Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reading Group: The Anarchist Tension by Alfredo Bonanno

The study group will be meeting again this Monday, February 16 at 8pm at
the Women's Information Center, 601 Allen St, Syracuse, NY 13210.
We'll be reading and discussing "The Anarchist Tension" an essay by
Alfredo Bonanno.

The essay is available here:

or audio:

or pdf:

Read more!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Countdown to Valentine's Day Dance, Radical Love Essays: Against Love by Laura Kipnis

After over a year of Women's Info Center offering a free/sliding scale space for us to hold meetings and events-Syracuse Solidarity Network declares the space our Valentine!

Saturday, Feb 14, 8:00pm, Women's Information Center, 601 Allen Street, Syracuse, NY 13210
$5 sliding scale, more if ya can, less if ya can't

Leading up to our fabulous St Valentine's Day Masquerade dance party benefit for Womens Info, we'll be randomly sharing some radical articles on love and sexuality.

Share them with your friends, crushes, partners and family! In this time of catastrophe and war, we invite everyone to re-examine how we've been taught "love" and "sex" in a world based on oppression and exploitation. Let's start conversations with the people around us and plant the seeds for a better world right here and now - what better way than to build communities of resistance here in Syracuse, dedicated to revolutionary love?

Against Love by Laura Kipnis, Chapter 1


Against Love by Laura Kipnis, Chapter 1

"Will all the adulterers in the room please stand up?" So begins Laura Kipnis's profoundly provocative and waggish inquiry into our never-ending quest for lasting love, and its attendant issues of fidelity and betrayal. In the tradition of social critiques such as Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism, Against Love keenly examines the meaning and cultural significance of adultery, arguing that perhaps the question concerns not only the private dilemma of whether or not to be faithful, but also the purpose of this much vaunted fidelity.

With a novelist's eye for detail, psychological acuity, and linguistic panache, Kipnis at once humorously and seriously explores the rules and rituals of modern coupledom and domesticity (from the establishment of curfews and whereabouts to actual searches and seizures), even as she deftly analyzes the larger power structures that they serve. She wonders: Might adulterers be regarded not only as sexual renegades but as unwitting social theorists posing essential political questions about the social contract itself? What is the trade-off between personal gratification and the renunciations society demands of us? And is "working at your relationship" just another way of propping up the work ethicæas if we weren't all overworked enough as it is? If adultery is ultimately a referendum on the sustainability of monogamy, how credible is the basic premise of modern coupledom: that desire for your one and only love can and will persist through a lifetime of togetherness (despite so much evidence to the contrary)?

Against Love offers no easy answers. Rather it intends to engage you in a commonsensical and brave examination of the plight of the modern personality, caught between the vicissitudes of desire and the decrees of social conformity.

Chapter 1

Will all the adulterers in the room please stand up? This means all you cheating wives, philandering husbands, and straying domestic partners, past, present, and future. Those who find themselves fantasizing a lot, please rise also. So may those who have ever played supporting roles in the adultery melodrama: "other man," "other woman," suspicious spouse or marital detective ("I called your office at three and they said you'd left!"), or least fun of all, the miserable cuckold or cuckoldess. Which, of course, you may be, without (at least, consciously) knowing that you are. Feel free to take a second to mull this over, or to make a quick call: "Hi hon, just checking in!"

It will soon become clear to infidelity cognoscenti that we're not talking about your one-night stands here: not about those transient out-of-town encounters, those half-remembered drunken fumblings, those remaining enclaves of suburban swinging—or any of the other casual opportunities for bodies to collide in relatively impersonal ways in postmodern America. We live in sexually interesting times, meaning a culture which manages to be simultaneously hypersexualized and to retain its Puritan underpinnings, in precisely equal proportions. Estimates of the percentage of those coupled who have strayed at least once vary from 20 to 70 percent, meaning that you can basically select any statistic you like to support whatever position you prefer to take on the prevalence of such acts. Whatever the precise number—and really, must we join the social scientists and pen-protector brigades and fetishize numbers?—apparently, taking an occasional walk on the wild side while still wholeheartedly pledged to a monogamous relationship isn't an earthshaking contradiction. Many of us manage to summon merciful self-explanations as required ("Shouldn't drink on an empty stomach") or have learned over the years to deploy the strategic exception ("Out-of-town doesn't count," "Oral sex doesn't count") with hairsplitting acumen. Perhaps a few foresightful types have even made prior arrangements with the partner to cover such eventualities—the "one time rule," the "must-confess-all rule" (though such arrangements are said to be more frequent these days among our non-heterosexual denominations). Once again, statistics on such matters are spotty.

But we're not talking about "arrangements" with either self or spouse, or when it's "just sex," or no big thing. We will be talking about what feels like a big thing: the love affair. Affairs of the heart. Exchanges of intimacy, reawakened passion, confessions, idealization, and declarations—along with favorite books, childhood stories, relationship complaints, and deepest selves, often requiring agonized consultation with close friends or professional listeners at outrageous hourly rates because one or both parties are married or committed to someone else, thus all this merging and ardor takes place in nervous hard-won secrecy and is turning your world upside down. In other words, we will be talking about contradictions, large, festering contradictions at the epicenter of love in our time. Infidelity will serve as our entry point to this teeming world of ambivalence and anxiety, and as our lens on the contemporary ethos of love—as much an imaginary space as an actual event. (Commitment's dark other, after all—its dialectical pal.) Meaning whether or not you signed up for the gala cruise, we're all in this boat one way or another—if only by virtue of vowing not to be.

So just as a thought experiment—though it will never happen to you and certainly never has—please imagine finding yourself in the contradictory position of having elected to live a life from which you now plot intricate and meticulous escapes: a subdivision getaway artist, a Houdini of the homefront. You didn't plan it, yet . . . somehow here you are, buffeted by conflicting emotions, and the domesticity you once so earnestly pledged to uphold now a tailor-made straitjacket whose secret combination is the ingenious (and hopefully undetectable) excuses you concoct to explain your mounting absences (or mounting phone bills for you long-distance strayers; thank God for those prepaid phone cards, an adulterer's telephonic godsend). When defenses are down, or some minor domestic irritant unaccountably becomes an epic dispute—which happens even in the best of times, not only when you're preoccupied by thoughts of where you'd rather be and with whom—or when the yearning becomes physically painful, or you're spending an inordinate amount of time sobbing in the bathroom, this turn of events may raise fundamental questions about what sort of emotional world you want to inhabit, or what fulfillments you're entitled to, or—for a daring few—even the nerve-rattling possibility of actually changing your life. (Alternatively, forego hard questions and just up the Prozac dosage, which will probably take care of that resurgent libido problem too.)

A note on terminology: while adultery traditionally requires the prior condition of a state-issued marriage license for at least one of the parties, for the purposes of the ensuing discussion any coupled relationship based on the assumption of sexual fidelity will count as "married." And with gay populations now demanding official entry to state-sanctioned nuptials too, no longer is this the heterosexual plight alone: welcome aboard all commitment-seeking queer, bi, and transgendered compatriots. But gay or straight, licensed or not, anywhere the commitment to monogamy reigns, adultery provides its structural transgression—sexual exclusivity being the cornerstone of modern coupledom, or such is the premise—and for the record, you can also commit it with any sex or gender your psyche can manage to organize its desires around; this may not always be the same one that shapes your public commitments.

An additional terminological point. As our focus will be on "social norms" and "mainstream conventions" of love rather than exceptions and anomalies (and on the interesting penchant for inventing conventions that simultaneously induce the desire for flight), for the purposes of discussion terms like "love" and "coupledom," or "coupled" and "married," will often be used interchangably. Though coupledom is not always the sole outcome of romantic love, nor does love necessarily persist throughout coupledom's duration; though not all couples have joined into legal marriage contracts with the state; though a few iconoclasts do manage to love to the beat of a different drummer, let's agree at the outset that the sequence "love-couple-marriage" does structure prevailing social expectations, regardless of variations in individual practices. Feel free to make whatever semantic adjustments are required should some idiosyncrasy (or prolonged adolescent rebellion or bad luck streak or terminal ambivalence) on your part necessitate a different terminology. "Domestic partners," "significant others," even you "commitment-phobes": keep reading. There are a million stories in love's majestic empire, and yours is in here too.

And while we're clarifying terms, a note on gender. These days either partner can play either gender role, masculine or feminine, regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Thus, gender will not be a significant aspect of our discussion. Whoever waits at home, whoever "has their suspicions," is the wife. Whoever "wants more freedom" is the guy. And if the married-male/single-female configuration is still the most prevalent adultery form, all indications are that female straying is on the rise: clearly all that was required were more opportunities for women to get out of the house. (And more academic degrees: sociologists report that the higher a woman's education level, the more likely she is to have affairs; when the female partner has more education than the male, she's the one more likely to stray.) While feminism typically gets the credit (or blame) for propelling women out of the domicile and into the job market, let's give credit where credit is due: thanks must go too to economic downturns and stagnating real wages—although if it now takes two incomes to support a household, maybe this was not exactly what the term "women's liberation" was designed to mean.

And, finally, a note on genre. This is a polemic. If there is scant attention paid to the delights of coupled fidelity and the rewards of long-term intimacies or the marvelousness of love itself, please remember that the polemicist's job is not to retell the usual story, and that one is well rehearsed enough that it should not need rehearsing once more here. Should its absence cause anxiety, if frequent bouts of sputtering are occluding your reading experience, just append where necessary.

