Thursday, November 26, 2015
We tend to perceive our identities as stable and largely separate from outside forces. But over decades of research and therapeutic practice, I have become convinced that economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatisation have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative. If you’re reading this sceptically, I put this simple statement to you: meritocratic neoliberalism favours certain personality traits and penalises others.
There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.
It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can – you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour.
On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behaviour, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare, the best-known specialist on psychopathy today.
This description is, of course, a caricature taken to extremes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people. Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organisation.
Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak – in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other.
Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers”. Adults display childish outbursts of temper and are jealous about trivialities (“She got a new office chair and I didn’t”), tell white lies, resort to deceit, delight in the downfall of others and cherish petty feelings of revenge. This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults.
More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other, as thinkers from Hegel to Lacan have shown. Sennett comes to a similar conclusion when he sees the main question for employees these days as being “Who needs me?” For a growing group of people, the answer is: no one.
Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system.
A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the fairytale of unrestricted choice, self-government and self-management are the pre-eminent political messages, especially if they appear to promise freedom. Along with the idea of the perfectible individual, the freedom we perceive ourselves as having in the west is the greatest untruth of this day and age.
The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman neatly summarised the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticise religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like. We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance – freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping.
Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves. You don’t need to look far for examples. A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy – unless those other things ensure success. A young woman who wants to become a primary school teacher is told by her parents that she should start off by getting a master’s degree in economics – a primary school teacher, whatever can she be thinking of?
There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.
Monday, September 7, 2015
In May this year, Corporate Watch researchers travelled to Turkey and Kurdistan to investigate the companies supplying military equipment to the Turkish police and army. We talked to a range of groups from a variety of different movements and campaigns
Below is the transcript of our interview with three members of the anarchist group Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF, or Revolutionary Anarchist Action) in Istanbul during May 2015. DAF are involved in solidarity with the Kurdish struggle, the Rojava revolution and against ISIS' attack on Kobane, and have taken action against Turkish state repression and corporate abuse. They are attempting to establish alternatives to the current system through self-organisation, mutual aid and co-operatives.
The interview was carried out in the run-up to the Turkish elections, and touches on the election campaign by the HDP, the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party. Soon after the interview took place, the HDP passed the threshold of 10% of the total vote needed to enter the Turkish parliament.
The DAF members – who all preferred to remain anonymous – began the interview by talking about the history of anarchism in the region:
DAF: We want to underline the relationship between the freedom struggle at the end of Ottoman times and the freedom struggles of Kurdistan.
In Ottoman times anarchists organised workers' struggle in the main cities: Saloniki, Izmir, Istanbul and Cairo. For example [the Italian anarchist, Errico] Malatesta was involved in organizing industrial workers in Cairo. The freedom struggles of Armenia, Bulgaria and Greece had connections with anarchist groups. Alexander Atabekian, an important person in the Armenian freedom struggle, was an anarchist, translating leaflets into Armenian and distributing them. He was a friend of [the Russian anarchist, Peter] Kropotkin and distributed Kropotkin’s anarchist leaflets.
We are talking about this as we want to underline the importance of freedom struggles and to compare this to the importance of support for the Kurdish struggle.
Corporate Watch: What happened to anarchists after the Ottoman period?
DAF: Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of the 19th century, Sultan Abdul Hamid II repressed the actions of anarchists in Turkey. He knew what anarchists were and took a special interest in them. He killed or deported anarchists and set up a special intelligence agency for this purpose.
Anarchists responded by carrying out attacks on the Yildiz Sarayi palace and with explosions at the Ottoman bank in Saloniki.
The government of the Ottoman Empire didn’t end at the Turkish republic. The fez has gone since but the system is still the same.
At the beginning of the [Kemalist] Turkish state [in 1923] many anarchists and other radicals were forced to emigrate or were killed. The CHP, Mustafa Kemal's party, didn’t allow any opposition and there were massacres of Kurds.
From 1923 to 1980 there was not a big anarchist movement in Turkey due to the popularity of the socialist movements and the repression of the state.
The wave of revolutions from the 1960s to the '80s affected these lands too. These were the active years of the social movements. During this period, there were revolutionary anti-imperialist movements caused by the Vietnam war, youth organizations, occupations of universities and increasing struggle of workers. These movements were Marxist-Leninist or Maoist, there were no anarchist movements.
In 1970 there was a long workers' struggle. Millions of workers walked over a hundred kilometres from Kocaeli to Istanbul. Factories were closed and all the workers were on the streets.
CW: Was there any awareness of anarchism in Turkey at all at this time?
DAF: During these years many books were translated into Turkish from European radicalism but only five books about anarchism were translated, three of which were talking about anarchism in order to criticize it.
But in Ottoman times there had been many articles on anarchism in the newspapers. For example, one of the three editors of the İştirak newspaper was an anarchist. The paper published [Russian anarchist, Mikhail] Bakunin’s essays as well as articles on anarcho-syndicalism.
The first anarchist magazine was published in 1989. After this many magazines were published focusing on anarchism from different perspectives; for example, post structuralism, ecology, etc.
The common theme was that they were written for a small intellectual audience. The language of these magazines was too far away from the people. Most of those involved were connected with the universities or academia. Or they were ex-socialists affected by the fall of the Soviet Union, which was a big disappointment for many socialists. That’s why they began to call themselves anarchists, but we don’t think that this is a good way to approach anarchism, as a critique of socialism.
Between 2000 to 2005 people came together to talk about anarchism in Istanbul and began to ask: “how can we fight?”. At this time we guess that there were 50-100 anarchists living in Turkey and outside.
CW: Can you explain how DAF organises now?
DAF: Now we get 500 anarchists turning up for Mayday in Istanbul. We are in touch with anarchists in Antalya, Eskişehir, Amed, Ankara and İzmir. Meydan [DAF's newspaper] goes to between 15 and 20 cities. We have a newspaper bureau in Amed, distributing newspapers all over Kurdistan. Until now, it is in Turkish but maybe one day, if we can afford it, we will publish it in Kurdish. We send Meydan to prisons too. We have a comrade in İzmir in prison and we send copies to over 15 prisoners.
A few months ago there was a ban on radical publications in prisons. We participated in demos outside prisons and we managed to make pressure about this and now newspapers are allowed to go into prisons again.
The main issue for DAF is to organise anarchism within society. We try to socialize anarchism with struggle on the streets. This is what we give importance to. For nearly nine years we have been doing this.
On an ideological level we have a holistic perspective. We don’t have a hierarchical perspective on struggles. We think workers' struggle is important but not more important than the Kurdish struggle or women’s struggles or ecological struggles.
Capitalism tries to divide these struggles. If the enemy is attacking us in a holistic way we have to approach it in a holistic way.
Anarchy has a bad meaning for most people in society. It has a link with terrorism and bombs. We want to legitimize anarchism by linking it to making arguments for struggles against companies and for ecology. Sometimes we try to focus on the links between the state, companies and ecological damages, like the thing that Corporate Watch does.
We like to present anarchy as an organised struggle. We have shown people on the streets the organised approach to anarchism.
From 1989 to 2000 anarchism was about image. About wearing black, piercings and Mohicans. This is what people saw. After 2000, people started to see anarchists who were part of women’s struggles and workers' struggles.
We are not taking anarchism from Europe as an imitation. Other anarchists have approached anarchism as an imitation of US or European anarchism or as an underground culture. If we want to make anarchist a social movement, it must change.
DAF’s collectives are Anarchist Youth, Anarchist Women, 26A cafe, Patika ecological collective and high school anarchist action (LAF). These self-organisations work together but have their own decision-making processes.
Anarchist Youth makes connections between young workers and university students and their struggles. Anarchist Women focuses on patriarchy and violence to women. For example, a woman was murdered by a man and set on fire last February. On 25 November there were big protests against violence against women.
LAF criticises education and schooling in itself and tries to socialize this way of thinking in high schools. LAF also looks at ecological and feminist issues, including when young women are murdered by their husbands.
PATIKA ecological collective protests against hydro electric dams in the Black Sea region or Hasankey [where the Ilisu dam is being built]. Sometimes there is fighting to prevent these plants from being built.
26A Café is a self organization focusing on anti-capitalist economy. Cafes were opened in 2009 in Taksim and 2011 in Kadıköy [both in Istanbul]. The cafes are run by volunteers. They are aimed at creating an economic model in the place where oppressed people are living. It’s important to show people concrete examples of an anarchist economy, without bosses or capitalist aims. We talk to people about why we don’t sell the big capitalist brands like Coca Cola. Of course the products we sell have a relation to capitalism but things like Coke are symbols of capitalism. We want to progress away from not-consuming and move towards alternative economies and ways of producing.
