In an article in the recent book, We Are an Image from the Future: the Greek Revolt of December 2008, I briefly made a point that a friend convinced me needs to be elaborated. The idea is that of “signals of disorder,” and their importance in spreading rebellion.
As far as Greece is concerned, the argument is that by carrying out attacks—primarily smashings and molotov attacks against banks and police stations, which constitute the most obvious symbols of capitalist exploitation and State violence for Greek society—insurrectionary anarchists created signals of disorder that acted as subversive seeds. Even though most people did not agree with these attacks at the time, they lodged in their consciousness, and at a moment of social rupture, people adopted these forms as their own tools, to express their rage when all the traditionally valid forms of political activity were inadequate.
An interesting feature of these signals is that they will be met with fear and disapproval by the same people who may later participate in creating them. This is no surprise. In the news polls of democracy, the majority always cast their vote against the mob. In the day to day of normality, people have to betray themselves to survive. They have to follow those they disbelieve, and support what they cannot abide. From the safety of their couch they cheer for Bonny and Clyde, and on the roadside they say “Thank you, officer” to the policeman who writes them a speeding ticket. This well managed schizophrenia is the rational response to life under capitalism. The fact that our means of survival make living impossible necessitates a permanent cognitive dissonance.
Recently at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, the Friendly Fire Collective distributed a short collection of writings from selected authors on the subject of capitalist crisis and anti-authoritarian response(s). It is also available for download!
The collection, Cascades: Conversations in Crisis, features original works from Peter Gelderloos, Erik Forman, Isaac Hawkins, and Ian Paul. This is part of ongoing project Friendly Fire is involved in that will soon produce two larger written works by Ian Paul and David Zlutnick around this same theme for the Institute for Anarchist Studies.
To view the aforementioned works please click on the links below:
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF FOR PRINTING
The articles in the journal include:
1 – On Crisis by the Friendly Fire Collective
2 – Crisis as Pacification by Peter Gelderloos
3 – Economies and Ecologies in Crisis by Isaac Hawkins
4 – A Flowering of Subjectivities: Rethinking Antagonism in the Desert of Crisis by Ian Paul
5 – The New Workerism: Capitalist Crisis, Proletarianization, and the Future of the Left by Erik Forman
In the days following the mass police assaults on organizers, demonstrators, and bystanders during the G8/G20 events, even as comrades linger in squalid detention centres and jails, a troubling notion is taking shape, seemingly gaining traction, among activist circles as well as some sectors of the general public more broadly. This notion suggests that the police in Toronto acted in a way that was somehow atypical or out of the ordinary. Even more there is a sense that the police could have “kept order.” Some public discussion suggests that policing during the G8/G20 reflects a breakdown, a failure to carry out their duties “properly.” Incredibly, during a rally in support of people in detention, Naomi Klein suggested that the police “Do your goddamned job!” In response many in the crowd chanted “Do your job! Do your job!” Elsewhere, and even more incredibly, Judy Rebick has suggested that the were police failed to do their jobs properly in not arresting perceived black block participants: “What they could have done is arrest the Black Bloc at the beginning before they had a chance to be part of the bigger crowd and that's what they didn't do.” Some seem to believe that the police were supposed to be there to protect them or that the police provide the means for “protest” to take place.
[Image by Eric Drooker]
The concern here is that the discussion is being framed in a rather liberal framework that presents a proper, even desirable, form of state policing, a good way of policing against a bad, that police in Toronto presumably strayed from.
While it is certain that the police job is a goddamned one, should activists really be calling on the police to do it? Think about what that would actually mean. More than this, though, the police during the G8/G20 (as during APEC in 1997 and Quebec City in 2001) WERE doing their job. They were doing what they were and are instituted and structured to do. This is not a case of the system going awry, breaking down, going off the rails or being over the top. This is a case of the system doing precisely what it is organized to do (and in a rather limited way).
The related argument is that the task ahead is then to get the police back to doing it right, to doing their job, to act properly as police. Thus calls for public inquiries that will supposedly shame the police or find them to have acted inappropriately or hold them accountable (to whom?/ to themselves?/to Harper?). Historically the more brutal the police, the less the allegiance of the citizenry. They know this.