Adulterers: you may now be seated. Will all those in Good Relationships please stand? Thank you, feel free to leave if this is not your story—you for whom long-term coupledom is a source of optimism and renewal, not emotional anesthesia. Though before anyone rushes for the exits, a point of clarification: a "good relationship" would probably include having—and wanting to have—sex with your spouse or spouse-equivalent on something more than a quarterly basis. (Maybe with some variation in choreography?) It would mean inhabiting an emotional realm in which monogamy isn't giving something up (your "freedom," in the vernacular) because such cost-benefit calculations just don't compute. It would mean a domestic sphere in which faithfulness wasn't preemptively secured through routine interrogations ("Who was that on the phone, dear?"), surveillance ("Do you think I didn't notice how much time you spent talking to X at the reception?"), or impromptu search and seizure. A "happy" state of monogamy would be defined as a state you don't have to work at maintaining. After all, doesn't the demand for fidelity beyond the duration of desire feel like work—or work as currently configured for so many of us handmaidens to the global economy: alienated, routinized, deadening, and not something you would choose to do if you actually had a choice in the matter?

Yes, we all know that Good Marriages Take Work: we've been well tutored in the catechism of labor-intensive intimacy. Work, work, work: given all the heavy lifting required, what's the difference between work and "after work" again? Work/home, office/bedroom: are you ever not on the clock? Good relationships may take work, but unfortunately, when it comes to love, trying is always trying too hard: work doesn't work. Erotically speaking, play is what works. Or as psychoanalyst Adam Phillips puts it: "In our erotic life . . . it is no more possible to work at a relationship than it is to will an erection or arrange to have a dream. In fact when you are working at it you know it has gone wrong, that something is already missing."

Yet here we are, toiling away. Somehow—how exactly did this happen?—the work ethic has managed to brown-nose its way into all spheres of human existence. No more play—or playing around—even when off the clock. Of course, the work ethic long ago penetrated the leisure sphere; leisure, once a respite from labor, now takes quite a lot of work itself. (Think about it the next time you find yourself repetitively lifting heavy pieces of metal after work: in other words, "working out.") Being wedded to the work ethic is not exactly a new story; this strain runs deep in middle-class culture: think about it the next time you're lying awake contemplating any of those 4 a.m. raison d'etre questions about your self-worth or social value. ("What have I really accomplished?") But when did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of love—and does this mean that collective bargaining should now replace marriage counseling when negotiating for improved domestic conditions?

When monogamy becomes labor, when desire is organized contractually, with accounts kept and fidelity extracted like labor from employees, with marriage a domestic factory policed by means of rigid shop-floor discipline designed to keep the wives and husbands and domestic partners of the world choke-chained to the status quo machinery—is this really what we mean by a "good relationship"?

Back in the old days, social brooders like Freud liked to imagine that there was a certain basic lack of fit between our deepest instincts and society's requirements of us, which might have left us all a little neurosis-prone, but at least guaranteed some occasional resistance to the more stifling demands of socialization. But in the old days, work itself occasionally provided motives for resistance: the struggle over wages and conditions of course, and even the length of the workday itself. Labor and capital may have eventually struck a temporary truce at the eight-hour day, but look around: it's an advance crumbling as we speak. Givebacks are the name of the game, and not just on the job either: with the demands of labor-intensive intimacy and "working on your relationship," now it's double-shifting for everyone. Or should we just call it vertical integration: the same compulsory overtime and capricious directives, the dress codes and attitude assessments, those dreaded annual performance reviews—and don't forget "achieving orgasm."

But recall that back in the old days the promise of technological progress was actually supposed to be less work rather than more. Now that's an antiquated concept, gone the way of dodo birds and trade unionism. How can you not admire a system so effective at swallowing all alternatives to itself that it can make something as abject as "working for love" sound admirable? Punching in, punching out; trying to wrest love from the bosses when not busily toiling in the mine shafts of domesticity—or is it the other way around? It should come as no surprise, as work sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild reports, that one of the main reasons for the creeping expansion of the official workday is that a large segment of the labor force put in those many extra hours because they're avoiding going home. (Apparently domestic life has become such a chore that staying at the office is more relaxing.)

So when does domestic overwork qualify as a labor violation and where do you file the forms? For guidance on such questions, shall we go straight to the horse's mouth? This, of course, would be Marx, industrial society's poète maudit, so little read yet so vastly reviled, who started so much trouble so long ago by asking a very innocent question: "What is a working day?" For this is the simple query at the heart of Capital (which took three volumes to answer). As we see, Marx's question remains our own to this day: just how long should we have to work before we get to quit and goof around, and still get a living wage? Or more to our point, if private life in post-industrialism means that relationships now take work too, if love is the latest form of alienated labor, would rereading Capital as a marriage manual be the most appropriate response?

What people seem to forget about Marx (too busy blaming him for all those annoying revolutions) is how evocatively he writes about feelings. Like the feeling of overwork. The motif of workers being bled dry keeps cropping up in his funny, mordant prose, punctuated by flurries of over-the-top Gothic metaphors about menacing deadness. The workday is a veritable graveyard, menaced by gruesome creatures and ghouls from the world of the ambulatory dead; overwork produces "stunted monsters," the machinery is a big congealed mass of dead labor, bosses are "blood-sucking vampires," so ravenous to extract more work from the employees to feed their endless werewolf-like hunger for profit, that if no one fought about the length of the workday it would just go on and on, leaving us crippled monstrosities in the process, with more and more alienated labor demanded from our tapped-out bodies until we dropped dead just from exhaustion.

From the Hardcover edition.
Read more!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Class and the Middle Class

', the only class which, in its 'subjective' self perception, explicitly conceives of an presents itself as a class is the notorious 'middle class' which is precisely the 'non-class': the allegedly hard-working middle strata of society which define themselves not only by their allegiance to firm moral and religious standards, but by a double opposition to both 'extremes' of the social space - non-patriotic 'deracinated' rich corporations on the one side; poor excluded immigrants and ghetto-members on the other. The 'middle class' grounds its identity in the exclusion of both extremes which, when they are directly counterpoised, give us 'class antagonism' at its purest. The constitutive lie of the very notion of the 'middle class' is thus the same as that of the true Party line between the two extremes of 'right-wing deviation' and left-wing deviation' in Stalinism: the 'middle class' is, in its very 'real' existence, the embodied lie, the denial of antagonism - in psychoanalytic terms, the 'middle class' is a fetish, the impossible intersection of left and right which, by expelling both poles of the antagonism into the position of antisocial 'extremes' which corrode the healthy social body (multinational corporations and intruding immigrants), presents itself as the neutral common ground of Society. In other words, the 'middle class' is the very form of the disavowal of the fact that 'Society doesn't exist' (Laclau) - in it, Society does exist.'

Slavoj Zizek - The Ticklish Subject (p. 187)

Read more!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I sense it coming on
hot vibration, like an electric current
the light compressed
series of image experiences
just enough to torture me with deja vu
just enough to remember the forboding

here is the ever present broken dichotomy
I can't hear you over its silent noise
I see it as a geyser spewing energy
of unknown origin
towards an unknown destination
washing away meaning,
leaving behind the bla[n](c)k canvas
of post mortemism
moving me into the realm of incongruity
st(r)uck with words hanging out of my mouth
like tendrils of emesis
from this disease of conscious thought
bound to action
through the process of alienation
will I make it through?
I know some part of me has to die
but will it be the part that keeps me alive?
still just feeling so heavy,
suspecting nanotech:
microscopic chemical warheads detonate
and spill their nerve agents all over my synapses
it's in the peanut butter and the puppy chow
i've seen so many others dealing with it too
these words are all i have left of spent privilege
it brings me no meaning, leaves me no meaning
doubt i'll live to see the day
or would even be able to recognize it
should things return to a state of equilibrium.....
without needing to find that one reason left to
indulge in my cortisol addiction
sick of the same problems
leading to the same situations
leading to the same tensions
leading to the same conclusions
leading to the same delusions...... Read more!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nadie Se Va Salvar!

what can be said?
I ask myself
looking at all these networks
net works
what can i say
what sums me up
no thing
not really just
so fucking tired
not just lack of sleep
lack of dreams
but then i have dreams
so many dreams
lack of reality maybe?
self doubt?
short of breath.
and yes, though I won't mention it
superstition in a scientific world
is an expression of freedom
or defiance?
180 days ago ,
3653 days ago,
10,959 days ago
when it was all the past
what did people say and do to pass the day?
where did the time disappear into...
some rat hole?
what happened to the dead
who lived and breathed the struggle?
what happened to the dead
who never struggled?
a sucking force
down the drain,
maybe that's my time in stasis
semi-intransitive, wasted
or maybe it's more like a lit fuse
transforming into rapid expansion
shattering boundaries and limits
deforming a deformed reality
does the mathematical rule apply?
creating patterns
wrought in neurons
that can never be forgotten.... Read more!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


there is no time
to have fun
like dancing
or climbing
throwing a party.
your collective
turned into a
and your cadre pairs
off accordingly
and there is jealousy
and flesh eating
where i rub in the
salt like a salve
never asked a question
more vague than
describe how the entire
world is going to collapse
in one word or less.
i'm keeping quiet
let the silence
overwhelm someone
else or deal with
the screaming
desires in my mind.
I don't get nervous-instead
gut instinct and intuition
don't have time to study intellectual
institutions or
redundant emotions
stuffing paper money and official documents
into the bottle neck of assimilation
and light it
using strike anywhere liberation. Read more!