Another self organisation, PAY-DA - 'Sharing and solidarity' - has a building in Kadıköy, which is used for meetings and producing the Meydan newspaper. PAY-DA gives meals to people three times a day. It’s open to anarchists and comrades. The aim of PAY-DA is to become a cooperative, open to everybody. We try to create a bond which also involves the producers in the villages. We aim to have links with these producers and show them another economic model. We try to evolve these economic relations away from money relations. The producers are suffering from the capitalist economy. We are in the first steps of this cooperative and we are looking for producers to work with.
All of these projects are related to DAF's ideology. This model has a connection with Malatesta’s binary model of organization.
These are anarchist organizations but sometimes people who aren't anarchists join these struggles because they know ecological or women's struggles, and then at the end they will learn about anarchism. It’s an evolving process.
As DAF we are trying to organise our lives. This is the only way that we can touch the people who are oppressed by capitalism.
There is also the Conscientious Objectors' Association, which is organised with other groups, not just anarchists. Our involvement in this has a relation with our perspective on Kurdistan. We organize anti-militarist action in Turkey outside of military bases on 15 May, conscientious objector's day. In Turkey the military is related to state culture. If you don’t do your military duty, you won’t find a job and it's difficult to find someone to marry because they ask if you’ve been to the army. If you have been to the army, you’re a 'man'. People see the state as the 'Fatherland'. On your CV they ask whether you did military service. 'Every Turk is born a soldier' is a popular slogan in Turkey.
CW: Is Kemalism [the ideology associated with Mustafa Kemal] as strong a force as it used to be?
DAF: Kemalism is still a force in schools but the AKP has changed this somewhat. The AKP has a new approach to nationalism focused on the Ottoman Empire. It emphasises Turkey's 'Ottoman roots'. But Erdoğan still says that we are 'one nation, one state, one flag and one religion.'. There is still talk about Mustafa Kemal but not as much as before. Now you cannot criticize Erdoğan or Atatürk [the name used for Kemal by Turkish nationalists]. It’s the law not to criticize Atatürk and the unwritten rule not to criticize Erdoğan. The media follows these rules.
CW: Can you talk about your perspective on the Kurdish freedom struggle?
Kurdish freedom struggles didn’t start with Rojava. Kurdish people have had struggles for hundreds of years against the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish state.
Since the start of DAF we have seen Kurdistan as important for propaganda and education.
Our perspective relates to people’s freedom struggles. The idea that people can create federations without nations, states and empires. The Turkish state says the issue is a Kurdish problem, but for us it is not a Kurdish problem, it’s an issue of Turkish policies of assimilation. It’s obvious that since the first years of the Turkish republic the assimilation of Kurdish people has not stopped. We can see this from the last Roboski massacre [of 34 Kurdish cross-border traders by Turkish F16s on 28 December 2011] by the state during the 'peace process'. We can see this in the denial of Kurdish identity or the repeated massacres. Making people assimilate to be a Turk and making the propaganda of nationalism.
The AKP [the ruling Justice and Development Party] say they have opened Kurdish TV channels, allowed Kurdish language and that we are all brothers and sisters, but on the other hand we had the Roboski massacre which occurred during their government. In 2006 there was government pressure on Erdoğan at a high level. Erdoğan said that women and children would be punished who go against Turkish policies. Over 30 children were murdered by police and army.
The words change but the political agenda continues, just under a new government. We do not call ourselves Turkish. We come from many ethnic origins and Kurdish is one of them. Our involvement in conscientious objection is part of this perspective. We want to talk to people to prevent people from going to the army to kill their brothers and sisters.
After the 2000s there has been an ideological change in the Kurdish freedom struggle. The Kurdish organizations no longer call themselves Marxist-Leninist and Öcalan has written a lot about democratic confederalism. This is important, but our relation to Kurdish people is on the streets.
CW: Can you talk about DAF's work in solidarity with people in Rojava?
In July 2012 at the start of the Rojava revolution, people began saying that it was a stateless movement. We have been in solidarity from the first day of the revolution. Three cantons have declared their revolution in a stateless way. We try to observe and get more information. This is not an anarchist revolution but it is a social revolution declared by the people themselves.
Rojava is a third front for Syria against Assad, ISIS and other Islamic groups. But these are not the only groups that the revolution is faced with. The Turkish republic is giving support for ISIS from its borders. The national intelligence agency of the Turkish republic appears to be giving weapons to ISIS and other Islamic groups. Kurdish people declared the revolution under these circumstances.
After the ISIS attack on Kobane began [in 2014] we went to Suruç. We waited at the border as Turkish forces were attacking people crossing. When people wanted to cross the border to or from Kobane they were shot. We stayed there to provide protection.
In October, people gathered near Suruç, and broke through the border. Turkish tanks shot gas over the border at them.
From 6 to 8 October there were Kobane solidarity demonstrations across Turkey. Kader Ortakya, a Turkish socialist supporter of Kobane, was shot dead trying to cross the border.
We helped people. Some people crossed the border from Kobane and had no shelter. We prepared tents, food and clothes for them. Sometimes soldiers came to the villages with tear gas and water cannons and we had to move. Some people came through the border searching for their families and we helped them. Other people came, wanting to cross the border and fight and we helped them. We wore clothing that said we were from DAF on it.
The YPG and YPJ ['People's Protection Units' of Rojava, the YPJ is a women's militia] pushed ISIS back day by day. Mıştenur hill was very important for Kobane. After the hill was taken by the YPG and YPJ some people wanted to return to Kobane. When they went back their houses had been destroyed by ISIS. Some houses were mined and some people have been killed by the mines. The mines need to be cleared, but by who and how? People need new houses and help. We have had conferences and talked about how to help Kobane. There was a conference two weeks ago in Amed.
CW: What is your position on the elections?
DAF: We do not believe in parliamentary democracy. We believe in direct democracy. We do not support the HDP in the election, but we have links in solidarity with them on the streets.
Emma Goldman said that if elections changed anything they would be illegal. There are good people in the HDP who say good things, but we think that the government can’t be good because the election system isn’t equal.
In Rojava they do not call it an anarchist revolution, but theres no government, no state and no hierarchy, so we believe in it and have solidarity with it.
Can you tell us about the bombing in Suruç [we asked this final question by email weeks after the original interview
Over 30 young people who wanted to take part in reconstruction of Kobane were killed by an ISIS attack. This attack was clearly organised by the Turkish State. They did not even do anything to stop it although they got the information of the attack one mounth before. Moreover, after the explosion the Turkish State has attacked Rojava and made operations against political organisations in Turkey. Now there are many operations and political pressures on anarchists and socialists and Kurdish organisations. They are using the explosion as a reason to make this political repression on both the domestic and international levels.
We have lost our 33 comrades, friends who struggled for the Rojava Revolution against the state's repression, denial and politics of massacre. There are people who are killed by state, ISIS and other powers. But our resistance won't stop, our struggle will continue, as always in history.
Two interviews—one offering general background on the struggle in Kobanê, the other delving into analytical detail about the geopolitical implications.
Resources on the Rojava Revolution—A broad selection of coverage and reference material
An Interview with Revolutionary Anarchist Action (DAF) on Kobanê: “We are Kawa against Dehaks”—Another interview with the DAF
DAF Facebook page
Revolution Will Win in Kobanê!—a DAF report from Boydê Village on the Syrian border during the first month of the struggle in Kobanê
Rojava’s Communes and Councils—An overview of how the structures of direct democracy function in revolutionary Rojava
The Experiment of West Kurdistan Has Proved that People Can Make Changes—A report by a member of the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum who spent two weeks in Syrian Kurdistan
Bookchin, Öcalan, and the Dialectics of Democracy—On the relationship between the former anarchist Murray Bookchin and Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK
The Kurdish Question: Through the lens of Anarchist Resistance in the Heart of the Ottoman Empire 1880–1923—A deep background on anarchism in the region
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
It feels increasingly difficult to tell the difference between—on one hand—being old, sick, and defeated, and—on the other hand—living in a time-&-place that is itself senile, tired, and defeated. Sometimes I think it’s just me—but then I find that some younger, healthier people seem to be undergoing similar sensations of ennui, despair, and impotent anger. Maybe it’s not just me.
A friend of mine attributed the turn to disillusion with “everything”, including old-fashioned radical/activist positions, to disappointment over the present political regime in the US, which was somehow expected to usher in a turn away from the reactionary decades since the 1980s, or even a “progress” toward some sort of democratic socialism. Although I myself didn’t share this optimism (I always assume that anyone who even wants to be President of the US must be a psychopathic murderer) I can see that “youth” suffered a powerful disillusionment at the utter failure of Liberalism to turn the tide against Capitalism Triumphalism. The disillusion gave rise to OCCUPY and the failure of OCCUPY led to a move toward sheer negation.
However I think this merely political analysis of the “new nothing” may be too two-dimensional to do justice to the extent to which all hope of “change” has died under Kognitive Kapital and the technopathocracy. Despite my remnant hippy flower- power sentiments I too feel this “terminal” condition (as Nietzsche called it), which I express by saying, only half- jokingly, that we have at last reached the Future, and that the truly horrible truth of the End of the World is that it doesn’t end.
