, simplicity, and humility. Lao Tzu was a harsh critic of the violent, hierarchical society of his own day, and laments the injustices and inequities that are created in human society by the pursuit of political and economic power. He declares that [t]he Way of Heaven reduces whatever is excessive and supplements whatever is insufficient. The Way of Man is different. It reduces the insufficient to offer to the excessive (Lao Tzu 1963: 174). For Lao Tzu, the pursuit of wealth, power and egoistic gratification must be rejected in favor of a way of life based on non-action or actionless action (wu-wei), by which is meant activity that is in accord with ones own Tao or way, but which respects the ways of all others.
Despite these apparently anarchistic or libertarian tendencies in Lao Tzus thought, some have interpreted him as a defender of the traditional system of rule and even as an advocate of manipulation of the people for authoritarian purposes. For example, the eminent Chinese scholar D.C. Lau interprets the Tao te Ching as a rather eclectic collection of writings that has a primarily ethical rather than mystical or philosophical import, and which does not question the concept of political rule. In his view, passages concerning the sage or ruler apply to any follower of the Tao, but are also specific references to an enlightened and skillful ruler, in a quite literal sense. Social ecologists Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl have contended that ancient Daoism is merely a form of regressive mysticism. They attacked the idea that the Tao te Ching has any anarchistic implications and contend that all references to rulership should be interpreted in an entirely literal sense.
The second great ancient Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, has sometimes been seen as even more radically anarchistic than Lao Tzu and equally ecological in outlook. Chuang Tzu warned against the impulse to eliminate chaos and impose order on the world, which in his view leads ultimately to great destruction. He took a perspectivist position on knowledge and truth, and emphasized, often through humorous or ironic anecdotes, the fact that each being has its own good and perceives reality from its own ultimately incomparable point of view. He rejected human-centered views of reality and the tendency to project human meanings and values onto the natural world. Though the specifically political implications of Chuang Tzus thought are far from clear, his Daoism has been interpreted as one of the most consistently anarchistic critiques of the domination of humanity and nature and of the egocentric and anthropocentric mentality that underlies domination.
Some have also found a deeply anarchistic dimension in both ancient Buddhism and also in various schools in later Buddhist history. Original Buddhism as established by the founder Shakyamuni Buddha (ca. 563463 B.C.E.) came out of a questioning of both the social order (the caste system) and the ideological basis (the authority of the Vedic scriptures) of ancient India. It also rejected the idea that any authority, whether a person or written document, could lead one to truth, and that it must instead be reached through direct personal experience. The central Buddhist idea of non-attachment can be given an anarchistic interpretation. Although historical Buddhism has been to varying degrees influenced by inegalitarian social institutions, its goal of non-attachment can be seen as an attack on the foundation of political, economic and patriarchal domination in the desire to aggrandize an illusory ego-self. According to such an interpretation, the ideal of the sangha or spiritual community is seen as an anarchistic concept of association based on compassion and recognition of true need, rather than on economic and political power and coercive force. Similarly, Buddhist mindfulness, an awakened awareness of present experience, is seen as implying a sensitivity to the realities of nature and human experience, as opposed to appropriating and objectifying forms of consciousness. The Buddhist tradition is vast, and has been developed in many directions, but it is not difficult to discover in the Buddhist concepts of awakened mind, non-attachment, and compassion an implicit critique of material consumption and accumulation, coercive laws, and bureaucratic and technocratic forms of social organization.
Nagarjuna (ca. second century) is often considered the most important Buddhist philosopher since Shakyamuni Buddha. Indeed, he can plausibly be interpreted as the most theoretically anarchistic thinker in the history of philosophy. His radically destructive or deconstructive dialectic reveals the contradictions in any formulation of truth or attribution of substantiality to any being. The only truth for Nagarjuna consists not in ideas or propositions, all of which lead to contradiction, but rather in the practice of universal compassion and non-attachment. His rejection of the imposition of dualistic and objectifying categories on an internally related and dependently arising reality can be seen as an affirmation of the non-objectifiable wholeness and self-creativity of being and nature.
The anarchist tendencies in Buddhism were developed furthest and synthesized with certain aspects of Daoism in the Chinese Chan (meditation) School of Buddhism and in its Japanese version, Zen. Zen questions all authorities, including political, intellectual and spiritual ones, and insists on the absolute priority of direct personal experience. Lin-Chi (Rinzai) (d. 866) the founder of Chan, is known for his shocking admonition, Whether youre facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch! This iconoclastic maxim is a classic Zen statement of the radically anarchistic view that none of our concepts of substantial realities (including even our most exalted concepts) can capture the nature of an ever-changing reality that constantly surpasses all categories and preconceptions. Inherent in this outlook is a deep respect for the integrity of nature and a desire to allow nature to express itself without human domination. Zen painting and poetry (much in the tradition of Daoist art) are noted for their focus on nature and on the numinous power of things themselves.