As the state capitalist carnivals of the G8/G20 got underway in cottage country and Toronto widespread public outrage focused on the $1.3 billion security extravagance—the fences, security cameras, weapons, vehicles and mass policing that have become regular features of such elite get-togethers. While governments of the G8 claim the need for austerity, social spending cuts and belt tightening for the working classes, they have no shortage of public money to spend on their own comfort. The Conservative government in Canada and its corporate sponsors have justified these costs as necessary expenditures in the face of protesters, and, in the words of Federal Minister of Trade and Treasury Board president Stockwell Day “anarchist thugs.” By the second day in Toronto police aggression and intimidation had imposed regular random and unlawful searches, requests for identity papers, preemptive arrests of supposed organizers and “leaders” and home invasions. Rubber bullets and tear gas were used against people doing nothing more than sitting outside the main detention centre.
All of this is part of the ongoing attempts by states and capital to present the working classes and poor people as primary threats to social order and peace. Certainly elites have been, and continue to be effective in this. It has always been members of the working classes who have bee the targets of criminalization. The legal and correctional systems of liberal democracies are based on this. The overwhelming majority of people processed through the criminal justice systems in countries like Canada have been, historically and at present, working class and poor people. Almost all involve petty property crimes and low level street crimes. The working classes, especially the poorest, are presented as the “dangerous class.” Their lives are more regulated, and in neo-liberal regimes poverty is re-moralized as personal failing rather than economic structure.
i don’t endorse violence. i don’t think it’s the ideal way forward to a better society. i think all sane people would agree. heck, i don’t even endorse vandalism in the “service” of social change. i’m conservative that way. but the disproportionate reaction (to the disproportionate mainstream media coverage) to the image of a burning car and some broken windows at the G20 summit in toronto needs to be put into perspective.
i won’t bother with the obvious comparative study of the isolated “violence” of a handful of protestors versus the overwhelming violence practiced day in and day out at the expense of millions upon millions of human lives by national states the world over in order to secure their geopolitical interests. too easy. too obvious. too fundamental.
i will however, point out that unless you’ve been in the situation of being a direct, physical and psychological target of overwhelming and belligerent street-level force FUNDED BY YOUR OWN TAX DOLLARS, it can be hard to understand the frustration and rage that can build over the course of an afternoon let alone over the course of a lifetime.
Two books I read in the past month overlap with each other in useful ways. The first, Commonwealth by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, is the third volume of their epic theoretical work that began with Empire and continued through Multitudes. While I’m not a camp follower per se, I did get a lot out of these efforts and was glad to read Commonwealth as the conclusion. It made some parts of their argument clearer, but left some important areas unresolved and even self-contradictory. I suppose that’s to be expected with such an ambitious effort to unravel this moment in history, the rise of new paradigms of both capitalist self-perpetuation and (potentially) revolutionary subversion.
The other book is by my host in Vancouver this week, Matt Hern, Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future. His book, like Nowtopia, is published by AK Press, and I had the pleasure of hearing him present some of his arguments at the Studio for Urban Projects in San Francisco a few months ago. I like a great deal of his argument, pitting a grounded sociality against the forces of capital that continually render everything that is solid into air, or in the case of his book, turning the solidity of urban space into endlessly liquid flows of capital. As he asks, “how can we imagine commonality and neighborhood in such a relentlessly liquid world?”
From CKUT’s news collective blog
Chris Dixon (Intro and presentation) MP3, Cindy Milstein MP3, and Maia Ramnath MP3, Q&A Part 1 MP3, Response MP3, and Q&A Part 2 MP3.
The question of strategy – how we might win in the near and long term as we struggle against domination, exploitation, and oppression – is pressing. As anarchists, however, we frequently face particular barriers to thinking, planning, and acting strategically. This panel will discuss these barriers, and potential ways we can move past them toward developing effective anarchist strategies for the long haul of social transformation.
Panelists include Chris Dixon, Cindy Milstein and Maia Ramnath. Chris is a longtime anarchist organizer and writer who currently lives in Sudbury, Ontario, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Territory. Cindy is an Institute for Anarchist Studies board member and author of Anarchism and Its Aspirations (AK Press, 2010). Maia is a NYC-based teacher, writer, organizer and Institute for Anarchist Studies board member.
From A New World from Below
A New World From Below: An Anarchist and Anti-Authoritarian Convergence at the 2010 U.S. Social Forum
The New World from Below workshops will take place both within the “official” USSF schedule and at the anarchist convergence space, so as to be part of the official USSF schedule, but also to get the word out on many other self-organized workshops as a part of our presence.