One big J.G. Ballard/Philip K. Dick shopping mall from now till eternity, basically.
This IS the future—how do you like it so far? Life in the Ruins: not so bad for the bourgeoisie, the loyal servants of the One Percent. Air-conditioned ruins! No Ragnarok, no Rapture, no dramatic closure: just an endless re-run of reality TV cop shows. 2012 has come and gone, and we’re still in debt to some faceless bank, still chained to our screens.
Most people—in order to live at all—seem to need around themselves a penumbra of “illusion” (to quote Nietzsche again):— that the world is just rolling along as usual, some good days some bad, but in essence no different now than in 10000 BC or 1492 AD or next year. Some even need to believe in Progress, that the Future will solve all our problems, and even that life is much better for us now than for (say) people in the 5th century AD. We live longer thanx to Modern Science—of course our extra years are largely spent as “medical objects”—sick and worn out but kept ticking by Machines & Pills that spin huge profits for a few megacorporations & insurance companies. Nation of Struldbugs.
True, we’re suffocating in the mire generated by our rule of sick machines under the Numisphere of Money. At least ten times as much money now exists than it would take to buy the whole world—and yet species are vanishing space itself is vanishing, icecaps melting, air and water grown toxic, culture grown toxic, landscape sacrificed to fracking and megamalls, noise-fascism, etc, etc. But Science will cure all that ills that Science has created—in the Future (in the “long run”, when we’re all dead, as Lord Keynes put it); so meanwhile we’ll carry on consuming the world and shitting it out as waste—because it’s convenient & efficient & profitable to do so, and because we like it.
Well, this is all a bunch of whiney left-liberal cliches, no? Heard it before a million times. Yawn. How boring, how infantile, how useless. Even if it were all true... what can we do about it? If our Anointed Leaders can’t or won’t stop it, who will? God? Satan? The “People”?”
All the fashionable “solutions” to the “crisis”, from electronic democracy to revolutionary violence, from locavorism to solar- powered dingbats, from financial market regulation to the General Strike—all of them, however ridiculous or sublime, depend on one preliminary radical change—a seismic shift in human consciousness. Without such a change all the hope of reform is futile. And if such a change were somehow to occur, no “reform” would be necessary. The world would simply change. The whales would be saved. War no more. And so on.
What force could (even in theory) bring about such a shift? Religion? In 6,000 years of organized religion matters have only gotten worse. Psychedelic drugs in the reservoirs? The Mayan calendar? Nostalgia? Terror?
If catastrophic disaster is now inevitable, perhaps the “Survival- ist” scenario will ensue, and a few brave millions will create a green utopia in the smoking waste. But won’t Capitalism find a way to profit even from the End of the World? Some would claim that it’s doing so already. The true catastrophe may be the final apotheosis of commodity fetishism.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this paradise of power tools and back-up alarms is all we’ve got & all we’re going to get. Capitalism can deal with global warming—it can sell water- wings and disaster insurance. So it’s all over, let’s say—but we’ve still got television & Twitter. Childhood’s End—i.e. the child as ultimate consumer, eager for the brand. Terrorism or home shopping network—take yr pick (democracy means choice).
Since the death of the Historical Movement of the Social in 1989 (last gasp of the hideous “short” XXth century that started in 1914) the only “alternative” to Capitalist Neo-Liberal totalitarianism that seems to have emerged is religious neo-fascism. I understand why someone would want to be a violent fundamentalist bigot—I even sympathize—but just because I feel sorry for lepers doesn’t mean I want to be one.
When I attempt to retain some shreds of my former antipessimism I fantasize that History may not be over, that some sort ofPopulist Green Social Democracy might yet emerge to challenge the obscene smugness of“Money Interests”—something along the lines of 1970s Scandinavian monarcho-socialism—which in retrospect now looks the most humane form of the State ever to have emerged from the putrid suck-hole of Civilization. (Think of Amsterdam in its hey-day.) Of course as an anarchist I’d still have to oppose it—but at least I’d have the luxury of believing that, in such a situation, anarchy might actually stand some chance of success. Even if such a movement were to emerge, however, we can rest damn-well assured it won’t happen in the USA. Or anywhere in the ghost-realm of dead Marxism, either. Maybe Scotland!
It would seem quite pointless to wait around for such a rebirth of the Social. Years ago many radicals gave up all hope of The Revolution, and the few who still adhere to it remind me of religious fanatics. It might be soothing to lapse into such doctrinaire revolutionism, just as it might be soothing to sink into mystical religion—but for me at least both options have lost their savor. Again, I sympathize with those true believers (although not so much when they lapse into authoritarian leftism or fascism)— nevertheless, frankly, I’m too depressed to embrace their Illusions.
If the End-Time scenario sketched above be considered actually true, what alternatives might exist besides suicidal despair? After much thought I’ve come up with three basic strategies.
1) Passive Escapism. Keep your head down, don’t make waves. Capitalism permits all sorts of “life-styles” (I hate that word)—just pick one & try to enjoy it. You’re even allowed to live as a dirt farmer without electricity & infernal combustion, like a sort of secular Amish refusnik. Well, maybe not. But at least you could flirt with such a life. “Smoke Pot, Eat Chicken, Drink Tea,” as we used to say in the 60s in the Moorish Church of America, our psychedelic cult. Hope they don’t catch you. Fit yourself into some Permitted Category such as Neo-Hippy or even Anabaptist.
2) Active Escapism. In this scenario you attempt to create the optimal conditions for the emergence of Autonomous Zones, whether temprorary, periodic or even (semi)permanent. In 1984 when I first coined the term Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ)
I envisioned it as a complent to The Revolution—although I was already, to be truthful, tired of waiting for a moment that seemed to have failed in 1968. The TAZ would give a taste or premonition of real liberties: in effect you would attempt to live as if the Revolution had already occurred, so as not to die without ever having experienced “free freedom” (as Rimbaud called it, liberte libre). Create your own pirate utopia.
Of course the TAZ can be as brief & simple as a really good dinner party, but the true autonomist will want to maximize the potential for longer & deeper experiences of authentic lived life. Almost inevitably this will involve crime, so it’s necessary to think like a criminal, not a victim. A “Johnson” as Burroughs used to say—not a “mark”. How else can one live (and live well) without Work. Work, the curse of the thinking class. Wage slavery. If you’re lucky enough to be a successful artist, you can perhaps achieve relative autonomy without breaking any obvious laws (except the laws of good taste, perhaps). Or you could inherit a million. (More than a million would be a curse.) Forget revolutionary morality—the question is, can you afford your taste of freedom? For most of us, crime will be not only a pleasure but a necessity. The old anarcho-Illegalists showed the way: individual expropriation. Getting caught of course spoils the whole thing—but risk is an aspect of self-authenticity.
One scenario I’ve imagined for active Escapism would be to move to a remote rural area along with several hundred other libertarian social- ists—enough to take over the local government (municipal or even county) and elect or control the sheriffs & judges, the parent/teacher association, volunteer fire department and even the water authority. Fund the venture with cultivation of illegal phantastice and carry on a discreet trade. Organize as a “Union of Egoists” for mutual benefit & ecstatic plea- sures—perhaps under the guise of “communes” or even monasteries, who cares. Enjoy it as long as it lasts.
I know for a fact that this plan is being worked on in several places in America—but of course I’m not going to say where.
Another possible model for individual escapists might be the nomadic adventurer. Given that the whole world seems to be turning into a giant parking lot or social network, I don’t know if this option remains open, but I suspect that it might. The trick would be to travel in places where tourists don’t—if such places still exist—and to involve oneself in fascinating and dangerous situations. For example if I were young and healthy I’d’ve gone to France to take part in the TAZ that grew around resistance to the new airport—or to Greece—or Mexico—wherever the perverse spirit of rebellion crops up. The problem here is of course funding. (Sending back statues stuffed with hash is no longer a good idea.) How to pay for yr life of adventure? Love will find a way. It doesn’t matter so much if one agrees with the ideals of Tahrir Square or Zucotti Park—the point is just to be there.
3. Revenge. I call it Zarathustra’s Revenge because as Nietzsche said, revenge may be second rate but it’s not nothing. One might enjoy the satisfaction of terrifying the bastards for at least a few moments. Formerly I advocated “Poetic Terrorism” rather than actual violence, the idea being that art could be wielded as a weapon. Now I’ve rather come to doubt it. But perhaps weapons might be wielded as art. From the sledgehammer of the Luddites to the black bomb of the attentat, destruction could serve as a form of creativity, for its own sake, or for purely aesthetic reasons, without any illusions about revolution. Oscar Wilde meets the acte gratuit: a dandyism of despair.