The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work by Bob Black

No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

The Abolition of Work by Bob Black

originally published:1985, revised 1991

No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic revolution. By “play” I mean also festivity, creativity, conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act.

The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality. So much the worse for “reality,” the gravity hole that sucks the vitality from the little in life that still distinguishes it from mere survival. Curiously — or maybe not — all the old ideologies are conservative because they believe in work. Some of them, like Marxism and most brands of anarchism, believe in work all the more fiercely because they believe in so little else.

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx’s wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists — except that I’m not kidding — I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work — and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs — they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They’ll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don’t care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.

You may be wondering if I’m joking or serious. I’m joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn’t have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn’t triviality; very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I’d like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

The alternative to work isn’t just idleness. To be ludic is not to be quaaludic. As much as I treasure the pleasure of torpor, it’s never more rewarding than when it punctuates other pleasures and pastimes. Nor am I promoting the managed time-disciplined safety-valve called “leisure;” far from it. Leisure is nonwork for the sake of work. Leisure is time spent recovering from work and in the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work. Many people return from vacations so beat that they look forward to returning to work so they can rest up. The main difference between work and leisure is that at work at least you get paid for your alienation and enervation.

I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or “communist,” work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.

Usually — and this is even more true in “communist” than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i.e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In Cuba or China or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (= ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.

But modern work has worse implications. People don’t just work, they have “jobs.” One person does one productive task all the time on an or-else basis. Even if the task has a quantum of intrinsic interest (as increasingly many jobs don’t) the monotony of its obligatory exclusivity drains its ludic potential. A “job” that might engage the energies of some people, for a reasonably limited time, for the fun of it, is just a burden on those who have to do it for forty hours a week with no say in how it should be done, for the profit of owners who contribute nothing to the project, and with no opportunity for sharing tasks or spreading the work among those who actually have to do it. This is the real world of work: a world of bureaucratic blundering, of sexual harassment and discrimination, of bonehead bosses exploiting and scapegoating their subordinates who — by any rational-technical criteria — should be calling the shots. But capitalism in the real world subordinates the rational maximization of productivity and profit to the exigencies of organizational control.

The degradation which most workers experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as “discipline.” Foucault has complexified this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace—surveillance, rotework, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching-in and out, etc. Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic dictators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions they just didn’t have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity.

Such is “work.” Play is just the opposite. Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it’s forced. This is axiomatic. Bernie de Koven has defined play as the “suspension of consequences.” This is unacceptable if it implies that play is inconsequential. The point is not that play is without consequences. This is to demean play. The point is that the consequences, if any, are gratuitous. Playing and giving are closely related, they are the behavioral and transactional facets of the same impulse, the play-instinct. They share an aristocratic disdain for results. The player gets something out of playing; that’s why he plays. But the core reward is the experience of the activity itself (whatever it is). Some otherwise attentive students of play, like Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens), define it as gameplaying or following rules. I respect Huizinga’s erudition but emphatically reject his constraints. There are many good games (chess, baseball, Monopoly, bridge) which are rule-governed but there is much more to play than game-playing. Conversation, sex, dancing, travel—these practices aren’t rule-governed but they are surely play if anything is. And rules can be played with at least as readily as anything else.

Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren’t free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.

And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other’s control techniques. A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called “insubordination,” just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. Without necessarily endorsing it for them either, it is noteworthy that children at home and in school receive much the same treatment, justified in their case by their supposed immaturity. What does this say about their parents and teachers who work?

The demeaning system of domination I’ve described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it’s not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or — better stil l— industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are “free” is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid, and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home in the end, are habituated to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they’ll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in everything. They’re used to it.

We are so close to the world of work that we can’t see what it does to us. We have to rely on outside observers from other times or other cultures to appreciate the extremity and the pathology of our present position. There was a time in our own past when the “work ethic” would have been incomprehensible, and perhaps Weber was on to something when he tied its appearance to a religion, Calvinism, which if it emerged today instead of four centuries ago would immediately and appropriately be labeled a cult. Be that as it may, we have only to draw upon the wisdom of antiquity to put work in perspective. The ancients saw work for what it is, and their view prevailed, the Calvinist cranks notwithstanding, until overthrown by industrialism — but not before receiving the endorsement of its prophets.

Let’s pretend for a moment that work doesn’t turn people into stultified submissives. Let’s pretend, in defiance of any plausible psychology and the ideology of its boosters, that it has no effect on the formation of character. And let’s pretend that work isn’t as boring and tiring and humiliating as we all know it really is. Even then, work would still make a mockery of all humanistic and democratic aspirations, just because it usurps so much of our time. Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do, we keep looking at our watches. The only thing “free” about so-called free time is that it doesn’t cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor, as a factor of production, not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace, but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel don’t do that. Lathes and typewriters don’t do that. No wonder Edward G. Robinson in one of his gangster movies exclaimed, “Work is for saps!”

Both Plato and Xenophon attribute to Socrates and obviously share with him an awareness of the destructive effects of work on the worker as a citizen and as a human being. Herodotus identified contempt for work as an attribute of the classical Greeks at the zenith of their culture. To take only one Roman example, Cicero said that “whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the rank of slaves.” His candor is now rare, but contemporary primitive societies which we are wont to look down upon have provided spokesmen who have enlightened Western anthropologists. The Kapauku of West Irian, according to Posposil, have a conception of balance in life and accordingly work only every other day, the day of rest designed “to regain the lost power and health.” Our ancestors, even as late as the eighteenth century when they were far along the path to our present predicament, at least were aware of what we have forgotten, the underside of industrialization. Their religious devotion to “St. Monday” — thus establishing a de facto five-day week 150-200 years before its legal consecration — was the despair of the earliest factory owners. They took a long time in submitting to the tyranny of the bell, predecessor of the time clock. In fact it was necessary for a generation or two to replace adult males with women accustomed to obedience and children who could be molded to fit industrial needs. Even the exploited peasants of the ancien régime wrested substantial time back from their landlords’ work. According to Lafargue, a fourth of the French peasants’ calendar was devoted to Sundays and holidays, and Chayanov’s figures from villages in Czarist Russia — hardly a progressive society — likewise show a fourth or fifth of peasants’ days devoted to repose. Controlling for productivity, we are obviously far behind these backward societies. The exploited muzhiks would wonder why any of us are working at all. So should we.

To grasp the full enormity of our deterioration, however, consider the earliest condition of humanity, without government or property, when we wandered as hunter-gatherers. Hobbes surmised that life was then nasty, brutish and short. Others assume that life was a desperate unremitting struggle for subsistence, a war waged against a harsh Nature with death and disaster awaiting the unlucky or anyone who was unequal to the challenge of the struggle for existence. Actually, that was all a projection of fears for the collapse of government authority over communities unaccustomed to doing without it, like the England of Hobbes during the Civil War. Hobbes’ compatriots had already encountered alternative forms of society which illustrated other ways of life—in North America, particularly—but already these were too remote from their experience to be understandable. (The lower orders, closer to the condition of the Indians, understood it better and often found it attractive. Throughout the seventeenth century, English settlers defected to Indian tribes or, captured in war, refused to return to the colonies. But the Indians no more defected to white settlements than West Germans climbed the Berlin Wall from the west.) The “survival of the fittest” version — the Thomas Huxley version — of Darwinism was a better account of economic conditions in Victorian England than it was of natural selection, as the anarchist Kropotkin showed in his book Mutual Aid, A Factor in Evolution. (Kropotkin was a scientist — a geographer — who’d had ample involuntary opportunity for fieldwork whilst exiled in Siberia: he knew what he was talking about.) Like most social and political theory, the story Hobbes and his successors told was really unacknowledged autobiography.

The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, surveying the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, exploded the Hobbesian myth in an article entitled “The Original Affluent Society.” They work a lot less than we do, and their work is hard to distinguish from what we regard as play. Sahlins concluded that “hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.” They worked an average of four hours a day, assuming they were “working” at all. Their “labor,” as it appears to us, was skilled labor which exercised their physical and intellectual capacities; unskilled labor on any large scale, as Sahlins says, is impossible except under industrialism. Thus it satisfied Friedrich Schiller’s definition of play, the only occasion on which man realizes his complete humanity by giving full “play” to both sides of his twofold nature, thinking and feeling. As he put it: “The animal works when deprivation is the mainspring of its activity, and it plays when the fullness of its strength is this mainspring, when superabundant life is its own stimulus to activity.” (A modern version — dubiously developmental — is Abraham Maslow’s counterposition of “deficiency” and “growth” motivation.) Play and freedom are, as regards production, coextensive. Even Marx, who belongs (for all his good intentions) in the productivist pantheon, observed that “the realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labor under the compulsion of necessity and external utility is required.” He never could quite bring himself to identify this happy circumstance as what it is, the abolition of work—it’s rather anomalous, after all, to be pro-worker and anti-work—but we can.

The aspiration to go backwards or forwards to a life without work is evident in every serious social or cultural history of pre-industrial Europe, among them M. Dorothy George’s England in Transition and Peter Burke’s Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. Also pertinent is Daniel Bell’s essay “Work and Its Discontents,” the first text, I believe, to refer to the “revolt against work” in so many words and, had it been understood, an important correction to the complacency ordinarily associated with the volume in which it was collected, The End of Ideology. Neither critics nor celebrants have noticed that Bell’s end-of-ideology thesis signaled not the end of social unrest but the beginning of a new, uncharted phase unconstrained and uninformed by ideology. It was Seymour Lipset (in Political Man), not Bell, who announced at the same time that “the fundamental problems of the Industrial Revolution have been solved,” only a few years before the post- or meta-industrial discontents of college students drove Lipset from UC Berkeley to the relative (and temporary) tranquillity of Harvard.