Anarchistic forms of spirituality have not been limited to Asian traditions, but have also emerged periodically through the history of Western religion. The Joachimite tendency in medieval Christianity is perhaps the most striking example. Joachim of Fiore spoke of the Third Age of world history, the Age of the Holy Spirit, which would supersede the rule of law and authority and usher in the reign of universal freedom and love. The Movement of the Free Spirit, which emerged out of the Joachimite and millenarian traditions, is often considered the most anarchistic tendency within medieval and early modern Christianity. The movement originated in the thirteenth century and spread widely across central and Western Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Its most radical tendencies rejected the established Church, the state, law, private property and marriage. Its social outlook was at times a rather curious combination of a radically anarchistic quest for freedom and an elitism that justified an instrumental view of non-members and of things in nature, and a ruthless destructiveness toward all who stood in its way. Nevertheless, it often strongly affirmed nature and the natural. The Adamite tendency in particular saw believers as existing in a natural, pre-fallen condition, and others spoke of exercising natural freedom and following natural desires. They practiced nudism and free love, held property in common, and waged relentless war against their surrounding enemies. The anarchistic interpretation of the Free Spirit is best known from Norman Cohns classic work, The Pursuit of the Millennium. The Free Spirit also plays an important role in anarchist theorist Fredy Perlmans critique of civilization, Against History, and Situationist Raoul Vaneigem devoted an entire book to the movement.
A more recent expression of an anarchistic spirituality within the Christian tradition is the radical religious vision of Romantic poet William Blake (17571827). Blake stressed the sacredness of nature, its organic qualities, and the need for humane treatment of other beings. He was one of the most important early rebels against the mechanistic, objectivist, reductionist worldview that came out of Newtonian science. His rejection of the dominant mechanistic worldview is encapsulated in his well-known plea, may God us keep / From Single vision and Newtons sleep! (Blake 1988: 722). His attack on the patriarchal authoritarian God and a spiritually degraded world, and his creation of a new radically utopian mythology can be interpreted as an anarchistic critique of the state, early capitalism, and any ideology or social imaginary based on hierarchy, domination, and the repression of desire, the body, and nature.
Although nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European anarchism was generally anti-religious, even there one finds a more overt religious tendency, primarily under the influence of the famous novelist and pacifist anarchist Leo Tolstoy (18281910). Tolstoys conception of God was not the naively anthropomorphic image that other anarchists attacked, but referred rather to the whole of reality and truth. Furthermore, he believed that the true essence of Christianity is found not in a transcendent Supreme Being or an afterlife with rewards and punishments, but rather in Jesus teaching of universal love. For Tolstoy, an acceptance of this teaching satisfies the human longing for meaning in purpose in life, and has far-reaching implications for ones relationship to both society and nature. First, it results in a dedication to complete nonviolence in society, including an absolute anarchistic rejection of participation in the state, which Tolstoy saw as the most monstrous form of organized violence and coercion. Furthermore, it requires a nonviolent stance toward the whole of nature, a refusal to inflict suffering on sentient beings, and a practice of ethical vegetarianism.
Another important nineteenth-century literary figure in whose work anarchist themes intersect with a spirituality of nature is Henry David Thoreau (18171862). In his essay Civil Disobedience, Thoreau proclaimed the priority of individual conscience over political authority, asserting his view that that government is best which governs least and consequently that government is best which governs not at all. He refused to pay his taxes to the state on the anarchist secessionist principle that he could not recognize as his own government one that was also the slaves government. Although Thoreaus philosophical and religious perspective is usually associated with American Transcendentalism, it can also be seen as an anarchistic spirituality with affinities to aspects of Daoist, Buddhist and indigenous traditions. Thoreau is best known for his eloquent expression in Walden of such themes as the love of and communion with nature, the affirmation of life, compassion for all living beings, and the ills of a materialistic society that is alienated from the natural world and enslaved by its own possessions. His spirituality is perhaps best expressed in the essay on Walking, which contains his famous statement that in Wildness is the preservation of the world. Thoreau links wildness, freedom, sacredness, and the gospel according to this moment, an idea much in the spirit of Buddhist mindfulness. His concern for and celebration of the particularities of place link him to later bioregional thought, and contain an implicit critique of political and economis-tic conceptions of reality.
The renowned anarchist geographer Peter Kropotkin has often been looked to as the major source of ecological ideas among the classical anarchist theorists. His concepts of the importance of mutual aid, spontaneity and diversity in both the natural world and in human society have been important in introducing ecological concepts into social thought. However, Kropotkin was in many ways carrying on the work of his predecessor, the nineteenth-century French geographer and revolutionary Elisιe Reclus, who had already developed a profoundly ecological philosophy and social theory. Reclus is one of the most important figures in the development of an anarchistic ecological philosophy and spirituality.
Reclus came out of a tradition of radical Protestant religious dissent, his father having been a minister of a so-called free church that broke with the Reformed Church. Though he rejected theism, his anarchism can in some ways be seen as a continuation of his religious tradition. Central to his philosophy was a belief in universal love, which in his view must be extended to all human beings, to other sentient beings, and to nature as a whole. His deep respect for the natural world sometimes reaches a level of awe that verges on a kind of nature mysticism. For Reclus, social organization must be based on this love and solidarity, expressed through a voluntary commitment to the good of the community and the Earth itself. In such a system, each individual would be guided to the greatest degree possible by a free conscience rather than by coercion or centralized authority.