What troubles me about this idea is that it seems impossible to distinguish here between the action of post-leftist anarcho-nihil- ists and the action of post-rightist neo-traditionalist reactionaries. For that matter, a bomb may as well be detonated by fundamentalist fanatics—what difference would it make to the victims or the “innocent bystanders”? Blowing up a nanotechnology lab—why shouldn’t this be the act of a desperate monarchist as easily as that of a Nietzschean anarchist?
In a recent book by Tiqqun (Theory of Bloom), it was fascinating to come suddenly across the constellation of Nietzsche, Rene Guenon, Julius Evola, et al. as examples of a sharp and just critique of the Bloom syndrome—i.e., of progress-as-illusion. Of course the “beyond left and right” position has two sides—one approaching from the left, the other from the right. The European New Right (Alain de Benoist & his gang) are big admirers of Guy Debord, for a similar reason (his critique, not his proposals).
The post-left can now appreciate Traditionalism as a reaction against modernity just as the neo-traditionalists can appreciate Situationism. But this doesn’t mean that post-anarchist anarchists are identical with post-fascism fascists!
I’m reminded of the situation in fin-de-siecle France that gave rise to the strange alliance between anarchists and monarchists; for example the Cerce Proudhon. This surreal conjunction came about for two reasons: a) both factions hated liberal democracy, and b) the monarchists had money. The marriage gave birth to weird progeny, such as Georges Sorel. And Mussolini famously began his career as an Individualist anarchist!
Another link between left & right could be analyzed as a kind of existentialism; once again Nietzsche is the founding parent here, I think. On the left there were thinkers like Gide or Camus. On the right, that illuminated villain Baron Julius Evola used to tell his little ultra-right groupus- cules in Rome to attack the Modern World—even though the restoraton of tradition was a hopeless dream—if only as an act of magical self-creation. Being trumps essence. One must cherish no attachment to mere results. Surely Tiqqun’s advocacy of the “perfect Surrealist act” (firing a revolver at random into a crowd of “innocent by-standers”) partakes of this form of action- as-despair. (Incidentally I have to confess that this is the sort of thing that has always—to my regret—prevented my embraing Surrealism: it’s just too cruel. I don’t admire de Sade, either.)
Of course, as we know, the problem with the Traditionalists is that they were never traditional enough. They looked back at a lost civilization as their “goal” (religion, mysticism, monarchism, arts-&-crafts, etc.) whereas they should have realized that the real tradition is the “primordial anarchy” of the Stone Age, tribalism, hunting/gathering, animism—what I call the Neanderthal Liberation Front. Paul Goodman used the term “Neolithic Conservatism” to describe his brand of anarchism—but “Paleolithic Reaction” might be more appropriate!
The other major problem with the Traditionalist Right is that the entire emotional tone of the movement is rooted in self-repression. Here a rough Reichean analysis suffices to demonstrate that the authoritarian body reflects a damaged soul, and that only anarchy is compatible with real self-realization.
The European New Right that arose in the 90s still carries on its propaganda—and these chaps are not just vulgar nationalist chauvenist anti-semitic homophobic thugs—they’re intellectuals & artists. I think they’re evil, but that doesn’t mean I find them boring. Or even wrong on certain points. They also hate the nanotechnologists!
Although I attempted to set off a few bombs back in the 1960s (against the war in Vietnam) I’m glad, on the whole, that they failed to detonate (technology was never my metier). It saves me from wondering if I would’ve experienced “moral qualms”. Instead I chose the path of the propagandist and remained an activist in anarchist media from 1984 to about 2004. I collaborated with the Autonomedia publishing collective, the IWW, the John Henry Mack- ay Society (Left Stirnerites) and the old NYC Libertarian Book Club (founded by comrades of Emma Goldman, some of whom I knew, & who are now all dead). I had a radio show on WBAI (Pacifica) for 18 years. I lectured all over Europe and East Europe in the 90s. I had a very nice time, thank you. But anarchism seems even farther off now than it looked in 1984, or indeed in 1958, when I first became an anarchist by reading George Harriman’s Krazy Kat. Well, being an existentialist means you never have to say you’re sorry.
In the last few years in anarchist circles there’s appeared a trend “back” to Stirner/Nietzsche Individualism—because after all, who can take revolutionary anarcho- communism or syndicalism seriously anymore? Since I’ve adhered to this Individualist position for decades (although tempered by admiration for Charles Fourier and certain “spiritual anarchists” like Gustave Landauer) I naturally find this trend agreeable.
“Green anarchists” & AntiCivilization Neo-primitivists seem (some of them) to be moving toward a new pole of attraction, nihilism. Perhaps neo-nihilism would serve as a better label, since this tendency is not simply replicating the nihilism of the Russian narodniks or the French attentatists of circa 1890 to 1912, however much the new nihilists look to the old ones as precursors. I share their critique—in fact I think I’ve been mirroring it to a large extent in this essay: creative despair, let’s call it. What I do not understand however is their proposal—if any. “What is to be done?” was originally a nihilist slogan, after all, before Lenin appropriated it. I presume that my option #1, passive escape, would not suit the agenda. As for Active Escapism, to use the suffix “ism” implies some form not only of ideology but also some action. What is the logical outcome of this train of thought?
As an animist I experience the world (outside Civilization) as essentially sentient. The death of God means the rebirth of the gods, as Nietzsche implied in his last “mad” letters from Turin— the resurrection of the great god PAN—chaos, Eros, Gaia, & Old Night, as Hesiod put it—Ontological anarchy, Desire, Life itself, & the Darkness of revolt & negation—all seem to me as real as they need to be.
I still adhere to a certain kind of spiritual anarchism—but only as heresy and paganism, not as orthodoxy and monotheism. I have great respect for Dorothy Day—her writing influenced me in the 60s—and Ivan Illich, whom I knew personally—but in the end I cannot deal with the cognitive dissonance between anarchism and the Pope! Nevertheless I can believe in the re-paganaziation of monotheism. I hold to this pagan tradition because I sense the universe as alive, not as “dead matter.” As a life-long psychedelicist I have always thought that matter & spirit are identical, and that this fact alone legitimizes what Theory calls “desire”.
From this p.o.v. the phrase “revolution of everyday life” still seems to have some validity—if only in terms of the second proposal, Active Escapism or the TAZ. As for the third possibility— Zarathustra’s Revenge—this seems like a possible path for the new nihilism, at least from a philosophical perspective. But since I am unable personally to advocate it, I leave the question open.
But here—I think—is the point at which I both meet with & diverge from the new nihilism. I too seem to believe that Predatory Capitalism has won and that no revolution is possible in the classical sense of that term. But somehow I can’t bring myself to be “against everything.” Within the Temporary Autonomous Zone there still seems to persist the possiblity of “authentic life,” if only for a moment— and if this position amounts to mere Escapism, then let us become Houdini. The new surge of interest in Individualism is obviously a response to the Death of the Social. But does the new nihilism imply the death even of the individual and the “union of egoists” or Nietzschean free spirits? On my good days, I like to think not.
No matter which of the three paths one takes (or others I can’t yet imagine) it seems to me that the essential thing is not to collapse into mere apathy. Depression we may have to accept, impotent rage we may have to accept, revolutionary pessimism we may have to accept. But as e.e. cummings (anarchist poet) said, there is some shit we will not take, lest we simply become the enemy by default. Can’t go on, must go on. Cultivate rosebuds, even selfish pleasures, as long as a few birds & flowers still remain. Even love may not be impossible...
SOURCE: The Anvil Review http://theanvilreview.org/
for further inquiry follow the comments here: http://anarchistnews.org/content/new-nihilism and here: http://www.anarchistnews.org/content/new-nihilism-forum-topic-comment-section
a comment at the essay by Emile:
THE FOURTH OPTION NOT MENTIONED BY WILSON
i kind of like this author's [peter lamborn wilson’s] writing style with its nuance of coolness and humour, and have the feeling that it's been on anarchistnews.org before (it was evidently written in july, 2014).
meanwhile, my gut reaction is rejection of this boring and repeated insistence that change in the world is something we are going to see. 'here it comes, folks, ... things are starting to move in the right direction, ... we're on our way now, ... put your shoulder behind it and we'll take it the full hundred yards down to touchdown.
surely this impression that we have to see change happening is our ego talking. how about "life is what happens to us while we're busy making other plans" [john lennon]. what about that sort of change? ... where we're blind-sided by it?
are we not too much the puppet of our own intention? "i want this to happen and it is not happening,... here' comes my childhood-tantrum".
there are quite a few references to nietzsche here, but none to ‘amor fati’, love of fate;
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it. -- Nietzsche, 'Ecce Homo'
it is only a cheap form of anti-authorianism that rejects all imposition of authority except one’s own. “this revolution or transition has to start happening now, damn it, or i am going to have to give up on this world”.
in true anarchist style, nietzsche sees the world in terms of a ceaseless, goal-less Becoming, as in the ‘transforming relational activity continuum of modern physics’;
“And do you know what “the world” is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income …” –Nietzsche, ‘The Will to Power’, 1067
Such a world is not in the state of ‘becoming’ in the sense of working its way towards a goal outside of it, in which case, it’s current state would be deficient relative to that goal, kind of like a sinful world that is in the process of being redeemed.
no doubt, most of us are not keen on even ‘trying on’ this amor fati because we don’t want to ‘get comfortable’ with ‘not caring’ whether anything changes in the way we want to see it change. we don’t want to lose our Atman individuality and dissolve into pure Brahman holeness.