As Bell notes, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, for all his enthusiasm for the market and the division of labor, was more alert to (and more honest about) the seamy side of work than Ayn Rand or the Chicago economists or any of Smith’s modern epigones. As Smith observed: “The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations… has no occasion to exert his understanding… He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” Here, in a few blunt words, is my critique of work. Bell, writing in 1956, the Golden Age of Eisenhower imbecility and American self-satisfaction, identified the unorganized, unorganizable malaise of the 1970s and since, the one no political tendency is able to harness, the one identified in HEW’s report Work in America, the one which cannot be exploited and so is ignored. That problem is the revolt against work. It does not figure in any text by any laissez-faire economist — Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Richard Posner — because, in their terms, as they used to say on Lost in Space, “it does not compute.”

If these objections, informed by the love of liberty, fail to persuade humanists of a utilitarian or even paternalist turn, there are others which they cannot disregard. Work is hazardous to your health, to borrow a book title. In fact, work is mass murder or genocide. Directly or indirectly, work will kill most of the people who read these words. Between 14,000 and 25,000 workers are killed annually in this country on the job. Over two million are disabled. Twenty to twenty-five million are injured every year. And these figures are based on a very conservative estimation of what constitutes a work-related injury. Thus they don’t count the half-million cases of occupational disease every year. I looked at one medical textbook on occupational diseases which was 1,200 pages long. Even this barely scratches the surface. The available statistics count the obvious cases like the 100,000 miners who have black lung disease, of whom 4,000 die every year. What the statistics don’t show is that tens of millions of people have their lifespans shortened by work — which is all that homicide means, after all. Consider the doctors who work themselves to death in their late 50’s. Consider all the other workaholics.

Even if you aren’t killed or crippled while actually working, you very well might be while going to work, coming from work, looking for work, or trying to forget about work. The vast majority of victims of the automobile are either doing one of these work-obligatory activities or else fall afoul of those who do them. To this augmented body-count must be added the victims of auto-industrial pollution and work-induced alcoholism and drug addiction. Both cancer and heart disease are modern afflictions normally traceable, directly or indirectly, to work.

Work, then, institutionalizes homicide as a way of life. People think the Cambodians were crazy for exterminating themselves, but are we any different? The Pol Pot regime at least had a vision, however blurred, of an egalitarian society. We kill people in the six-figure range (at least) in order to sell Big Macs and Cadillacs to the survivors. Our forty or fifty thousand annual highway fatalities are victims, not martyrs. They died for nothing — or rather, they died for work. But work is nothing to die for.

State control of the economy is no solution. Work is, if anything, more dangerous in the state-socialist countries than it is here. Thousands of Russian workers were killed or injured building the Moscow subway. Chernobyl and other Soviet nuclear disasters covered up until recently make Times Beach and Three Mile Island—but not Bhopal—look like elementary-school air-raid drills. On the other hand, deregulation, currently fashionable, won’t help and will probably hurt. From a health and safety standpoint, among others, work was at its worst in the days when the economy most closely approximated laissez-faire. Historians like Eugene Genovese have argued persuasively that—as antebellum slavery apologists insisted—factory wage-workers in the Northern American states and in Europe were worse off than Southern plantation slaves. No rearrangement of relations among bureaucrats and businessmen seems to make much difference at the point of production. Serious implementation of even the rather vague standards enforceable in theory by OSHA would probably bring the economy to a standstill. The enforcers apparently appreciate this, since they don’t even try to crack down on most malefactors.

What I’ve said so far ought not to be controversial. Many workers are fed up with work. There are high and rising rates of absenteeism, turnover, employee theft and sabotage, wildcat strikes, and overall goldbricking on the job. There may be some movement toward a conscious and not just visceral rejection of work. And yet the prevalent feeling, universal among bosses and their agents and also widespread among workers themselves, is that work itself is inevitable and necessary.

I disagree. It is now possible to abolish work and replace it, insofar as it serves useful purposes, with a multitude of new kinds of free activities. To abolish work requires going at it from two directions, quantitative and qualitative. On the one hand, on the quantitative side, we have to cut down massively on the amount of work being done. At present most work is useless or worse and we should simply get rid of it. On the other hand — and I think this the crux of the matter and the revolutionary new departure — we have to take what useful work remains and transform it into a pleasing variety of game-like and craft-like pastimes, indistinguishable from other pleasurable pastimes except that they happen to yield useful end-products. Surely that shouldn’t make them less enticing to do. Then all the artificial barriers of power and property could come down. Creation could become recreation. And we could all stop being afraid of each other.

I don’t suggest that most work is salvageable in this way. But then most work isn’t worth trying to save. Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Thirty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done — presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now — would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his flunkies and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes.

Forty percent of the workforce are white-collar workers, most of whom have some of the most tedious and idiotic jobs ever concocted. Entire industries, insurance and banking and real estate for instance, consist of nothing but useless paper-shuffling. It is no accident that the “tertiary sector,” the service sector, is growing while the “secondary sector” (industry) stagnates and the “primary sector” (agriculture) nearly disappears. Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to ensure public order. Anything is better than nothing. That’s why you can’t go home just because you finish early. They want your time, enough of it to make you theirs, even if they have no use for most of it. Otherwise why hasn’t the average work week gone down by more than a few minutes in the last sixty years?

Next we can take a meat-cleaver to production work itself. No more war production, nuclear power, junk food, feminine hygiene deodorant — and above all, no more auto industry to speak of. An occasional Stanley Steamer or Model T might be all right, but the auto-eroticism on which such pest-holes as Detroit and Los Angeles depend is out of the question. Already, without even trying, we’ve virtually solved the energy crisis, the environmental crisis and assorted other insoluble social problems.

Finally, we must do away with far and away the largest occupation, the one with the longest hours, the lowest pay and some of the most tedious tasks around. I refer to housewives doing housework and child-rearing. By abolishing wage-labor and achieving full unemployment we undermine the sexual division of labor. The nuclear family as we know it is an inevitable adaptation to the division of labor imposed by modern wage-work. Like it or not, as things have been for the last century or two it is economically rational for the man to bring home the bacon, for the woman to do the shitwork and provide him with a haven in a heartless world, and for the children to be marched off to youth concentration camps called “schools,” primarily to keep them out of Mom’s hair but still under control, but incidentally to acquire the habits of obedience and punctuality so necessary for workers. If you would be rid of patriarchy, get rid of the nuclear family whose unpaid “shadow work,” as Ivan Illich says, makes possible the work-system that makes it necessary. Bound up with this no-nukes strategy is the abolition of childhood and the closing of the schools. There are more full-time students than full-time workers in this country. We need children as teachers, not students. They have a lot to contribute to the ludic revolution because they’re better at playing than grown-ups are. Adults and children are not identical but they will become equal through interdependence. Only play can bridge the generation gap.

I haven’t as yet even mentioned the possibility of cutting way down on the little work that remains by automating and cybernizing it. All the scientists and engineers and technicians freed from bothering with war research and planned obsolescence should have a good time devising means to eliminate fatigue and tedium and danger from activities like mining. Undoubtedly they’ll find other projects to amuse themselves with. Perhaps they’ll set up world-wide all-inclusive multi-media communications systems or found space colonies. Perhaps. I myself am no gadget freak. I wouldn’t care to live in a pushbutton paradise. I don’t want robot slaves to do everything; I want to do things myself. There is, I think, a place for labor-saving technology, but a modest place. The historical and pre-historical record is not encouraging. When productive technology went from hunting-gathering to agriculture and on to industry, work increased while skills and self-determination diminished. The further evolution of industrialism has accentuated what Harry Braverman called the degradation of work. Intelligent observers have always been aware of this. John Stuart Mill wrote that all the labor-saving inventions ever devised haven’t saved a moment’s labor. Karl Marx wrote that “it would be possible to write a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class.” The enthusiastic technophiles — Saint-Simon, Comte, Lenin, B.F. Skinner — have always been unabashed authoritarians also; which is to say, technocrats. We should be more than skeptical about the promises of the computer mystics. They work like dogs; chances are, if they have their way, so will the rest of us. But if they have any particularized contributions more readily subordinated to human purposes than the run of high tech, let’s give them a hearing.

What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a “job” and an “occupation.” Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people, are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won’t be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.

The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times in fact enjoy doing. To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy, it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions which afflict these activities when they are reduced to work. I, for instance, would enjoy doing some (not too much) teaching, but I don’t want coerced students and I don’t care to suck up to pathetic pedants for tenure.

Second, there are some things that people like to do from time to time, but not for too long, and certainly not all the time. You might enjoy baby-sitting for a few hours in order to share the company of kids, but not as much as their parents do. The parents meanwhile profoundly appreciate the time to themselves that you free up for them, although they’d get fretful if parted from their progeny for too long. These differences among individuals are what make a life of free play possible. The same principle applies to many other areas of activity, especially the primal ones. Thus many people enjoy cooking when they can practice it seriously at their leisure, but not when they’re just fueling up human bodies for work.