Reclus outlook toward nature is at once scientific, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual. In his monumental 16,000-page New Universal Geography, and his magnum opus of social theory, Man and the Earth, he offers a holistic, evolutionary vision of humanity and nature. Like later ecological thinkers, Reclus finds a harmony and balance in nature, in addition to a tendency toward discord and imbalance. His investigation of the intimate relationship between humanity and the Earths regional and local particularities anticipates later bioregional thought. He emphasizes the moral and spiritual aspects of humanitys relationship to nature, condemns the growing devastation produced by industry and economic exploitation, and argues that whenever humanity degrades the natural world, it degrades itself. A vehement advocate of the humane treatment of animals and of ethical vegetarianism, Reclus wrote several widely reprinted pamphlets on these topics.
An important though relatively neglected figure in early twentieth-century anarchist spirituality is the German political theorist and non-violent revolutionary Gustav Landauer (18701919). Landauer is best known as a martyr killed for his leadership in the Munich Council Republic of 1919 and as the mentor of the Jewish libertarian and communitarian religious philosopher Martin Buber (18781965). Landauers philosophy is rooted in German Romanticist thought and is often described as having mystical and pantheistic tendencies. His major concepts are Spirit (Geist), People (Volk), and Nation (Nation), and his central focus is on the place of the individual in the larger human community, in nature, and in a greater spiritual reality. Landauer associates Spirit with the search for wholeness and universality, and interprets it as an immanent, living reality, the underlying unity of all beings that encompasses both humanity and nature. For Landauer, the great conflict in history is between Spirit and the state. In his famous formulation, the state is above all a relationship between human beings and it can be replaced by creating new relationships based on cooperation rather than domination. Socialism, which is what he called the free, cooperative society, is not a utopian ideal in the future, but rather something that is already present in all cooperative, loving human relationships and which can expand to encompass the whole of society as more non-coercive, non-exploitative relationships are established. Landauer believed that the cooperative society would be achieved when people left the increasingly dominant corrupt and alienated urban society and returned to the land. The new society was to be based on village communities rooted in their natural regions, in which fair exchange would replace economic exploitation, and in which agriculture and industry would be integrated.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important influences on modern anarchist spirituality throughout the world is Mohandas Gandhi (18691948), who is widely known for his principles of nonviolence, cooperation, decentralization, and local self-sufficiency. Gandhi summarized his religious outlook as the belief that God is Truth, or more accurately, that Truth is God, and that the way to this Truth is through love. He also states that God is the sum-total of all life (Gandhi 1963: 316). At the roots of Gandhian spirituality is the concept of ahimsa, which is often translated as nonviolence (paralleling the original Sanskrit), but is actually for Gandhi a more positive conception of replacing force and coercion with love and cooperation. Similarly, he is sometimes called an advocate of civil disobedience, but he defined his approach, satyagraha, as a more positive conception of nonviolent resistance to evil, including the injustices of the state.
Although Gandhi did not absolutely reject all participation in the existing state, he rejected the state as a legitimate form of social organization, advocated its eventual elimination, and strongly opposed its increasing power. He warned against looking to the state to reduce exploitation, arguing that its concentrated power and vast coercive force necessarily does great harm and destroys individuality. In place of the centralized state, he proposed village autonomy or self-government, community self-reliance, and local production based on human-scale technologies, ideas that have been enormously influential on twentieth-century eco-anarchism. Gandhi was also a critic of Western medicine, which he saw as dependent on concentrated wealth and sophisticated technologies, and advocated instead nature cure in which the cheapest, simplest and most accessible treatments are used.
For Gandhi, the principle of ahimsa was to be extended throughout the natural world. Humans should make an effort to avoid inflicting physical or mental injury to any living being to the greatest possible degree. Accordingly, Gandhi advocated ethical vegetarianism and had a deeply held belief that the Indian tradition of cow protection was of great moral and spiritual value. One of his most often-quoted statements is that the greatness and moral progress of a nation can be judged by its treatment of animals. Although his concern was often expressed in terms of the welfare of individual beings, he sometimes expressed more strongly ecological concepts, as when he warned of the dangers of human abuse of nature using the image of natures ledger book in which the debits and credits must always be equal.
After Gandhis death, Sarvodaya, a movement based on his spiritual, ethical and political principles emerged. Vinoba Bhave (18951982), the leading figure in the movement for many years, taught absolute nonviolence, social organization based on universal love, decision making by consensus, the replacement of coercion by the recognition of moral authority, and the minimization and eventual abolition of state power. Vinobas social philosophy was fundamentally anarchist and communitarian. In pursuit of the movements goals he pursued a policy of asking landowners to donate land to the poor (Bhoodan, or gift of land) and of establishing village cooperative agriculture (Gramdan or village gift). Over a decade, Vinoba walked 25,000 miles across India and accepted eight million acres of Bhoodan land. The history of the Sarvodaya movement is recounted in Geoffrey Ostergaard and Melville Currells study, The Gentle Anarchists.