But, maybe its possible to be ‘both at the same time’ so it could be interesting to follow along with Nietzsche and see what he’s up to with the Amor fati thing, per this guided tour by ulfers and cohen;
“Amor fati is the embrace of the world that is as it is—eternally Becoming—not as it “should” be, for there is no “should,” no imperative that it be, or be transformed into, something other than it is. Put differently, Amor fati is the embrace of a world that is an implicate order of freedom and necessity: of freedom in that it is free from any “should” that would judge it to be deficient, and from any goal that “should” be attained, and of necessity because the lack of a goal to be achieved allows the world its “must,” its having to be what it is, not what it is made by an authority beyond the perimeters of the world.
... In other words, fate, as Nietzsche interprets it, is the emblem of his insight that there is nothing—nihil—outside the transitoriness of the world of eternal Becoming. Fate, then, is the name for a totally immanent, perpetually transitory world that is not subject to the finality of a goal outside of it, the achievement of which would redeem the “guiltiness” of Becoming. Amor fati is the embrace of the world that is as it is—eternally Becoming—not as it “should” be, for there is no “should,” no imperative that it be, or be transformed into, something other than it is. Put differently, Amor fati is the embrace of a world that is an implicate order of freedom and necessity: of freedom in that it is free from any “should” that would judge it to be deficient, and from any goal that “should” be attained, and of necessity because the lack of a goal to be achieved allows the world its “must,” its having to be what it is, not what it is made by an authority beyond the perimeters of the world.
In particular, it can be said that Nietzsche’s appeal to love of fate is the consequence of his thesis of the “death of God,” love of a supreme center of the value of Being that guaranteed meaning to a meaningless world of Becoming—the authority beyond the limits of the world. The fate of Amor fati “frees” us, then, to a world of radical immanence, a world beyond the dualism of immanence and transcendence. Nietzsche characterizes this world as whole in the sense of an interconnectedness or web-like structure Nietzsche describes as Verhängnis (literally a “hanging together”), a word that also means “fate.” Given that the world of interconnectedness (Verhängnis) is its own fate (Verhängnis), it is beyond any outside determinism because there is no outside to the whole. Given a radically holistic world, there is no outside to its Verhängnis, and thus we must be what we are: Verhängnis. As Nietzsche puts it succinctly: “One is necessary, one is a piece of fatefulness [Verhängnis], one belongs to the whole, one is the whole.” -- Friedrich Ulfers and Mark Daniel Cohen. Nietzsche's Amor Fati – The Embracing of an Undecided Fate. Poiesis – A Journal of the Arts and Communication. 2002. (English)
whether or not we can ‘get into it’, there is this suggestion here that everything finds its meaning and value in everything else in a relational web-structure. this is a shift from where we are when we are impatient for change to start rolling out in the direction we want it to. because that has to be coming from our ego, and our confidence that we know what’s good for the world and we want to help ‘bring it on’. but in a ‘web-of-life’ situation, we are the pushing and pulling we are situationally included in. we are the evolving world. we are the agents of transformation.
meanwhile, we tend to think of ourselves as little ants who can’t make a mark on world change unless we can band together and have a whole lot of ants pulling or pushing together in the same direction. and if that’s no happening then we feel like giving up on changing the world, and when that happens, its like the world is drifting along without us and is impervious to our attempts to change it.
this is the nihilism that nietzsche warns about. it comes from ‘the death of God’ in a simple sense of leaving the world and life ‘meaningless’ since there is nothing above it all to give it meaning. however, the death of a source of meaning that lies beyond the world of becoming could mean that the ‘meaning’ or ‘value’ is inside the world in the evolutionary web-of-life itself. in this case, whatever is unfolding is unfolding the way it must.
so, ... we go [in our understanding of ourselves] from being an ant amongst ants who need to band together to construct a future state of the world that we know is a ‘good’ state, ... to abandoning the notion that the world needs to go to some state that is improved over where it is and understanding ourselves as being co-evolver of the world, ... then we are never ‘out of the game’ and never rendered ‘useless’. instead of seeing ourselves as ‘doers of deeds’ that must somehow make a mark on the world, we see ourselves ‘as the world’, as agent of transformation flow features in the fluid world.
nietzsche was on the same wavelength as emerson on this;
“Whilst a necessity so great caused the man to exist, his health and erectness consist in the fidelity with which he transmits influences from the vast and universal to the point on which his genius can act. The ends are momentary: they are vents for the current of inward life which increases as it is spent. A man’s wisdom is to know that all ends are momentary, that the best end must be superseded by a better. But there is a mischievous tendency in him to transfer his thought from the life to the ends, to quit his agency and rest in his acts: the tools run away with the workman, the human with the divine.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘The Method of Nature’
dealing with the frustration of our ego in this way, is not amongst the options given by wilson, but it clearly seems to be one that was actually exercised by nietzsche, who felt that the sort of change he was looking for; i.e. the tranvaluation of all values, ... was a couple of centuries away which would be punctuated by a bad bout of nihilism before we had cultivated the amor fati antidote.
it’s not that this transition isn’t possible. indigenous anarchist infants are brought up with this web-of-life worldview foundation. but the challenge in getting back into it after being raised a Western civilized kid, is enormous. while it is more difficult than the three options that wilson mentioned, it is not impossible and it is therefore worth mentioning it as a fourth (and preferred) option.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
This is a response of the Revolutionary Union for Internationalist Solidarity (from greece) and the International Freedom Battalion's full statement upon the announcement of it's creation.
R.U.I.S.' solidarity response:
The Revolutionary Union for Internationalist Solidarity is a formation for struggle with the aim to practice solidarity in the international field of armed conflicts on the the side of the classes of the oppressed who fight towards social liberation from the domination of states and of capital.
Solidarity in practice should bear characteristics of a common struggle at every critical point, a struggle which creates the world of revolution and which through its radical character, breaks the boundaries of tyranny, of oppression and of exploitation.
Specially, in responding to the call-out of MLKP for international solidarity we decided to take part with commitment to the necessities of the social struggle in Kurdistan.
We are there to offer our services to the struggle and to learn from the multi-faceted and resourceful living revolutionary process.
We recognise in this struggle:
-Its fundamental class character
-Its anti-fascist and anti-imperialist character
-Its social liberation character
Along with the multiform reinforcement of the revolutionary forces in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and the wider Middle East, the Revolutionary Union for Internationalist Solidarity aims to open up a path of solidarity from Greece, which will not only attempt to realise the vision of Internationalist Revolutionary Solidarity, but will also pursue the coordination and collaboration beyond the local boundaries.
Even though we have formulated our own political programme towards libertarian communism, we recognise the fundamental value of a broad collectivisation based on a broad range of conditions while at the same time each participant maintains their autonomy.
FOR THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION
R.U.I.S. April 2015
The International Freedom Battalion's full statement upon the announcement of it's creation:
“The Middle East has been a bloodbath because of imperialist vampires and exploiters. These same forces brought together the ISIS so that people in the region would bow down to occupation and oppression. The ISIS gangs massacre Christian, Êzîdî, Assyrian, and Muslim peoples. Gangs sell women and children in slave markets and organise massive executions in ways that resemble the centuries-long strategies of their imperialist masters.
The organised peoples’ resistance against these forces’ desire to destroy their languages, faiths, lives, and identities has been led by the People's and Women's Protection Units (YPG-YPJ) and was successful in places such as Kobanê, Şengal, Til-Hemis, and Serekaniyê.
The Rojava revolution came to the fore of global politics and the YPG-YPJ resistance is admired and supported by impoverished masses. With international fighters, Rojava became today’s Bekaa and Palestine. The Rojava Revolution is the Paris Commune under German siege, Madrid during the Spanish civil war, and Stalingrad during the 2nd Imperitalist War (WW2).
The Rojava revolution has upset the balance of power in neighboring countries, especially Turkey, and has become the heart of world revolution and the beacon of resistance for oppressed peoples.
As a women’s revolution, Rojava has strengthened women’s will and become the symbol of struggle against patriarchy and global bigotry.
Revolutionaries across the world have turned their attention to Rojava and never hesitated to fight and die for victory here in order to expand the revolution.
Revolutionary forces in Turkey and different parts of the globe have come to Rojava in order to strengthen the revolution and expand the war to the lands they came from.