Third — other things being equal — some things that are unsatisfying if done by yourself or in unpleasant surroundings or at the orders of an overlord are enjoyable, at least for a while, if these circumstances are changed. This is probably true, to some extent, of all work. People deploy their otherwise wasted ingenuity to make a game of the least inviting drudge-jobs as best they can. Activities that appeal to some people don’t always appeal to all others, but everyone at least potentially has a variety of interests and an interest in variety. As the saying goes, “anything once.” Fourier was the master at speculating about how aberrant and perverse penchants could be put to use in post-civilized society, what he called Harmony. He thought the Emperor Nero would have turned out all right if as a child he could have indulged his taste for bloodshed by working in a slaughterhouse. Small children who notoriously relish wallowing in filth could be organized in “Little Hordes” to clean toilets and empty the garbage, with medals awarded to the outstanding. I am not arguing for these precise examples but for the underlying principle, which I think makes perfect sense as one dimension of an overall revolutionary transformation. Bear in mind that we don’t have to take today’s work just as we find it and match it up with the proper people, some of whom would have to be perverse indeed.

If technology has a role in all this, it is less to automate work out of existence than to open up new realms for re/creation. To some extent we may want to return to handicrafts, which William Morris considered a probable and desirable upshot of communist revolution. Art would be taken back from the snobs and collectors, abolished as a specialized department catering to an elite audience, and its qualities of beauty and creation restored to integral life from which they were stolen by work. It’s a sobering thought that the Grecian urns we write odes about and showcase in museums were used in their own time to store olive oil. I doubt our everyday artifacts will fare as well in the future, if there is one. The point is that there’s no such thing as progress in the world of work; if anything, it’s just the opposite. We shouldn’t hesitate to pilfer the past for what it has to offer, the ancients lose nothing yet we are enriched.

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps. There is, it is true, more suggestive speculation than most people suspect. Besides Fourier and Morris—and even a hint, here and there, in Marx — there are the writings of Kropotkin, the syndicalists Pataud and Pouget, anarcho-communists old (Berkman) and new (Bookchin). The Goodman brothers’ Communitas is exemplary for illustrating what forms follow from given functions (purposes), and there is something to be gleaned form the often hazy heralds of alternative/appropriate/intermediate/convivial technology, like Schumacher and especially Illich, once you disconnect their fog machines. The situationists — as represented by Vaneigem’s Revolution of Everyday Life and in the Situationist International Anthology — are so ruthlessly lucid as to be exhilarating, even if they never did quite square the endorsement of the rule of the workers’ councils with the abolition of work. Better their incongruity, though, than any extant version of leftism, whose devotees look to be the last champions of work, for if there were no work there would be no workers, and without workers, whom would the left have to organize?

So the abolitionists will be largely on their own. No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debater’s problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is coextensive with the consumption of delightful play-activity.

Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not — as it is now—a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play. The participants potentiate each other’s pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful. If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.

Workers of the world… relax!

This essay originated as a speech in 1980. A revised and enlarged version was published as a pamphlet in 1985, and in the first edition of The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (Loompanics Unlimited, 1986). It has also appeared in many periodicals and anthologies, including translations into French, German, Italian, Dutch and Slovene. Revised by the author for the Inspiracy Press edition.
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Slavoj Žižek

There's alot to be said about Slavoj Žižek, and I'm someone who doesn't really understand the background of psychoanalysis or Lacan, and his wikipedia entry makes my head spin. That being said, his ideas about how ideology operate today are really insightful. He's been criticized for repackaging Leninism and Stalinism in a hip way, and his persona can teeter towards a blend of drunken rock star and Karl Marx-esque grumpy old man polemic. I disagree with alot of his analysis, vehemently in some cases, but he's nonetheless got alot of ideas and approaches to worth checking out.

""Žižek!" is a feature documentary exploring the eccentric personality and esoteric work of the "wild man of theory": the eminent Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek."

part 1

part 2

part 3

part 4

part 5

part 6

part 7

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

my solution: does not compute

click on the title below for a link to my other blog:

my solution: does not compute

note: i was reading Nicholas Von Hoffman's piece originally in the Nation on Alternet and reading some of the comments and these are my two cents...

As the discussion of what the criteria which will indicate the system is "fixed" or that the stimulus plan "worked" e.g the Dow Jones @ 10,000, half of the unemployed reemployed, GDP growth back into the positive, ....Ummm I'm quite honestly hoping none of it will work.
I have no faith that we can ever factor a conscience into this system and without it, it can't help but to act like anything other than a sociopathic monstrosity. The problem is that is how competition works by design. Competing firms try to gain an advantage. Where they exhaust innovation and productivity, inevitably they turn to other measures that incur whatever human or ecological cost it can get away with, whenever is not made responsible for the logical conclusion of it's backdoor exploitation (backdoor being outside the shelf price, costs externalized to taxpayers or affected communities). If we did somehow legislate or otherwise orientate the economy to have sociological factors other than wealth distribution and redistribution, those books would be the first to be cooked, since nobody could possibly be able to undo centuries of self reinforcing authoritarian culture and dysfunctional behavior. A sensitivity training will not change anything.
If we look to the old way, this stop gap measure of failed humanity despite our supposed intelligence, for our solutions....we'll get nothing more than the same old problems repackaged , while offsetting the same predictable day of reckoning, to reappear again in the future. This is magical thinking at it's worst. Wanting to believe a cruel indifferent mechanistic view of the world will grow a heart from the good intentions of the innocents begs the question: Why put so much effort into making ourselves adapt to it when it is so dependent on us to exist? Property is the one illusion barricading us from real considerations of reorganization, but that too is an illusion albeit one that will be contested by your local armed gang of property rights enforcers. Plan on it. While no one can own the earth, and time tells us that it is the earth who owns us, regardless whether embalming fluid slows the process down or not. The legacy of this system now is that of spoiled children having a tantrum, souring the abundance the future might have from the poisionous illusions of privledge and arrogance. This is no time for us to trust others with our best interests. Restored balance approaches but it will require sacrafice, a flowery death of sorts, with the heavens we inherit being that next phase of human existence. Make no mistake that when the time comes the current system will cut you down if it is convenient to it's own immediate ends, so take your pick: As Zapata was famous for saying:¡Prefiero morir de pie que vivir siempre arrodillado!
This situation is nothing if not a clarion call for a new way of organizing ourselves as a society, without top down solutions that reinforce and benefit those in power, or enabling another set of power hungry operators from exploiting the opportunity.This is a time for the braver among us to start choosing differently, to start making those everyday momentary choices more to the ends of building the next world, not sacraficing our children to the gods of the old world.
Unfortunately, this is where the years of rote education leave us. Outrage after outrage after outrage, and no substantial action, no substantial movement that challenges power and shakes the system to it's foundations, as a day of reckoning emerges from the burnt hull of these crisis. The population has been swindled and satiated for years with excess credit and debt as a psychological drug substitute for real choices and real praxis in our lives. Nobody can make sense of any of the constituent pieces we have been taught to take for granted in our socio-economic existence, thus we see mass entertainment embracing absurdity, as it is increasingly reflected in our day to day activities. Why is it we have to deal with an astounding amount of incompetence in this world? Is it because we weren't meant to do that which is easiest and most convenient for the ruling class?? Is it because our lives are exchanged for slave wages, debts and other schemes to ensure our dependence in their degrading system of labor? That fairy tale of easy wealth from asset price inflation isn't coming back just as credit will never be the same again even if nothing else changes. A real solution looks nothing like the predecessor which lead us to this wasteland. Read more!

Stonewall Riot Video Game

And some history..

A Woman for Her Time: In Memory of Stonewall Warrior Sylvia Rivera
by Riki Wilchins

Out of the Closets & Into the Libraries: a collection of radical queer moments

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The Shock of Victory by David Graeber

by David Graeber

Oct 12, 2007

The biggest problem facing direct action movements is that we don’t know how to handle victory.

This might seem an odd thing to say because of a lot of us haven’t been feeling particularly victorious of late. Most anarchists today feel the global justice movement was kind of a blip: inspiring, certainly, while it lasted, but not a movement that succeeded either in putting down lasting organizational roots or transforming the contours of power in the world. The anti-war movement was even more frustrating, since anarchists and anarchist tactics were largely marginalized. The war will end, of course, but that’s just because wars always do. No one is feeling they contributed much to it.

I want to suggest an alternative interpretation. Let me lay out three initial propositions here:

1) Odd though it may seem, the ruling classes live in fear of us. They appear to still be haunted by the possibility that, if average Americans really get wind of what they’re up to, they might all end up hanging from trees. It know it seems implausible but it’s hard to come up with any other explanation for the way they go into panic mode the moment there is any sign of mass mobilization, and especially mass direct action, and usually try to distract attention by starting some kind of war.

2) In a way this panic is justified. Mass direct action—especially when organized on democratic lines—is incredibly effective. Over the last thirty years in America, there have been only two instances of mass action of this sort: the anti-nuclear movement in the late ‘70s, and the so called “anti-globalization” movement from roughly 1999-2001. In each case, the movement’s main political goals were reached far more quickly than almost anyone involved imagined possible.

3) The real problem such movements face is that they always get taken by surprise by the speed of their initial success. We are never prepared for victory. It throws us into confusion. We start fighting each other. The ratcheting of repression and appeals to nationalism that inevitably accompanies some new round of war mobilization then plays into the hands of authoritarians on every side of the political spectrum. As a result, by the time the full impact of our initial victory becomes clear, we’re usually too busy feeling like failures to even notice it.