New World From Below convergence center open hours
Thursday June 24 -Saturday June 26 * 10AM-6PM
Besides our program of evening events and free meals starting on Wednesday evening, the convergence center will be open during the day – stop by for info on what’s going on, to have a cup of coffee, pick up a schedule, drop off or pick up material from the free literature tables, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange to use the space for self-organized caucuses and workshops.
From The End of Capitalism
Arizona SB1070, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, requires Arizona’s local and state law enforcement to demand the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, and arrest them if they lack documents proving citizenship or legal residency. Effectively making racial profiling into state policy, this law is the latest in a series of attacks on Latin American immigrants, as well as the entire Latino community, who must live with the fear of being interrogated by police for their brown skin. Then on May 11, Arizona went one step further, outlawing the teaching of ethnic studies classes, or any classes that “are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity”. This same law also states that schools must fire English teachers who speak with a “heavy accent.”
Perhaps these new laws make sense if we imagine that undocumented immigrants are merely “aliens”, a danger to the good, mostly white citizens of this great country. But suppose we look at the problem of immigration from the perspective of the immigrants? Why are they risking life and limb to come to a foreign land, far from their home and families? Why aren’t they deterred from making this trip no matter how many walls we put up, no matter how many police collaborate with ICE, no matter how many angry armed “Minutemen” vigilantes are conscripted to guard the border?
John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, following the Joad family as they migrate to California during the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, sheds light on these questions in a way that perhaps every American can relate to. One of the most popular and well-written American books of all time, The Grapes of Wrath gives a very human perspective on the harsh lives of migrants, personified by the Joads – a family of poor sharecroppers from Oklahoma. Evicted from their family farm, just as the millions of Mexicans who have suffered enclosure from their land and become homeless and jobless because of NAFTA, the Joads travel to California in a desperate search of work, only to encounter the harassment of authorities and the hatred of the local population.
There are important differences between the “Okies” who traveled to the Southwest in the 1930s and Latino inmigrantes of the 2000s. The Joads, of course, were white, and did not cross a national border when they made their exodus. But at its core the story of the Joads is the story of the migrant workers, their troubles, their fears, but also their humanity, and their hope. It is a story that can inspire us to recognize the historic nature of the moment in which we live, understand why these enormous transformations are occurring, and recognize that justice for the immigrants is justice for everyone, regardless of color or citizenship status.
For the Conference Celebrating the One-Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of the Centro Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT) in Barcelona, Spain, April 10, 2010.
I cannot think of any conference, anywhere in the world, I would be more honoured and excited to attend than this conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CNT, the greatest worker organization the world has ever seen, here in Barcelona, the Mecca all libertarian socialists should visit before we die.
Mostly I am here to listen and learn more about the history of the CNT. But I have been asked to share some thoughts on a subject I have spent more time thinking about over the past forty years than any other: How can workers and consumers best go about planning their own, interrelated economic activities themselves?
Like many of you, I’m sure, I am often asked why I believe this is possible. In light of the resilience of global capitalism, in light of the failure of all twentieth century economies that were called “socialist” to implement anything remotely resembling worker self-management, why do I continue to believe there is an alternative to the market system and elite planning? Libertarian socialists answer this question in different ways: (1) Some point out that the impulse for self-management has manifested itself in every revolutionary upsurge and invariably has had to be repressed through violence. While true, I hesitate to rest my case on this argument because even if there is invariably an impulse for self-management when authoritarian economic regimes crumble this does not prove that the impulse is sustainable even absent repression – which, in effect, is our interlocutor’s point. Besides, debates over the strength of the impulse to self-manage and the force of the repression in particular historical junctures quickly reduces to debates over the credentials of different historians. (2) Others emphasize that the capacity and desire for economic self-management is one component of a more general human striving for freedom for which there is ample evidence throughout human history. As someone who often leads with this argument, I follow up by pointing out that the contrary view -- that we humans are so hopelessly socially challenged that we are incapable of consciously coordinating our own economic affairs efficiently and fairly – would be a convenient myth for elites who seek to rule us to propagate. (3) Finally, many who move beyond their gut feelings about human potentials and become more familiar with the actual history of libertarian socialism argue that it is possible because it once happened. It happened in Spain when powerful libertarian socialist organizations, the CNT being the most important, gave birth to a worker-managed economy that performed quite well under the circumstances from 1936 to 1939 when it was militarily crushed by the onslaught of European Fascism.
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