We fight in Rojava, die as martyrs and carry the banner of resistance…
We fight at the frontline against imperialism and bigots in the region…
We confront the ISIS gangs’ brutal attacks on the revolution…
We live the revolution and feel it in our veins and cells…
We are the people in Kurdistan who made the Rojava revolution, the workers, oppressed people, women and internationalist revolutionaries who fight under the banner of the YPG-YPJ…
We are Spanish, German, Greek, Turkish, Arab, Armenian, Laz, Circassian, and Albanian…
We are the revolutionary forces and organisations that have come together from different parts of the world to form the INTERNATIONALIST FREEDOM BRIGADE.
All oppressed people, workers, laborers, women, youth, religious groups, ecologists, anti-imperialists, anti-fascists, anti-capitalists, democrats and revolutionaries of the world; we call on you to fight under the banner of the INTERNATIONALIST FREEDOM BRIGADE in order to defend the Rojava revolution and expand it to establish people’s fraternity in the Middle East and rest of the world…”
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
In two previous essay, I discussed the role of the Left in protecting the police through cautious reformism, and the effectiveness of a pacified, falsified—in a word disarmed—history of the Civil Rights movement to prevent us from learning from previous struggles and achieving a meaningful change in society.
The police are a racist, authoritarian institution that exists to protect the powerful in an unequal system. Past and present efforts to reform them have demonstrated that reformism can’t solve the problem, though it does serve to squander popular protests and advance the careers of professional activists. Faced with this situation, in which Left and Right unwittingly collude to prolong the problem, the extralegal path of rioting, seizing space, and fighting back against the police makes perfect sense. In fact, this phenomenon, denounced as “violence” by the media, the police, and many activists in unison, was not only the most significant feature of the Ferguson (and Baltimore) rebellion and the solidarity protests organized in hundreds of other cities, it was also the vital element that made everything else possible, that distinguished the killing of Michael Brown from a hundred other police murders. What’s more, self-defense against state violence (whether excercized by police or by tolerated paramilitaries like the Klan) is not an exceptional occurrence in a long historical perspective, but a tried and true form of resistance, and one of the only that has brought results, in the Civil Rights movement and earlier.
What remains is to speak about possibilities that are radically external to the self-regulating cycle of tragedy and reform. What remains is to speak loudly and clearly about a world without police.
We don’t want better police. We don’t want to fix the police. On the contrary, we understand that the police work quite well; they simply do not work for us and they never have. We want to get rid of the police entirely, and we want to live in a world where police are not necessary.
Far from being a naïve position, I believe it is the only one that can withstand serious scrutiny, whether in the form of a comprehensive historical analysis of the role and evolution of police and the effectiveness of reform movements, or of an examination of the breadth of possibility that human societies have already demonstrated.
No one can effectively argue that the police are necessary in an absolute sense. They are a relatively recent invention, as far as institutions go. The only question is what kind of society needs police, and whether that kind of society makes the systematic murders, torture, beatings, and surveillance worth it.
Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tifft have compiled a great deal of information on societies that use various forms of conflict resolution in which an organization such as the police has no place. From the Diné (Navajo) to the Semai, there are dozens of societies—all of them impacted to varying degrees by Western colonialism—that have practiced restorative or transformative justice, dealing with cases of conflict or social harm without ever having to be so brutal as to lock people up in cages or create an elite body designed to surveille people or mobilize organized violence against those who transgress set laws. They compare neighboring societies that face similar socio-economic conditions but use different strategies for dealing with harm, as well as Western societies that make minimal usage of policing and judicial apparatuses.
A pattern that becomes immediately evident is that police and prisons are only necessary in societies that are based on exploitation and inequality. The police are not an instrument fit to protect a society; on the contrary they are an instrument fit to protect an elite, parasitical class from society. Any society with a minimal practice of cooperation and solidarity can protect itself from individuals who would harm others. A hierarchical, militarized force such as the police, or an institution like the prison designed to remove conflict and transgression from the social sphere, only makes sense where there is a parasitical social class that exists in antagonism with the rest of society, and needs to manage social norms of right and wrong and monopolize violent force in order to preserve its power. Such a class also needs a justice mechanism, such as courts and a legislative body, to formalize its conception of right and wrong, and a propaganda mechanism, whether a state religion or mass media, to ensure that the exploited majority identify with their masters and reproduce the norms of the elite. When a normal person speaks out against throwing rocks at the police or destroying businesses, they are expressing values that originate at the top of the social pyramid.
Of course it gets more complicated when you realize that interests are always subjective, and people often get more out of identifying with a larger community, no matter how fictitious, than they do out of having food to eat or a roof over their heads. In the end, everyone from the CEO to the news anchor to the taxi driver or homebum with conventional ideas all participate in reproducing the same system, and they probably all sincerely believe in the positions they espouse, but some clearly have more influence than others, and can be identified as originators of certain aspects of the present system.
Therefore, we are not speaking for the masses when we assert that the police and the prisons exist to control them, but we should also not shy away from espousing a radical position just because it will be unpopular. We need to have faith that a great many people might eventually come to support radical positions regarding the police. Many people already support parts of these positions intuitively or implicitly, and the reason that more people don’t, at least not expressly, is that so few people currently dare to declare the police an intractable enemy of freedom or to openly advocate a world without police. At this juncture, the last thing that we need is for more people to espouse tepid, inane suggestions for reform that are completely untenable and unrealistic. But as long as proposals for meager reform are taken seriously, that’s what we’ll get.
We can’t get rid of police brutality without getting rid of the police, and we can’t get rid of the police without getting rid of an entire system based on exploitation, oppression, and hierarchy. There is no easy, band-aid solution to this problem, and bandying them about only perpetuates the problem. Foregrounding difficult, far-reaching changes does not mean, however, fixating an abstract gaze on a pre-designed future and blinding ourselves to immediate problems. On the contrary, we need to focus on how we fight now for a better world, and part of that means avoiding forms of action that make real changes even more improbable.
As I argued in Part II, most of what was achieved in the Civil Rights movement in terms of short-term changes was achieved when people armed themselves, took over their streets, and fought back without worrying about ruling class taboos against lower class violence. If we fight for total social transformation without proposing naïve reforms, those in power will trip over themselves trying to buy us off with quick fixes and opportunities to participate in the system.
This in fact is how most social movements in history have gone down. Whatever improvements have been won were actually won by those who fought for radical positions, using uncompromising methods and aggressive tactics, though the victories were claimed by the reformers, who tend to be a combination of dissident members of the ruling structures, opportunists who wish to climb the social ladder, and sincere people who have been duped by a discourse of pragmatism. Their own methods are too sedate to shake things up and force a change, in fact their timidity demonstrates to authority that they are ultimately a loyal opposition undeserving of repression. They must ride the coattails of the radicals in order to be in position when the rulers realize that some change is necessary in order to avoid an actual revolution. The reason that these movements always stop after an incomplete reform, and that the most ineffective sectors of these movements tend to get the credit, is because the reformers have a tendency to throw the radicals under the bus, helping the State eliminate them in exchange for access to power in its newly reformed configuration. After all, who better to discern what reform will best fool the people on bottom than someone who has recently come up from the bottom?
I previously mentioned that a police apparatus cannot exist without a hierarchical society, a prison system, a justice system, and some kind of culture industry, whether religious or mediatic. All of these institutions defend a ruling structure against the conflicts generated by its antagonistic position towards society. Modern democracies go a step further, however; if conflict with society is inevitable, why not manage it rather than trying to suppress it?
In Ferguson, the managers of social conflict were in large part those activists who preached nonviolence and denounced the rioters, as I mentioned in Part I. But there is an important kind of management I neglected to mention.
Those of us who are critical of the mass media may have a hard time explaining the sympathetic position that Time Magazine or Rolling Stone occasionally took with the rioters. Of course, a couple articles hardly make up for thousands of syndicated columns objectively refering to rioters as some kind of pathological parasite, radio hosts calling looters “idiots” and worse, TV spots spreading fear about savage hordes of demons and outside agitators, days long NPR marathons urging peaceful protest, and so on. Nonetheless, the phenomenon is curious as well as significant. In the case of Rolling Stone, we could suppose that this old establishment rag is afraid of all the ground it has lost in the risqué news niche to dynamic newcomers like Vice; however the explanation would be insufficient.
The seemingly subversive behavior of a few outliers is hardly unprecedented. In the recent insurrection in Greece, a large part of the media expressed sympathy with the rioters, albeit in a very formulaic way. In the media lens, young students were justifiably protesting in the streets after the police murder of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, anarchists were hijacking the event to burn police stations, and immigrants were taking advantage of the situation to loot stores. None of these characterizations are based on fact. Millions of young people and old, Greeks and immigrants, participated in the uprising, in a variety of ways. Many students looted, many immigrants walked along with protests. A frequently expressed sentiment was that participation in the insurrection blurred all of these pre-established identities, in which case the media operation clearly intended to reassert them. With all three subjects, the media caricature refers to a prefabricated figure that the entire population was already familiar with—the socially concerned student, the pyromaniac anarchist, the criminal immigrant—that only ever existed on the glowing screen, because it was the media themselves that created it. That’s the brilliance of the media: they rarely have to verify their claims, because they operate within a virtual universe that they themselves have created.