Let me take the two most prominent examples case by case:

(Clamshell Alliance, Life Magazine May 1979)


The anti-nuclear movement of the late ‘70s marked the first appearance in North America of what we now consider standard anarchist tactics and forms of organization: mass actions, affinity groups, spokescouncils, consensus process, jail solidarity, the very principle of decentralized direct democracy. It was all somewhat primitive, compared to now, and there were significant differences—notably a much stricter, Gandhian-style conceptions of non-violence—but all the elements were there and it was the first time they had come together as a package. For two years, the movement grew with amazing speed and showed every sign of becoming a nation-wide phenomenon. Then almost as quickly, it distintegrated.

It all began when, in 1974, some veteran peaceniks turned organic farmers in New England successfully blocked construction of a proposed nuclear power plant in Montague, Massachusetts. In 1976, they joined with other New England activists, inspired by the success of a year-long plant occupation in Germany, to create the Clamshell Alliance. Clamshell’s immediate goal was to stop construction of a proposed nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. While the alliance never ended up managing an occupation so much as a series of dramatic mass-arrests, combined with jail solidarity, their actions—involving, at peak, tens of thousands of people organized on directly democratic lines—succeeded in throwing the very idea of nuclear power into question in a way it had never been before. Similar coalitions began springing up across the country: the Palmetto alliance in South Carolina, Oystershell in Maryland, Sunflower in Kansas, and most famous of all, the Abalone Alliance in California, reacting originally to a completely insane plan to build a nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, almost directly on top of a major geographic fault line.

Clamshell first three mass actions, in 1976 and 1977, were wildly successful. But it soon fell into crisis over questions of democratic process. In May 1978, a newly created Coordinating Committee violated process to accept a last-minute government offer for a three-day legal rally at Seabrook instead of a planned fourth occupation (the excuse was reluctance to alienate the surrounding community). Acrimonious debates began about consensus and community relations, which then expanded to the role of non-violence (even cutting through fences, or defensive measures like gas masks, had originally been forbidden), gender bias, and so on. By 1979 the alliance split into two contending, and increasingly ineffective, factions, and after many delays, the Seabrook plant (or half of it anyway) did go into operation. The Abalone Alliance lasted longer, until 1985, in part because its strong core of anarcha-feminists, but in the end, Diablo Canyon too got its license and went into operation in December 1988.

On the surface this doesn’t sound too inspiring. But what was the movement really trying to achieve? It might helpful here to map out its full range of goals:

1) Short-Term Goals: to block construction of the particular nuclear plant in question (Seabrook, Diablo Canyon…)

2) Medium-Term Goals: to block construction of all new nuclear plants, delegitimize the very idea of nuclear power and begin moving towards conservation and green power, and legitimate new forms of non-violent resistance and feminist-inspired direct democracy

3) Long-Term Goals: (at least for the more radical elements) smash the state and destroy capitalism

If so the results are clear. Short-term goals were almost never reached. Despite numerous tactical victories (delays, utility company bankruptcies, legal injunctions) the plants that became the focus of mass action all ultimately went on line. Governments simply cannot allow themselves to be seen to lose in such a battle. Long-term goals were also obviously not obtained. But one reason they weren’t is that the medium-term goals were all reached almost immediately. The actions did delegitimize the very idea of nuclear power—raising public awareness to the point that when Three Mile Island melted down in 1979, it doomed the industry forever. While plans for Seabrook and Diablo Canyon might not have been cancelled, just about every other then-pending plan to build a nuclear reactor was, and no new ones have been proposed for a quarter century. There was indeed a more towards conservation, green power, and a legitimizing of new democratic organizing techniques. All this happened much more quickly than anyone had really anticipated.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see most of the subsequent problems emerged directly from the very speed of the movement’s success. Radicals had hoped to make links between the nuclear industry and the very nature of the capitalist system that created it. As it turns out, the capitalist system proved more than willing to jettison the nuclear industry the moment it became a liability. Once giant utility companies began claiming they too wanted to promote green energy, effectively inviting what we’d now call the NGO types to a space at the table, there was an enormous temptation to jump ship. Especially because many of them only allied with more radical groups so as to win themselves a place at the table to begin with.

The inevitable result was a series of heated strategic debates. But it’s impossible to understand this though without first understanding that strategic debates, within directly democratic movements, are rarely conducted as such. They almost always take the form of debates about something else. Take for instance the question of capitalism. Anti-capitalists are usually more than happy to discuss their position on the subject. Liberals on the other hand really don’t like to have to say “actually, I am in favor of maintaining capitalism”, so whenever possible, they try to change the subject. So debates that are actually about whether to directly challenge capitalism usually end up getting argued out as if they were short-term debates about tactics and non-violence. Authoritarian socialists or others who are suspicious of democracy itself don’t like to make that an issue either, and prefer to discuss the need to create the broadest possible coalitions. Those who do like democracy but feel a group is taking the wrong strategic direction often find it much more effective to challenge its decision-making process than to challenge its actual decisions.

There is another factor here that is even less remarked, but I think equally important. Everyone knows that faced with a broad and potentially revolutionary coalition, any governments’ first move will be to try to split in it. Making concessions to placate the moderates while selectively criminalizing the radicals—this is Art of Governance 101. The US government, though, is in possession of a global empire constantly mobilized for war, and this gives it another option that most governments do not. Those running it can, pretty much any time they like, decide to ratchet up the level of violence overseas. This has proved a remarkably effective way to defuse social movements founded around domestic concerns. It seems no coincidence that the civil rights movement was followed by major political concessions and a rapid escalation of the war in Vietnam; that the anti-nuclear movement was followed by the abandonment of nuclear power and a ramping up of the Cold War, with Star Wars programs and proxy wars in Afghanistan and Central America; that the Global Justice Movement was followed by the collapse the Washington consensus and the War on Terror. As a result early SDS had to put aside its early emphasis on participatory democracy to become a mere anti-war movement; the anti-nuclear movement morphed into a nuclear freeze movement; the horizontal structures of DAN and PGA gave way to top-down mass organizations like ANSWER and UFPJ. From the point of view of government the military solution does have its risks. The whole thing can blow up in one’s face, as it did in Vietnam (hence the obsession, at least since the first Gulf War to design a war that was effectively protest-proof.) There is also always a small risk some miscalculation will accidentally trigger a nuclear Armageddon and destroy the planet. But these are risks politicians faced with civil unrest appear to have normally been more than willing to take—if only because directly democratic movements genuinely scare them, while anti-war movements are their preferred adversary. States are, after all, ultimately forms of violence. For them, changing the argument to one about violence is taking things back to their home turf, what they really prefer to talk about. Organizations designed either to wage, or to oppose, wars will always tend to be more hierarchically organized than those designed with almost anything else in mind. This is certainly what happened in the case of the anti-nuclear movement. While the anti-war mobilizations of the ‘80s turned out far larger numbers than Clamshell or Abalone ever had, but it also marked a return to marching along with signs, permitted rallies, and abandoning experiments with new forms of direct democracy.

(Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc against the IMF/World Bank, April 2000)


I’ll assume our gentle reader is broadly familiar with the actions at Seattle, IMF-World Bank blockades six months later in Washington at A16, and so on.

In the US, the movement flared up so quickly and dramatically even the media could not completely dismiss it. It also quickly started eating itself. Direct Action Networks were founded in almost every major city in America. While some of these (notably Seattle and L.A. DAN) were reformist, anti-corporate, and fans of strict non-violence codes, most (like New York and Chicago DAN) were overwhelmingly anarchist and anti-capitalist, and dedicated to diversity of tactics. Other cities (Montreal, Washington D.C.) created even more explicitly anarchist Anti-Capitalist Convergences. The anti-corporate DANs dissolved almost immediately, but very few lasted more than a couple years. There were endless and bitter debates: about non-violence, about summit-hopping, about racism and privilege issues, about the viability of the network model. Then there was 9/11, followed by a huge increase up of the level of repression and resultant paranoia, and the panicked flight of almost all our former allies among unions and NGOs. By Miami, in 2003, it seemed like we’d been put to rout, and a paralysis swept over the movement from which we’ve only recently started to recover.

September 11th was such a weird event, such a catastrophe, that it makes it almost impossible for us to perceive anything else around it. In its immediate aftermath, almost all of the structures created in the globalization movement collapsed. But one reason it was so easy for them to collapse was—not just that war seemed such an immediately more pressing concern—but that once again, in most of our immediate objectives, we’d already, unexpectedly, won.

Myself, I joined NYC DAN right around the time of A16. At the time DAN as a whole saw itself as a group with two major objectives. One was to help coordinate the North American wing of a vast global movement against neoliberalism, and what was then called the Washington Consensus, to destroy the hegemony of neoliberal ideas, stop all the new big trade agreements (WTO, FTAA), and to discredit and eventually destroy organizations like the IMF. The other was to disseminate a (very much anarchist-inspired) model of direct democracy: decentralized, affinity-group structures, consensus process, to replace old-fashioned activist organizing styles with their steering committees and ideological squabbles. At the time we sometimes called it “contaminationism”, the idea that all people really needed was to be exposed to the experience of direct action and direct democracy, and they would want to start imitating it all by themselves. There was a general feeling that we weren’t trying to build a permanent structure; DAN was just a means to this end. When it had served its purpose, several founding members explained to me, there would be no further need for it. On the other hand these were pretty ambitious goals, so we also assumed even if we did attain them, it would probably take at least a decade.

As it turned out it took about a year and a half.