Among contemporary thinkers, the celebrated poet and essayist Gary Snyder has probably had the greatest influence in linking anarchism, spirituality and nature. He has also been a major influence on the contemporary ecology movement in showing the ecological implications of Buddhist, Daoist and indigenous traditions. Snyder has connected the concepts of the wild, wild nature and wilderness with the Tao of ancient Chinese philosophy and the dharma of Buddhism. For Snyder, the concept of the wild implies a freedom and spontaneity that are found not only in undomesticated nature, but also in the imagination of the poet and in the mind of the spiritually attuned person. He expresses the anarchic nature of the Zen mind in his statement: the power of no-power; this is in the practice of Zen (Snyder 1980: 4).
For Snyder, such concepts have farreaching political implications. By the early 1970s he had already outlined a bioregional anarchist position that would replace the state and its artificial political boundaries with a regionalism based on lived experience and a knowledge of the particularities of place. Snyder links the spirituality of place with reinhabitation, the development of an intimate acquaintance with ones locality and region, and the achievement of a larger sense of community that incorporates other life forms. Snyder finds the roots of such a social vision in the Neolithic community, with its emphasis on productive work, the sharing of goods, and the self-determination of local village communities. From the standpoint of such decentralized, egalitarian communities, the state, social hierarchy, and centralized power are not only illegitimate and oppressive, but also a source of disorder and destruction in both society and the natural world.
The wisdom of traditional societies has been a widespread theme in contemporary anarchist thought. This is exemplified by a significant neo-primitivist current in ecological anarchism that has identified very strongly with many of the values and institutions of tribal societies. Its proponents argue that for 99 percent of human history human beings lived in stateless societies in which nature spirituality was central to their culture. The non-hierarchical, cooperative, symbiotic and ecological spiritualities of these societies have been taken as an inspiration for a future post-civilized anarchist society.
A strong influence on this current is anarchist theorist Fredy Perlman (19341985), who in his influential work Against His-story, Against Leviathan depicts (in a kind of radicalized version of the Myth of the Machine of social critic Lewis Mumford ) the millennia-long history of the assault of the technological megamachine on humanity and the Earth. Perlman describes early tribal spirituality as a celebration of human existence and nature, and depicts the rise of the ancient despotism that destroyed these societies and replaced their spirituality with a repressive, patriarchal and authoritarian monotheism. He interprets the emergence of such spiritual movements as ancient Daoism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism as a rebellion against social hierarchy and the domination of nature, and describes the processes through which these spiritualities of freedom were transformed in religions of domination. He also outlines the history of anarchistic spiritual movements, including such striking examples as the Taoist Yellow Turbans, a revolutionary, egalitarian movement of the second century.
Similar themes are developed by David Watson, a leading contemporary critic of the technological mega-machine. Watson contends in Against the Megamachine that in modern societies an aura of sacredness is concentrated in the ego, in the system of technology, and in economic and political power, whereas primal societies have seen the sacred as pervading the self, the community and the world of nature. Primal spirituality was, he argues, an integral part of a system of egalitarian, libertarian and ecological social values. Furthermore, the participating consciousness of primal peoples conceives of humans as inseparable from larger natural and transhuman realities. Thus, primal peoples have had an anarchistic, non-hierarchical view of both society and nature that constitutes a powerful critique of modern industrial society and offers inspiration for future non-dominating ecological communities.
Ideas similar to those of Perlman and Watson inspire a rather large, vigorous and growing anarcho-primitivist or anti-civilization movement. The best-known theoretical spokesperson for this movement is John Zerzan, who presents a withering critique of civilization, industrialism, technology, the state, and even language and community. Anarcho-primitivist ideas often appear in such publications as Green Anarchy, Live Free or Die, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed and The Fifth Estate. Anarcho-primitivism plays an important role in the Earth Liberation Front, which practices sabotage in defense of nature, and in the much larger Earth First!, which is the most important direct action environmental organization. It is also a significant undercurrent in the anti-globalization movement.
Anarcho-primitivists see an inextricable relationship between civilization and the domination of humanity and nature. One of their central themes is the inevitability of the collapse of industrial society, an event that is often looked forward to with anticipation. Primitivists value all that remains free from the domination of civilization, including remaining wilderness areas and autonomous, spontaneous human activity. They look to tribal traditions and hunter-gatherer economies for examples of an ecological sensibility, a balanced relationship to nature, and an ethos of sharing and generosity. However, they do not in general propose a simple reversion to such previous social formations, which are sometimes criticized for alienated social practices. Many primitivists find inspiration in various nature-affirming spiritual traditions as an alternative to the narrow technical rationality of civilization. These include the spirituality of tribal people, various forms of nature mysticism, a general reverence for life and nature, pantheism, and neo-paganism.
Indeed, one finds a continuous and strong anarchist current in neo-paganism in general in both Britain and the United States in recent decades. In Britain there are important anarchist and neo-pagan tendencies within the large marginal subculture that centers around the anti-roads movement and defends sites that are of natural, cultural and spiritual significance. Both anti-roads activists and neo-pagans often form decentralized, non-hierarchical organizations practicing such anarchist principles as direct action and consensus decision making. Starhawk, one of the best-known neo-pagan theorists and writers, and an important figure in ecofeminism, has emphasized the connection between the nonviolent, egalitarian, cooperative, anti-patriarchal, anti-hierarchical, and nature-affirming values of anarchism and the pagan worldview and sensibility. The pioneering ecofeminist writer Susan Griffin has inspired thinking about these interconnections since her wide-ranging landmark work Woman and Nature, published in 1978. Even earlier, the well-known short-story writer and poet Grace Paley had incorporated feminist, anarchist and ecological themes in her works, which also expresses a deep but subtle spirituality of everyday life.