In the Greek example, it is obvious why the media would sympathize with student rioting: to discourage non-students from participating or identifying with the uprising; and to establish a limit of acceptable tactics, implicitly criminalizing the looting and the attacks on police stations. After all, the intensity of street fighting over three uninterrupted weeks was forcing the government to consider calling in the military. They were willing to tolerate burning barricades and illegal protests if things didn’t go further.
Likewise, when people start to bring guns to protests as in Ferguson, there will be those among the forces of law and order who begin to see the wisdom in tolerating the smashing of banks. It’s noteworthy that the media only begin to stomach property destruction when talk of shooting back begins to resonate throughout society. And though within the confines of American dialogue, it feels like a breath of fresh air that Time Magazine would sympathize with rioters, it is a more or less calculated move that functions to limit the growth of resistance. Even if the editors of a magazine are not scheming consciously and explicitly about how to maintain social control, they are still individuals with a vested interest in the current system. People fighting fiercely for their freedom, unlike those who compulsively walk in circles or stage die-ins, often force a recognition of their humanity and win a limited sympathy from their enemies. They also make the existence of a social conflict undeniable. In such a case, people in power may come to accept tactics that they had previously condemned, to acknowledge errors they had previously denied, but their condemnation of forms of rebellion that are irreversibly destabilizing will only crystalize. People can be permitted to blow off steam, even in illegal ways, but they cannot be permitted to blunt or sabotage the instruments of the State. And when the police confront an armed population, they are suddenly much less effective.
Another way that exceptional dissent might manifest is in the realm of discourse and research. I am by no means the first person to express the idea that the police should be abolished, nor is this idea entirely strange in acceptable discourse among people who are much better dressed than I am. However the elaboration of these discourses must be couched in certain ways to signal their usefulness to the State, and their separation from communities in struggle.
If we assert that it is not permitted to speak of a world without police, this is only true if we understand the police as one function in an interlocking system of domination, and the abolition of the police means the abolition of that entire system. Otherwise, there is a great deal of research and debate that maps out the possibilities of prison abolition or an end to policing as we know it. But what is the actual meaning and effect of this discourse?
I would start by arguing that the vast majority of those who conduct this theoretical labor have good intentions. But we also know what they say about good intentions, and the paving stones on the road to hell are not nearly as substantial as the ones being thrown at cops in Ferguson and elsewhere. With this facile figure of speech, I actually mean to suggest a different criterion for evaluating our actions.
I gladly admit that the information produced by academics or activists who theorize about prison abolition or a world without police is thought-provoking and useful. I have cited a few examples of it in this essay. But just as we must ask why Time Magazine would sympathize with rioters, we should ask why there exist paid positions for people to study prison abolition. Either capitalism isn’t a totality, or the prisons and the police are not an integral part of power, or power benefits somehow by studying its own abolition.
I believe the answer lies between the second and the third possibilities. Even though the abolition of prisons is not a likely future, from the present vantage, democratic capitalism increases its chances for survival by exploring contingency plans for extreme cases, and by giving opponents employment opportunities. The advantage is increased if “prisons” or “police” can be discursively transformed from an integral element of a whole system into a particular appendage that can be discarded or modified. And there are few methods of discourse more suited to carrying out this transformation than the academic—which favors specificity and an analysis of parts over wholes—and the activist—which tends towards single-issue messaging that favors the myopic over the radical.
Someone in the academy or in the world of professional activism can study the police for all the right reasons, personally holding a global analysis of the integral role of police within a greater whole, but the institutional formulae of applying for grants, publishing articles, and claiming concrete improvements all modulate those individuals’ activity to favor a piecemeal worldview and to direct discourse at other power-holders.
It may sound like a platitude but I believe experience in struggle bears it out: you cannot abolish that with which you dialogue. State authority above all thrives on being present in every social conversation. A conversation with employers, legislators, grant-writers, or experts about the abolition of the police necessarily assumes the replacement of one form of policing with another.
The modern prison was born out of the abolition of the scaffold. Community policing was a survival mechanism after the defeats and the unpopularity of the police caused by the struggles of the ’60s. The danger is real.
Even without a far-reaching reform that allows the powerful to regenerate their methods for accumulating power, radical discourses in professional channels present other problems. One I have already hinted at can be thought of as misdirection.
Let’s imagine an organization that focuses on prison abolition. Their employees are sincere, dedicated activists, some of them proven veterans of past struggles. Nearly all of them are college graduates, and some might be academics; otherwise they stay in close contact with the experts who produce facts that make it easier to argue for prison abolition in polite circles. They produce many valuable materials that can be useful for supporting prisoners or changing people’s opinions about the prison system, and they may even have a pilot project on a couple blocks in a specific neighborhood, designed to decrease reliance on the prison industrial complex.
Taken individually, all of these things are great. We need more people who are talking about a world without prisons. But the ideas that this hypothetical organization spreads, how do they direct people’s attentions, particularly in a moment of social rebellion?
When such an organization, with paid staff, non-profit status, cred, but also rules to play by and bills to pay, proclaims that “We need to abolish the police and the prisons,” what is the practical implication? “Therefore this organization should receive more grants and this law should not be passed,” or “therefore these people who took up arms against the police deserve our support”? Clearly, it’s not the latter.
A professional approach to tackling the social problems underscored by Ferguson rarely returns people’s energies and attentions to the streets, where real change is created. True, most of the time, we don’t have something like Ferguson going on, so a patient, gradualist method seems to make sense. However, the conservatism of the professional approach often leads activists to play a pacifying role when a moment of intense struggle arises, as we abundantly witnessed this August and again in November. All across the country, even where they refrained from denouncing rioters, activist organizations called for vigils and speak-outs, when it was clear that the time for mere words had passed. Directly or indirectly, these mobilizations allowed a middle-class constituency to monopolize the social response and prevent rioting, at a time when an unprecedented number of people were ready to fight back.
What’s more, the assumptions are all wrong. Ferguson is only exceptional in its extension, not in its spirit. Not a month goes by when someone does not shoot back at the police in America. Most of the time, however, they are a lone shooter, they often kill themselves or die in the act, and the media always publish unsavory details about their personal lives, true or invented. They also portray the cops as heroes, no matter what kind of people they actually were, and they never entertain the possibility that the shooters were justified, as they always do when it’s cops doing the murdering (actually, this is too charitable a description; many media outlets assert from the beginning that the killing was justified, not even allowing a debate). The recent shooting of the two cops in NYC fits the pattern perfectly, but earlier cases like that of Christopher Monfort in Seattle, Eric Frein in Pennsylvania, or Christopher Dorner in LA also apply. None of this should be surprising. There is a certain schizophrenia in a society that glorifies the police and suppresses or distorts any honest conversation about what people actually experience at the hands of police and what sort of countermeasures are adequate or justified. If large numbers of alienated people feel entirely alone in their brutalization and dehumanization by police, collective resistance becomes impossible. The only people to express an active negation of the police will be individuals who reach a certain limit and then snap. By the very nature of the problem they are not going to be the stable ones, especially if mental health is defined as an infinite capacity to accomodate misery.
In Ferguson, rioters spraypainted the QT with the phrase, “free Kevin Johnson”, referring to a black man from an aggressively gentrifying St. Louis suburb who is on death row since 2008. Johnson shot to death an infamous bully of a cop who refused to help his kid brother as he lay dying from a heart condition. There is a direct connection between what are portrayed as isolated outbursts of senseless violence, and the massive rebellions that force society to at least stop and pay attention. I don’t, however, see the professionals making this connection. Typically they are either silent or help pathologize the lone wolves. The tragedy is, such incidents are only isolated as long as people in power AND people in social movements continue to actively isolate them.
Recognizing the basic legitimacy of these acts isn’t to glorify the shooters as heroes. There is something sad in any death, no matter who the victim is, and we’re in dire straits when the only available means of resistance that people think they have are directly suicidal. The point is, there is a direct connection between the systematic brutality of police and the appearance of people who shoot back. Denying it only maintains the schizophrenic condition that forces us to pathologize a sensible human response to systematic abuse, preserves our psychological loyalty to a system that treats us like fodder, and prevents the development of collective measures.