Obviously we failed to spark a social revolution. But one reason we never got to the point of inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to rise up was, again, that we achieved our other goals so quickly. Take the question of organization. While the anti-war coalitions still operate, as anti-war coalitions always do, as top-down popular front groups, almost every small-scale radical group that isn’t dominated by Marxist sectarians of some sort or another—and this includes anything from organizations of Syrian immigrants in Montreal or community gardens in Detroit—now operate on largely anarchist principles. They might not know it. But contaminationism worked. Alternately, take the domain of ideas. The Washington consensus lies in ruins. So much so it’s hard no to remember what public discourse in this country was even like before Seattle. Rarely have the media and political classes been so completely unanimous about anything. That “free trade”, “free markets”, and no-holds-barred supercharged capitalism was the only possible direction for human history, the only possible solution for any problem was so completely assumed that anyone who cast doubt on the proposition was treated as literally insane. Global justice activists, when they first forced themselves into the attention of CNN or Newsweek, were immediately written off as reactionary lunatics. A year or two later, CNN and Newsweek were saying we’d won the argument.

Usually when I make this point in front of anarchist crowds someone immediately objects: “well, sure, the rhetoric has changed, but the policies remain the same.”

This is true in a manner of speaking. That is to say, it’s true that we didn’t destroy capitalism. But we (taking the “we” here as the horizontalist, direct-action oriented wing of the planetary movement against neoliberalism) did arguably deal it a bigger blow in just two years than anyone since, say, the Russian Revolution.

Let me take this point by point

(The security fence protecting the rich at the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas is torn down, Quebec City, April 2001)

·FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS. All the ambitious free trade treaties planned since 1998 have failed, The MAI was routed; the FTAA, focus of the actions in Quebec City and Miami, stopped dead in its tracks. Most of us remember the 2003 FTAA summit mainly for introducing the “Miami model” of extreme police repression even against obviously non-violent civil resistance. It was that. But we forget this was more than anything the enraged flailings of a pack of extremely sore losers—Miami was the meeting where the FTAA was definitively killed. Now no one is even talking about broad, ambitious treaties on that scale. The US is reduced to pushing for minor country-to-country trade pacts with traditional allies like South Korea and Peru, or at best deals like CAFTA, uniting its remaining client states in Central America, and it’s not even clear it will manage to pull off that.

·THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION. After the catastrophe (for them) in Seattle, organizers moved the next meeting to the Persian Gulf island of Doha, apparently deciding they would rather run the risk of being blown up by Osama bin Laden than having to face another DAN blockade. For six years they hammered away at the “Doha round”. The problem was that, emboldened by the protest movement Southern governments began insisting they would no longer agree open their borders to agricultural imports from rich countries unless those rich countries at least stopped pouring billions of dollars of subsidies at their own farmers, thus ensuring Southern farmers couldn’t possibly compete. Since the US in particular had no intention of itself making any of the sort of sacrifices it demanded of the rest of the world, all deals were off. In July 2006, Pierre Lamy, head of the WTO, declared the Doha round dead and at this point no one is even talking about another WTO negotiation for at least two years—at which point the organization might very possibly not exist.

·THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND AND WORLD BANK. This is the most amazing story of all. The IMF is rapidly approaching bankruptcy, and it is a direct result of the worldwide mobilization against them. To put the matter bluntly: we destroyed it. The World Bank is not doing all that much better. But by the time the full effects were felt, we weren’t even paying attention.

This last story is worth telling in some detail, so let me leave the indented section here for a moment and continue in the main text:

(States of Unrest: Resistance to IMF Policies in Poor Countries, Global Exchange)

The IMF was always the arch-villain of the struggle. It is the most powerful, most arrogant, most pitiless instrument through which neoliberal policies have, for the last 25 years been imposed on the poorer countries of the global South, basically, by manipulating debt. In exchange for emergency refinancing, the IMF would demand “structural adjustment programs” that forced massive cuts in health, education, price supports on food, and endless privatization schemes that allowed foreign capitalists to buy up local resources at firesale prices. Structural adjustment never somehow worked to get countries back on their feet economically, but that just meant they remained in crisis, and the solution was always to insist on yet another round of structural adjustment.

The IMF had another, less celebrated, role: of global enforcer. It was their job to ensure that no country (no matter how poor) could ever be allowed to default on loans to Western bankers (no matter how foolish). Even if a banker were to offer a corrupt dictator a billion dollar loan, and that dictator placed it directly in his Swiss bank account and fled the country, the IMF would ensure billion dollars (plus generous interest) would have to be extracted from his former victims. If a country did default, for any reason, the IMF could impose a credit boycott whose economic effects were roughly comparable to that of a nuclear bomb. (All this flies in the face of even elementary economic theory, whereby those lending money are supposed to be accepting a certain degree of risk, but in the world of international politics, economic laws are only held to be binding on the poor.) This role was their downfall.

(Argentina rises up 'They all must go!" Decemeber 2001)

What happened was that Argentina defaulted and got away with it. In the ‘90s, Argentina had been the IMF’s star pupil in Latin America—they had literally privatized every public facility except the customs bureau. Then in 2002, the economy crashed. The immediate results we all know: battles in the streets, popular assemblies, the overthrow of three governments in one month, road blockades, occupied factories… “Horizontalism”—broadly anarchist principles—were at the core of popular resistance. The political class was so completely discredited that politicians were obliged to put on wigs and phony mustaches to be able to eat in restaurants without being physically attacked. When Nestor Kirchner, a moderate social democrat, took power in 2003, he knew he had to do something dramatic in order to get most of the population even to accept even the idea of having a government, let alone his own. So he did. He did, in fact, the one thing no one in that position is ever supposed to do. He defaulted on Argentina’s foreign debt.

Actually Kirchner was quite clever about it. He did not default on his IMF loans. He defaulted on Argentina’s private debt, announcing that for all outstanding loans, he would only pay 25 cents on the dollar. Citibank and Chase of course went to the IMF, their accustomed enforcer, to demand punishment. But for the first time in its history, the IMF balked. First of all, with Argentina’s economy already in ruins, even the economic equivalent of a nuclear bomb would do little more than make the rubble bounce. Second of all, just about everyone was aware it was the IMF’s disastrous advice that set the stage for Argentina’s crash in the first place. Third and most decisively, this was at the very height of the impact of the global justice movement: the IMF was already the most hated institution on the planet, and willfully destroying what little remained of the Argentine middle class would have been pushing things just a little bit too far.

So Argentina was allowed to get away with it. After that, everything changed. Brazil and Argentina together arranged to pay back their outstanding debt to the IMF itself. With a little help from Chavez, so did the rest of the continent. In 2003, Latin American IMF debt stood at $49 billion. Now it’s $694 million. To put that in perspective: that’s a decline of 98.6%. For every thousand dollars owed four years ago, Latin America now owes fourteen bucks. Asia followed. China and India now both have no outstanding debt to the IMF and refuse to take out new loans. The boycott now includes Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and pretty much every other significant regional economy. Also Russia. The Fund is reduced to lording it over the economies of Africa, and maybe some parts of the Middle East and former Soviet sphere (basically those without oil). As a result its revenues have plummeted by 80% in four years. In the irony of all possible ironies, it’s increasingly looking like the IMF will go bankrupt if they can’t find someone willing to bail them out. Neither is it clear there’s anyone particularly wants to. With its reputation as fiscal enforcer in tatters, the IMF no longer serves any obvious purpose even for capitalists. There’s been a number of proposals at recent G8 meetings to make up a new mission for the organization—a kind of international bankruptcy court, perhaps—but all ended up getting torpedoed for one reason or another. Even if the IMF does survive, it has already been reduced to a cardboard cut-out of its former self.

The World Bank, which early on took on the role of good cop, is in somewhat better shape. But emphasis here must be placed on the word “somewhat”—as in, its revenue has only fallen by 60%, not 80%, and there are few actual boycotts. On the other hand the Bank is currently being kept alive largely by the fact India and China are still willing to deal with it, and both sides know that, so it is no longer in much of a position to dictate terms.

Obviously, all of this does not mean all the monsters have been slain. In Latin America, neoliberalism might be on the run, but China and India are carrying out devastating “reforms” within their own countries, European social protections are under attack, and most of Africa, despite much hypocritical posturing on the part of the Bonos and rich countries of the world, is still locked in debt, and now also facing a new colonization by China. The US, its economic power retreating in most of the world, is frantically trying to redouble its grip over Mexico and Central America. We’re not living in utopia. But we already knew that. The question is why we never noticed our victories.

Olivier de Marcellus, a PGA activist from Switzerland, points to one reason: whenever some element of the capitalist system takes a hit, whether it’s the nuclear industry or the IMF, some leftist journal will start explaining to us that really, this is all part of their plan—or maybe, an effect of the inexorable working out of the internal contradictions of capital, but certainly, nothing for which we ourselves are in any way responsible. Even more important, perhaps, is our reluctance to even say the word “we”. The Argentine default, wasn’t that really engineered by Nestor Kirchner? What does he have to do with the globalization movement? I mean, it’s not as if his hands were forced by thousands of citizens were rising up, smashing banks, and replacing the government with popular assemblies coordinated by the IMC. Or, well, okay, maybe it was. Well, in that case, those citizens were People of Color in the Global South. How can “we” take responsibility for their actions? Never mind that they mostly saw themselves as part of the same global justice movement as us, espoused similar ideas, wore similar clothes, used similar tactics, in many cases even belonged to the same confederacies or organizations. Saying “we” here would imply the primal sin of speaking for others.