Hakim Bey, one of the most widely read contemporary anarchist writers, has developed an ontological anarchism that finds inspiration in esoteric spiritual traditions of many cultures, including Islamic mysticism, sorcery, shamanism, alchemy, and primordial myths of chaos. Beys anarchic sensibility and spirituality encompass everything related to joy, eros, creativity, play, and the marvelous. His concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) as a sphere in which such realities can be experienced is one of the most influential ideas in contemporary anarchism and has stimulated interest in heretical, dissident and exotic anarchistic spiritualities.
There has also been considerable theoretical discussion of anarchism, nature and spirituality in the context of debates within social ecology. Such well-known exponents of social ecology as Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl have attacked spiritual ecologies as forms of irrational mysticism that often produce social passivity and sometimes are linked to reactionary or fascist politics. On the other hand, proponents of the value of spiritual ecologies (such as David Watson, John Clark and Peter Marshall) have argued for the importance to an anarchist social ecology of spiritual values that are ecological, holistic, communitarian and socially emancipatory. It has been argued that some social ecologists have uncritically adopted a modernist, Promethean, and naively rationalistic view of the self and its relationship to the world, and that spiritual ecologies derived from Asian philosophies and indigenous worldviews, among other sources, can contribute to a more critical, dialectical, and implicitly anarchistic view of selfhood and the place of humanity in nature.
This brief survey is far from comprehensive, and a fuller account would encompass such topics as Quakerism and other forms of radical Protestantism, the Catholic Worker movement and other tendencies within the Catholic Left, the spirituality of anarchist intentional communities, and the many literary and artistic figures (including such notable examples as poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist Ursula LeGuin) who have had important insights relating to anarchism, spirituality and nature. However, from the examples discussed, it should be clear that anarchist thought and practice have encompassed a wide diversity of approaches to religion, spirituality, and nature. This multiplicity and divergence continues today. Many contemporary anarchists (especially in Europe and in organizations in the anarcho-syndicalist and anarcho-communist traditions) carry on the atheist, anti-religious, anti-clerical outlook of the classical anarchist movement. Others, including many of the young people who have been drawn to contemporary anarchism through direct action movements, have neither great interest in nor particular antipathy to religion and spirituality. However, an increasing number of political and cultural anarchists are developing an interest in spirituality, and many others have been drawn to anarchist political movements and social tendencies through an initial interest in anarchistic spirituality. Consequently, spirituality, and more particularly the nature-affirming spiritualities of Daoism, Buddhism, neo-Paganism, indigenous traditions, and various radical undercurrents within Western religion, play a significant role in anarchism today and can be expected to do so in the future.
Bakunin, Michael. God and the State. New York: Dover, 1970.
Blake, William. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. David V. Erdman, ed. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Chuang Tzu. Inner Chapters. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.
Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990 (1961).
Clark, John and Camille Martin. Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: The Radical Social Thought of Elisιe Reclus. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004.
Gandhi, Mohandas. The Essential Gandhi. Louis Fischer, ed. New York: Random House, 1963. Landauer, Gustav. For Socialism. St. Louis: Telos Press, 1978. Lao Tzu, The Lao Tzu (Tao te Ching). In Wing-Tsit Chan, ed. A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963, 13976.
Lau, D.C. Introduction to Tao te Ching. Harmondsworth, UK and New York: Penguin Books, 1963, 752.
Lin-Chi. The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1993.
Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: HarperCollins, 1992.
Ostergaard, Geoffrey and Melville Currell. The Gentle Anarchists: A Study of the Leaders of the Sarvodaya Movement For Non-Violent Revolution in India. Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1973.
Perlman, Fredy. Against His-story, Against Leviathan. Detroit: Black & Red, 1983.
Purchase, Graham. Evolution and Revolution: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of Peter Kropotkin. Petersham, Australia: Jura Books, 1996.
Snyder, Gary. The Real Work: Interviews & Talks 1964 1979. New York: New Dimensions, 1980.
Starhawk. Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.
Vaneigem, Raoul. The Movement of the Free Spirit: General Considerations and Firsthand Testimony Concerning Some Brief Flowerings of Life in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and, Incidentally, Our Own Time. New York: Zone Books, 1994.
Watson, David. Against the Megamachine: Essays on Empire & Its Enemies. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1998.