There have been attempts in the US to develop and spread methods of resistance to police that are collective, that brook no compromise, and that are less dangerous, less suicidal, than the method of the lone gunmen. The best known is probably the “black bloc.” And though it is clearly an imperfect tool, the bloc typically faces blanket denunciations by people who make no attempts to propose alternatives. In NGO-land, the trope that has been circulated is that the black bloc is the domain of young white men. Never mind that there are many testimonials by women, queer, and trans people attempting to counter this lie (and at great personal risk, since it requires speaking about personal involvement in an illegal activity); never mind that American anarchists have learned about the tactic not only in Europe but also in Latin America, where it is widely popular. The denunciations cannot be taken seriously as criticisms because they do not rely on realistic portrayals of the black bloc, they are formulated to silence rather than to engage, and they do not propose any alternatives for seizing space or collectively fighting back against police.
The extent to which this trope has been circulated by the corporate media reveals just how liberatory the thinking behind it truly is.
But the black bloc is just one possibility among many, and while it helps demonstrators protect themselves in rowdy street confrontations, it does not suggest to most people the vision of another world. Talking about a world without police in the here and now, without paving the way for our own co-optation is a big order to fill. Fortunately, the conversation is already ongoing.
We have the examples of societies that thrived without police, which I mentioned towards the beginning of the essay. Those stories belong to other cultures. I don’t think Westerners should use them as models or as ideological capital, but I think we should recognize their existence, to break the stranglehold that Western civilization has over definitions of human nature and human possibility, and we should also recognize that those other forms of being were violently interrupted by processes of colonization that are still ongoing. They are not marginal, idyllic stories of “primitive” societies with no bearing on modern reality, they are histories of peoples who are still struggling for survival. If, in the worlds we dream of, there is no room for them to reassert themselves independent of our designs, then whatever we create will only be a continuation of the thing we are fighting against.
More appropriate as inspiration for our own action are a number of stories of struggle in Western or westernized countries in which people created police-free zones on the ground. After all, a holistic critique of the police means that by the very nature of the problem, we cannot ask government to institute the needed changes. Real steps towards a world without police can be found in the riots in Ferguson and other cities around the country where people surpassed their self-appointed leaders and actually fought back, rather than just manufacturing yet another spectacle of symbolic dissent. The riots in Ferguson were not only important in an instrumental way, forcing all of society to consider the problem; they also suggested the beginnings of a solution as neighbors came together in solidarity, building new relations amongst themselves, and forcefully ejecting police from the neighborhoods they patrol.
Christiania is an autonomous neighborhood of Copenhagen that has been squatted since 1971. The area, with nearly a thousand inhabitants, organizes itself in assemblies, maintains its own economy and infrastructure, cleans up its trash, produces bicycles and other items in collective workshops, and runs a number of communal spaces. They also resolve their own conflicts, and with the exception of some aggressive incursions and raids, Christiania has been a police-free zone for most of its existence. Initially, the Danish government opted for a soft strategy, hoping that Christiania would eventually fall apart on its own. In the same era, the autonomous movement in the Netherlands and Germany was fighting major battles to defend their squatted spaces, sometimes defeating the police in the streets or burning down shopping malls in retribution for evictions. In context, the Danish approach made sense. However, Christiania thrived. Some suspect that the government was behind the crisis that threatened the autonomous neighborhood’s existence in 1984 when a motorcycle gang moved into the police-free zone to begin selling hard drugs (soft drugs have always been widely used in Christinia, while addictive drugs are vehemently discouraged).
Earlier in Christiania’s history, there had been a fierce debate about how to deal with the problem of drugs. Over intense opposition, a part of the neighborhood decided to request police assistance, but they soon found that the cops were arresting the users of non-addictive drugs and ignoring or even protecting the proliferation of hard drugs. After that, Christiania decided to keep the police out, and their autonomy was well established by the time the motorcycle gang moved in. The gangsters thought they had picked an easy target: a neighborhood of hippies who not only disavowed making use of the police, they actively kept the police out. These drug-pushers, however, had fallen for capitalist mythology, which presents us all as isolated individuals, vulnerable to organized delinquents, and therefore in need of the greatest protection racket of them all, the State. Christiania residents banded together, exercising the same principle of solidarity that was at work in all the other aspects of their lives, fought back, and kicked the motorcycle gang out, using a combination of sabotage, public meetings, pressure, and direct confrontation.
It is no coincidence that the same tools and capacities that allow us to fight back and free ourselves from policing are also the ones we need to protect ourselves from the forms of harm that capitalist democracies prosecute under the rubric of “crime”. Crime and police are two sides of the same coin. They perpetuate each other, and they each rely on a vulnerable, atomized society. A healthy society would have no need for police, no more than it would lock people in cages and hide its problems out of sight rather than deal with the conflicts and deficiencies that led to an act of harm being committed in the first place.
The mutual relationship between police and crime was exquisitely revealed during the popular uprising in Oaxaca in 2006. In June of that year, police viciously attacked the massive encampment staged annually by striking teachers. But the teach ers fought back tooth and nail, quickly joined by many neighbors. They pushed police out of Oaxaca City, which remained autonomous for five months along with large parts of the countryside. People built barricades, which became an important space for socialization as well as self-defense, and they organized topiles, an indigenous tradition that provided volunteers to fight back against police and paramilitaries as well as to look out for fires, acts of robbery, or assault.
The defenders of Oaxaca soon learned that the police were releasing people from their prisons on the condition that they go into the city to commit crimes. In protecting their neighborhoods against these acts, the topiles did not function like Western police forces. They patrolled unarmed, they were volunteers, and they did not have a prerogative to arrest people or impose their will, the way cops do. Upon coming across a robbery, arson, or assault, their function was not only that of first responders, but also to call on the neighbors so everyone could respond collectively. With such a structure, it would be impossible to enforce a legal code against an activity with popular participation. In other words, the topiles could stop a stranger who was robbing the store of a local, working class person (as were many of the neighborhood stores in Oaxaca), but they couldn’t have stopped the neighbors themselves from looting a store they already had an antagonistic, classist relationship with, as was the case in Ferguson.
People in Oaxaca also had to defend themselves from police and paramilitaries, and they did so for five months. The topiles and many others were unarmed. They had to fight back with rocks, fireworks, and molotov cocktails, many of them getting shot in the process. Their bravery allowed hundreds of thousands of people to live in freedom for five months, in a police-free, government-free zone, experimenting with the self-organization of their lives on social, economic, and cultural levels. All the beautiful aspects of the Oaxaca commune are inseperable from their violent struggle against police, involving barricades, slingshots, molotov cocktails, and thousands of people who faced down armed opponents, over a dozen of them giving their lives in the process. In the end, the Mexican state had to send in the military as the only way to crush this flourishing pocket of autonomy.
If we learn from examples like Christiania, Oaxaca, and Ferguson itself, we can fight for a world without police and everything they represent, beginning here and now by creating blocks, neighborhoods, or even entire cities that are at least temporarily police-free zones. Within these spaces we can finally experiment and practice with solutions to all the other interrelated forms of oppression that plague us.
There is something beautiful about people finding the courage to fight back against a more powerful enemy, and people also flourish in surprising ways when they liberate space and take the power to organize their own lives. Neither of these things can be overemphasized. But neither should we romanticize. In the streets of Ferguson and other liberated spaces, much of the ugliness that infuses our society rears its head. But dealing with what had previously been invisible or normalized is an inevitable part of any healing process, and our society is nothing if not sick. Calamities like uprisings and riots can be important catalysts in processes of social healing, and liberated spaces, by forcefully casting aside the previous regime’s norms and relationships, that only functioned to reproduce and invisibilize all the ongoing forms of harm, can give us the opportunity to create new, healthier patterns, and engage in conversations that previously had been impossible. Empowering ourselves to fight back against those who have traumatized us, like the police, can be an important step in upsetting oppressive relations, healing from trauma, and restoring healthy social relations.
This is, however, a dangerous proposition. Fighting back against the police, especially shooting back at them, as was happening in Ferguson, is not a safe activity. Change is never safe. And if we can successfully overcome the police to create a liberated zone, the State will eventually send in the military. Are the soldiers still loyal enough, after these last wars, to open fire on us? Has enough been done to encourage dissension in the ranks, or is the government firmly in control? There is only one way to find out.
It is understandable that many people would not want to face the extreme risks involved with uprooting the oppressions that grip our society. There is nothing wrong with being afraid, so long as you have the courage to admit it. Some people, however, do a great disservice by muddying the waters with myopic proposals that have no hope of making an actual difference.
In the streets, we need to learn how to seize space, to make sure that those who fight back are never isolated, to make collective responses possible so no one has to react in an individual, suicidal way again, and to build a struggle that has room for young and old, for the peaceful and the bellicose, for those who know how to fight and those who know how to heal. It will be a long process, and in the meantime, there is a great need to speak loud and clear about a world without police, so everyone will know there is another way, beyond the false alternatives of obedience or ineffectual reform.
Peter Gelderloos has participated in various initiatives to support prisoners and push the police out of our neighborhoods. He is the author of several books, including Anarchy Works and The Failure of Nonviolence.
He is a comrade and friend of Void Network from 2007 until today