Myself, I think it’s reasonable for a global movement to consider its accomplishments in global terms. These are not inconsiderable. Yet just as with the anti-nuclear movement, they were almost all focused on the middle term. Let me map out a similar hierarchy of goals:

1) Short-Term Goals: blockade and shut down particular summit meetings (IMF, WTO, G8, etc)

2) Medium-Term Goals: destroy the “Washington Consensus” around neoliberalism, block all new trade pacts, delegitimize and ultimately shut down institutions like the WTO, IMF, and World Bank; disseminate new models of direct democracy.

3) Long-Term Goals: (at least for the more radical elements) smash the state and destroy capitalism.

Here again, we find the same pattern. After the miracle of Seattle, short term—tactical—goals were rarely achieved. But this was mainly because faced with such a movement, governments tend to dig in their heels and make it a matter of principle that they shouldn’t be. This was usually considered much more important, in fact, than the success of the summit in question. Most activists do not seem to be aware that in a lot of cases—the 2001 and 2002 IMF and World Bank meetings for example—police ended up enforcing security arrangements so elaborate that they came very close to shutting down the meetings themselves; ensuring that many events were cancelled, the ceremonies were ruined, and nobody really had a chance to talk to each other. But the point was not whether trade officials got to meet or not. The point was that the protestors could not be seen to win.

Here, too, the medium term goals were achieved so quickly that it actually made the longer-term goals more difficult. NGOs, labor unions, authoritarian Marxists, and similar allies jumped ship almost immediately; strategic debates ensued, but they were carried out, as always, indirectly, as arguments about race, privilege, tactics, almost anything but as actual strategic debates. Here, too, everything was made infinitely more difficult by the state’s recourse to war.

It is hard, as I mentioned, for anarchists to take much direct responsibility for the inevitable end of the war in Iraq, or even to the very bloody nose the empire has already acquired there. But a case could well be made for indirect responsibility. Since the ‘60s, and the catastrophe of Vietnam, the US government has not abandoned its policy of answering any threat of democratic mass mobilizing by a return to war. But it has to be much more careful. Essentially, they have to design wars to be protest-proof. There is very good reason to believe that the first Gulf War was explicitly designed with this in mind. The approach taken to the invasion of Iraq—the insistence on a smaller, high-tech army, the extreme reliance on indiscriminate firepower, even against civilians, to protect against any Vietnam-like levels of American casualties—appears to have been developed, again, more with a mind to heading off any potential peace movement at home than one focused on military effectiveness. This, anyway, would help explain why the most powerful army in the world has ended up being tied down and even defeated by an almost unimaginably ragtag group of guerillas with negligible access to outside safe-areas, funding, or military support. As in the trade summits, they are so obsessed with ensuring forces of civil resistance cannot be seen to win the battle at home that they would prefer to lose the actual war.

(Seattle 99)


How, then, to cope with the perils of victory? I can’t claim to have any simple answers. Really I wrote this essay more to start a conversation, to put the problem on the table—to inspire a strategic debate.

Still, some implications are pretty obvious. The next time we plan a major action campaign, I think we would do well to at least take into account the possibility that we might obtain our mid-range strategic goals very quickly, and that when that happens, many of our allies will fall away. We have to recognize strategic debates for what they are, even when they seem to be about something else. Take one famous example: arguments about property destruction after Seattle. Most of these, I think, were really arguments about capitalism. Those who decried window-breaking did so mainly because they wished to appeal to middle-class consumers to move towards global-exchange style green consumerism, to ally with labor bureaucracies and social democrats abroad. This was not a path designed to create a direct confrontation with capitalism, and most of those who urged us to take this route were at least skeptical about the possibility that capitalism could ever really be defeated at all. Those who did break windows didn’t care if they were offending suburban homeowners, because they didn’t see them as a potential element in a revolutionary anti-capitalist coalition. They were trying, in effect, to hijack the media to send a message that the system was vulnerable—hoping to inspire similar insurrectionary acts on the part of those who might considering entering a genuinely revolutionary alliance; alienated teenagers, oppressed people of color, rank-and-file laborers impatient with union bureaucrats, the homeless, the criminalized, the radically discontent. If a militant anti-capitalist movement was to begin, in America, it would have to start with people like these: people who don’t need to be convinced that the system is rotten, only, that there’s something they can do about it. And at any rate, even if it were possible to have an anti-capitalist revolution without gun-battles in the streets—which most of us are hoping it is, since let’s face it, if we come up against the US army, we will lose—there’s no possible way we could have an anti-capitalist revolution while at the same time scrupulously respecting property rights.

The latter actually leads to an interesting question. What would it mean to win, not just our medium-term goals, but our long term ones? At the moment no one is even clear how that would come about, for the very reason none of us have much faith remaining in “the” revolution in the old 19th or 20th century sense of the term. After all, the total view of revolution, that there will be a single mass insurrection or general strike and then all walls will come tumbling down, is entirely premised on the old fantasy of capturing the state. That’s the only way victory could possibly be that absolute and complete—at least, if we are speaking of a whole country or meaningful territory.

In way of illustration, consider this: what would it have actually meant for the Spanish anarchists to have actually “won” 1937? It’s amazing how rarely we ask ourselves such questions. We just imagine it would have been something like the Russian Revolution, which began in a similar way, with the melting away of the old army, the spontaneous creation of workers’ soviets. But that was in the major cities. The Russian Revolution was followed by years of civil war in which the Red Army gradually imposed the new state’s control on every part of the old Russian Empire, whether the communities in question wanted it or not. Let us imagine that anarchist militias in Spain had routed the fascist army, which then completely dissolved, and kicked the socialist Republican Government out of its offices in Barcelona and Madrid. That would certainly have been victory by anybody’s standards. But what would have happened next? Would they have established Spain as a non-Republic, an anti-state existing within the exact same international borders? Would they have imposed a regime of popular councils in every singe village and municipality in the territory of what had formerly been Spain? How exactly? We have to bear in mind here that were there many villages towns, even regions of Spain where anarchists were almost non-existent. In some just about the entire population was made up of conservative Catholics or monarchists; in others (say, the Basque country) there was a militant and well-organized working class, but one that was overwhelmingly socialist or communist. Even at the height of revolutionary fervor, most of these would stay true to their old values and ideas. If the victorious FAI attempted to exterminate them all—a task which would have required killing millions of people—or chase them out of the country, or forcibly relocate them into anarchist communities, or send them off to reeducation camps—they would not only have been guilty of world-class atrocities, they would have had to give up on being anarchists. Democratic organizations simply cannot commit atrocities on that systematic scale: for that, you’d need Communist or Fascist-style top-down organization, since you can’t actually get thousands of human beings to systematically massacre helpless women and children and old people, destroy communities, or chase families from their ancestral homes unless they can at least say they were only following orders. There appear to have been only two possible solutions to the problem.

1) Let the Republic continue as de facto government, controlled by the socialists, let them impose government control the right-wing majority areas, and get some kind of deal out of them that they would leave the anarchist-majority cities, towns, and villages alone to organize themselves as they wish to, and hope that they kept the deal (this might be considered the “good luck” option)

2) Declare that everyone was to form their own local popular assemblies, and let them decide on their own mode of self-organization.

The latter seems the more fitting with anarchist principles, but the results wouldn’t have likely been too much different. After all, if the inhabitants of, say, Bilbao overwhelmingly desired to create a local government, how exactly would one have stopped them? Municipalities where the church or landlords still commanded popular support would presumably put the same old right-wing authorities in charge; socialist or communist municipalities would put socialist or communist party bureaucrats in charge; Right and Left statists would then each form rival confederations that, even though they controlled only a fraction of the former Spanish territory, would each declare themselves the legitimate government of Spain. Foreign governments would recognize one or the other—since none would be willing to exchange ambassadors with a non-government like the FAI, even assuming the FAI wished to exchange ambassadors with them, which it wouldn’t. In other words the actual shooting war might end, but the political struggle would continue, and large parts of Spain would presumably end up looking like contemporary Chiapas, with each district or community divided between anarchist and anti-anarchist factions. Ultimate victory would have to be a long and arduous process. The only way to really win over the statist enclaves would be win over their children, which could be accomplished by creating an obviously freer, more pleasurable, more beautiful, secure, relaxed, fulfilling life in the stateless sections. Foreign capitalist powers, on the other hand, even if they did not intervene militarily, would do everything possible to head off the notorious “threat of a good example” by economic boycotts and subversion, and pouring resources into the statist zones. In the end, everything would probably depend on the degree to which anarchist victories in Spain inspired similar insurrections elsewhere.

The real point of the imaginative exercise is just to point out that there are no clean breaks in history. The flip-side of the old idea of the clean break, the one moment when the state falls and capitalism is defeated, is that anything short of that is not really a victory at all. If capitalism is left standing, if it begins to market your once-subversive ideas, it shows that the capitalists really won. You’ve lost; you’ve been coopted. To me this is absurd. Can we say that feminism lost, that it achieved nothing, just because corporate culture felt obliged to pay lip service to condemning sexism and capitalist firms began marketing feminist books, movies, and other products? Of course not: unless you’ve managed to destroy capitalism and patriarchy in one fell blow, this is one of the clearest signs that you’ve gotten somewhere. Presumably any effective road to revolution will involve endless moments of cooptation, endless victorious campaigns, endless little insurrectionary moments or moments of flight and covert autonomy. I hesitate to even speculate what it might really be like. But to start in that direction, the first thing we need to do is to recognize that we do, in fact, win some. Actually, recently, we’ve been winning quite a lot. The question is how to break the cycle of exaltation and despair and come up with some strategic visions (the more the merrier) about these victories build on each other, to create a cumulative movement towards a new society.

(Seattle 99)
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