See also: Bioregionalism; Bioregionalism and the North American Bioregional Congress; Blake, William; Buddhism; Daoism; Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front; Ellul, Jacques; Gandhi, Mohandas; Griffin, Susan; Kropotkin, Peter; Left Biocentrism; Le Guin, Ursula; Radical Environmentalism; Reclus, Elisιe; Snyder, Gary -- and the Invention of Bioregional Spirituality and Politics; Social Ecology; Starhawk; Thoreau, Henry David.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Creating Common Wealth and Cracking Capitalism: A cross-reading by John Holloway's, Michael Hardt / Tony Negri's books
In the first of a two part correspondence, John Holloway and Michael Hardt discuss some common themes that have emerged from their most recent books "Crack Capitalism" and "CommonWealth" and touch of the topics of organisation, democracy and institutionalism. The second part of the exchange will be published in Issue 15 of Shift magazine. July 2010
One of the things I love about ‘Crack Capitalism’, which it shares with ‘Change the World Without Taking Power’, is that its argument traces the genealogy of revolt. In other words, you start with the indignation, rage, and anger that people feel but you don’t stop there. Your argument leads revolt toward both creative practice and theoretical investigation.
On the one hand, although refusal is essential, perhaps even primary in your argument, especially the break with or exodus from capitalist social forms, every destructive force has to be accompanied by a creative one, every effort to tear down the world around us has to be aimed also toward the creation of a new one. Moreover these two processes, the destructive and the constructive, are not separable but completely embedded or entwined with each other. That is why, as you say, it makes no sense to defer creating a new society until after the complete collapse or demolition of capitalist society. Instead we must struggle now to create a new society in the shell of the old or, rather, in its cracks, its interstices.
On the other hand, you demonstrate how revolt must lead not only to practical but also to theoretical innovation. Although your book starts with an affective state and instances of practical resistance, the central argument involves a conceptual investigation, most importantly, it seems to me, about the role and potential of our productive capacities in capitalist society. I don’t mean to pose a separation here between practice and theory. In fact, your argument requires that they too are completely embedded or entwined. In order to change the world we need not only to act differently but also to think differently, which requires that we work on concepts and sometimes invent new concepts.
The core argument of the book, which distinguishes doing from labor and identifies abstraction as a primary power of capitalist domination, seems to me profoundly Marxist. It might seem paradoxical to say that because you carefully contrast your argument to orthodox Marxist traditions, situating your point instead in relation to Marx’s own writings, sometimes elucidating what he actually says and demonstrating how it goes against the orthodox Marxist tradition and at other times going beyond Marx. Although your argument stands indeed against the orthodox Marxist tradition, reading Marx against Marxism in this way and going beyond Marx puts you solidly in line (or, perhaps better, in dialogue) with a strong current of what was once called heterodox Marxist traditions that have been active since the 1960s. This is clearly apparent, for instance, in the claim, central to your argument in this book, that the course of our project for freedom lies not in the liberation of work, as is championed by Marxist orthodoxies and Soviet ideology, but the liberation from work. I see this as an essential slogan or principle of this heterodox tradition.
One thing that occurs to me is that whereas in the 1970s orthodox Marxism was indeed dominant, bolstered by the ideologues of various official communist parties, today that line of interpretation is virtually completely discredited. Instead Marxist theory today is primary characterized, in my view, by what used to be the heterodox line, which you helped develop together with your colleagues in the Conference of Socialist Economists and in collaboration with similar tendencies in Italy, Germany, and France. That’s a good thing and makes Marxist theory today more interesting and relevant.
I don’t mean by this to rein you back in within Marxism. Like you, I care little about whether my work is called Marxist or not. I often find that Marxists accuse me of being not Marxist enough and non-Marxists fault me for being too Marxist. None of that matters to me. What is important, though, is how useful I find it to read Marx’s work and it strikes me how useful it is for you too in this book.
One profound and important resonance your argument in this book shares with Marx’s writings resides in the identification of labor (or human productive capacity) as the site of both our exploitation and our power. You designate this duality by distinguishing labor (which you identify as production within a regime of capitalist abstraction) from doing (which strikes me as very similar to Marx’s notion of ‘living labor’). On the one hand, capital needs our productive capacities and could not exist and reproduce without them. Capital, in other words, does not just oppress or dominate us but exploits us, meaning that it must constantly seek to domesticate and command our productive powers within the limited frame of its social system. In your argument this is accomplished primarily by processes of abstraction. On the other hand, our productive capacities always exceed and are potentially autonomous from capital. That dissymmetry is crucial: whereas capital cannot survive without our labor, our productive capacities can potentially exist and thrive without capitalist organization. Indeed, as you demonstrate, there are always already innumerable instances of our productive autonomy that exist within the cracks or interstices of capitalist society. These are extremely important but not enough. Your project is to create alternative social networks of autonomous productive cooperation that can, as I said earlier, build a society of freedom from within capitalist society.
As I read ‘Crack Capitalism’, then, it seems to me that, whereas ‘Change the World’ adopted and extended the project for the abolition of the state, even its abolition within our own minds and practices, this book works through the project of the refusal of work — with the understanding that every rebellion against the capitalist labor regime is also, necessarily, a development of our own autonomous capacities for doing, that the destruction of the work society is coupled with the creation of a new society based on an alternative notion of production and productivity.
That brings me to a first, initial question. We know that the capitalist labor regime has extraordinarily well developed systems of social organization and cooperation, which function through discipline and control. You analyze these primarily through the lens of abstraction. The mainstream workers movements and, primarily the industrial trade unions, have also developed forms of organization and discipline into a sort of counter-power, but, according to your analysis, this too, like the capitalist regime, is dedicated to the organization of abstract labor. I think I understand this critique and agree with it in large part, with the caveat, as you say, citing the excellent book by Karl Heinz Roth published in the 1970s, that there has always also been an ‘other’ workers movement. My question, then, how can our autonomous productive practices, our doing, be organized and sustained as alternative social forms? I think you would agree that the schemes of cooperation and coordination among our practices of doing are not spontaneous but need to be organized. I would add that we need to create institutions of social cooperation, and you might agree with this too as long as I explain that by institution here I do not mean a bureaucratic structure but rather, as anthropologists use the term, a repeated social practice, a habit, that structures social relations. What institutions do we already have that fulfill this role and what kinds can we develop? And, more specifically, what relation can this have to the syndicalist traditions? The point here, of course, is not to reject entirely the traditional organizations of workers movements but, in some respects, extend and transform them. Here I would want to explore the innovations within contemporary labor organizing that point in the direction of your argument. Can we imagine instead of a traditional labor movement an association or syndicate of doers or, better, a social institution of doing? What would be its mechanisms of social cooperation and structures of organization? I’m not sure you have the answers to these questions, and I don’t pretend to myself, but I think you have some ways of thinking about how we can develop the structures and institutions of a society of doing and that is where I would first like to direct our exchange.
Thank you very much for your comments and for their tone which seems to me just right: a strong sense of shared concern and direction and a desire to move forward through exploring our differences. This reflects very much what I felt while I was reading ‘Commonwealth’: a sense of the very close touching of your preoccupations with mine, a feeling of walking arm in arm, at times too close, at times tugging in different directions, producing a sequence of bumps of admiration, enthusiasm and exasperation.
The question you raise at the end of your letter is exactly right because it hits directly on one of my main concerns while reading ‘Commonwealth’: the issue of institutions, which you and Toni emphasise a lot and which you develop especially in the last part of the book.
Our preoccupation, I think, is the same, but the answer we give is rather different. Our shared concern is: how do we go on after the explosions of rage, the jacqueries as you call them? The argentinazo of almost ten years ago, when the people in the streets of Argentina toppled one president after another to the resounding cry of ‘que se vayan todos’ (out with the lot of them); the alterglobalisation movement and the great anti-summit protests in Seattle, Cancún, Genoa, Gleneagles, Rostock and so on; the explosions of rage in the last year in Greece, France, Italy, Britain, Ireland and now, as I write, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria. Great. We applaud, jump up and down with excitement. But then what? How do we go on? We both agree that rage is not enough, that there must be a positive moment. We both agree that the answer is not to build the party and win the next election or seize control of the state. But, if not that, then what? The answer you offer is ‘Insititutionalise. Create institutions to give duration to the achievements of the surge of revolt’. And I want to say ‘no, no, no, that is not the way to go, that is a dangerous proposal’.
Certainly I do not want to caricature what you are saying, for there is a great deal of care and subtlety in your argument. In your letter you say ‘I would add that we need to create institutions of social cooperation, and you might agree with this too as long as I explain that by institution here I do not mean a bureaucratic structure but rather, as anthropologists use the term, a repeated social practice, a habit, that structures social relations.’ But no, I do not agree with that, even taking into account your broad understanding of institutions.
Why do I not agree? Firstly, because although you argue for an extended understanding of institutionalisation, you open a door in which the distinction between the two meanings will become blurred. The repeated social practice slips easily into a bureaucratic structure and unless you create a very sharp distinction between the two (by using different words, for example), there is a danger that you legitimate this slippage. In the book, the distinction is clear at times, but at times it seems to evaporate, as in the surprising and perplexing suggestion on p.380 that UN agencies might provide a global guaranteed income (the mind boggles). Institutionalisation leads easily into a state-centred politics – how else could you even imagine achieving such a UN guarantee?
Secondly, I disagree because institutionalisation always means projecting the present on the future. Even in the soft sense of a repeated social practice, it creates an expectation that the young should behave as their parents (or older sisters and brothers) did. But no, they should not. ‘That’s not the way to do it, this is what you should do’, said the veterans of 1968 to the students in the great UNAM strike in 2000, but fortunately (or not) the students paid no attention. Institutionalisation is always a consecration of tradition, is it not? And what did Toni write years ago about tradition being the enemy of class struggle? I don’t remember exactly what or where, but I do remember thinking it was wonderful.
Thirdly, institutionalisation does not work, or not in the way that it is intended to. There is a flow of struggle, a social flow of rebellion (as my friend Sergio Tischler puts it) that cannot be controlled and that repeatedly sweeps aside institutions devised to channel it in a certain direction. My feeling is that you give too much weight to institutions in your understanding of society. Can love be institutionalised? I agree completely with your daring understanding of the revolutionary force of love, but then you must ask, can love be institutionalised? Surely not. Even if we say that we are not talking of a contract of marriage, but simply “a repeated social practice, a habit”, then probably the experience of all of us is that love constantly clashes with habit. Love may well survive in a context of repeated social practice, but only if it moves constantly in-against-and-beyond it.
Think of the World Social Forum, the prime institution to have emerged from the alterglobalisation movement. I am not particularly opposed to it and I think it can provide a useful and enjoyable meeting place, but, contrary to the intentions of most participants, it tends to promote a bureaucratization of the movement and it certainly is not the key to revolution.
Institutionalisation (broad or narrow) means trying to set life on railway tracks or highways, whereas rebellion is the constant attempt to break from that, to invent new ways of doing things. The proposal to create institutions, as I see it, says that the old roads to revolution no longer work and we must create new roads for those who follow us to walk along. But surely not: revolution is always a process of making our own paths. ‘Se hace el camino al andar’ (we make the road by walking - eds’ translation) is an integral part of the revolutionary process. I see the very idea of institutionalisation as an aspect of the organisation of human activity as abstract labour, just what we are fighting against.
‘Too easy’, you may say and of course you would be right. Does there not have to be some form of social organization? Certainly, but our forms of organisation, the forms of organisation that point towards a different society, cannot be thought of as being fixed. We have ideas and principles and experiences and directions that are more or less common to the movements against capitalism, but given that we ourselves, our practices and ideas are so marked by the society we are struggling against, the forms of organisation can only be experimental, a process of moving by trial and error and reflection.
But does there not have to be a coming together of the cracks? Yes, and I think this is an issue that is not sufficiently explored in my book. I would like to develop further at some point the question of the confluence of the cracks, both in terms of the inspirational lighting of prairie fires and the practical organisation of cooperation. But two things. I feel that institutional thinking is probably an obstacle to seeing the practice and potential of such confluence. And secondly it is important to think of the confluence as an always experimental moving from the particular, not a charting of the future that moves from the totality, as I think is the tendency in your book. We are in the cracks and pushing from there. Our problem is to break and move beyond, not to erect an alternative system of governance. We can try to follow the practices of existing movements, criticise them and see how the confluence is or is not being achieved, but we cannot establish a model for the future.
Dignity is a fleet-footed dance, I suggest in the book. But the doubt that arises is that perhaps we are not capable of such agility. Perhaps we are capable only of moving more slowly. Maybe we need institutions as crutches, so that we can consolidate each step we make. Conceivably so, but even then learning to walk is a throwing away of the crutches. We betray ourselves if we do not couple subversion with institutionalisation. If we must institutionalise, then we should subvert our own institutions in the same breath. This is akin to the question of identification. In ‘Change the World’, I accept that it may sometimes be important to affirm our identity, but only if we subvert it or go beyond it in the same breath, and what you and Toni say in your discussion of identity is similar. Institutionalise-and-subvert, then, is a formulation that I would find more attractive, but even then I do not like it. Institutionalisation may be inevitable at times, but in the tension between institutionalisation and subversion we have already taken sides. Thought is subversion. To think is to move beyond, as Ernst Bloch says – Ernst Bloch, whom you cite several times in the book, but whom Toni elsewhere unforgivably, unforgivenly characterises as a bourgeois philosopher (Antonio Negri, ‘Time for Revolution’, 2003, p. 109).
Publication, of course, is a form of institutionalisation and I do participate actively in this. In publishing my arguments, I give them a fixity. But perhaps this interchange of letters is an attempt by both of us to subvert that institutionality: the purpose is not to defend positions taken but to provoke each other to move beyond what we have already written.
And then an unavoidable theme if we are talking of institutions: what can I say of the title of your last chapter – ‘Governing the Revolution’? A horrifying oxymoron? A fiercely audacious provocation? Or is it a serious suggestion? To the extent that it seems to be a serious suggestion, it certainly provokes and horrifies me. What upsets me is that the phrase suggests a separation between governing and revolution whereas for me revolution is the abolition of this separation. Governing the revolution immediately makes me ask who, who is going to govern it? Just as your statement on p.377 that ‘humans are trainable’ also scares me, for who is to do the training? Who would govern your revolution, who would train the humans? If you say we are talking of self-governance, then fine, but why not talk then of the organisational forms of self-determination, understanding that self-determination means a process of self-education, self-transformation? But if we rephrase the question like that, then we immediately have to say that the organisational forms of self-determination are self-determining and therefore cannot be institutionalised.
Let me open a second front of concern. Democracy. You centre the discussion of revolution on the struggle for democracy. The abolition of capitalism takes a back seat, as it were, and that confuses me. You formulate the argument in chapter 5.3 in terms of a programme to save capital and then say that it is not that you are abandoning the idea of revolution, but just working with a different notion of transition. I am not clear what you mean by this different notion of transition. It sounds almost like a programme of transitional demands, a concept of achieving anti-capitalist revolution by fighting for a democracy that we know (but do not say openly) is incompatible with capitalism. The danger is that the more you talk about democracy and the less about capitalism, the more the whole question of revolution fades into the background. It seems to me much simpler to start the other way around, by saying: capitalism is a catastrophe, how do we get rid of it?
This letter is unreasonably long. Your fault, of course, for writing such a stimulating book. I look forward to your replies.
John Holloway is a Professor in the Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades of the Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla in Mexico.
Michael Hardt is professor of Literature at Duke University in the USA and has published several books, including ‘Empire’ and ‘Commonwealth’, with Antonio Negri.
source: Shift magazine # 14 http://shiftmag.co.uk/?p=596