The loss of consciousness

(James Rosenquist, House of Fire)

The Suicide’s Defense

(Of all the stupidities wherewith the law-making power has oignaled its own incapacity for dealing with the disorders of society, none appears so utterly stupid as the law which punishes an attempted suicide. To the question “What have you to say in your defense?” I conceive the poor wretch might reply as follows.)

To say in my defense? Defense of what?
Defense to whom? And why defense at all?
Have I wronged any? Let that one accuse!
Some priest there mutters I “have outraged God”!
Let God then try me, and let none dare judge
Himself as fit to put Heaven’s ermine on!
Again I say, let the wronged one accuse.
Aye, silence! There is none to answer me.
And whom could I, a homeless, friendless tramp,
To whom all doors are shut, all hearts are locked,
All hands withheld — whom could I wrong, indeed
By taking that which benefited none
And menaced all?
Aye, since ye will it so,
Know then your risk. But mark, ‘tis not defense,
‘Tis accusation that I hurl at you.
See to’t that ye prepare your own defense.
My life, I say, Is an eternal thleat
To you and yours; and therefore it were well
T0 have foreborne your unasked services.
And why? Because I hate you! Every drop
Of blood that circles in your plethoric veins
Was wrung from out the gaunt and sapless trunks
Of men like me. who in your cursed mills
Were crushed like grapes within the wine-press
ground.
To us ye leave the empty skin of life;
The heart of it, the sweet of it, ye pour
To fete your dogs and mistresses withal!
Your mistresses! Our daughters! Bought, for bread,
To grace the flesh that once was father’s arms!

Yes, I accuse you that ye murdered me!
Ye killed the Man — and this that speaks to you
Is but the beast that ye have made of me!
What! Is it life to creep and crawl an beg,
And slink for shelter where rats congregate?
And for one’s ideal dream of a fat meal?
Is it, then, life, to group like pigs in sties,
And bury decency in common filth,
Because, forsooth, your income must be made,
Though human flesh rot in your plague-rid dens?
Is it, then, life, to wait another’s nod,
For leave to turn yourself to gold for him?
Would it me life to you? And was I less
Than you? Was I not born with hopes and dreams
And pains and passions even as were you?

But these ye have denied. Ye seized the earth,
Though it was none of yours, and said: “Hereon
Shall none rest, walk or work, till first to me
Ye render tribute!” Every art of man,
Born to make light of the burdens of the world,
Ye also seized, and made a tenfold curse
To crush the man beneath the thing he made.
Houses, machines, and lands — all, all are yours;
And us you do not need. When we ask work
Ye shake your heads. Homes? — Ye evict us. Bread? —
“Here, officer, this fellow’s begging. Jail’s
the place for him!” After the stripes, what next?
Poison! — I took it! — Now you say ‘twas sin
To take this life which troubled you lo much.
Sin to escape insult, starvation, brands
Of felony, inflicted for the crime
Of asking food! Ye hypocrites! Within
Your secret hearts the sin is that I failed!
Because I failed ye judge me to the stripes.
And the hard tail denied when I was free.
So be it. But beware! — a Prison cell,s
An evil bed to grow morality!
Black swamps breed black miasms; sickly soils
Yield poison fruit; snakes warmed to life will sting.
This time I was content to go alone;
Perchance the next I shall not be so kind.

Voltairine de Cleyre, Philadelphia, September 1894

 

Voltairine de Cleyre’s poem, “The Suicide’s Defense”, is a cry of hatred against the violence of the State and capitalism.  And it threatens those who would punish the suicide attempt with a generalised violence against the violence of exploitation and oppression.

Robert Kurz’s essay “Economy and Consciousness” (palim-psao.fr) speaks of the loss of consciousness under the reign of contemporary commodity fetishism or spectacle capitalism.  But the cry seems absent.

What separates the two texts may be thought to be the loss of that which formally fueled rebellion.  But there is more than the tragic expansion of capitalism at play.  If we share Kurz’s essay, it is because  the marxist “school” of the critique of value continues to provide some of the most powerful interpretations of Capital.  But it is blind to the pain and rebelliousness that simmers beneath the production of goods; a pain that engenders the uncivil “monsters” lying beneath the sleek flow of of regimented order.

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Reflections on the ongoing prison strike

Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social
problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are
veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the
automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness,
unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the
problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them
are relegated to cages.

Prisons thus perform a feat of magic. Or rather the people who continually vote in new
prison bonds and tacitly assent to a proliferating network of prisons and jails have been
tricked into believing in the magic of imprisonment. But prisons do not disappear
problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers
of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally
become big business.

Angela Davis, Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex  

 

The prison…functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers…It relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

 

With the prison strike initiated in the united states continuing, a statement from the media service of the strikers and a reflection on the strike’s challenge to the intensification of the exploitation of labour under incarceration …

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To bring down prisons

 

What is the real basis of punishment, however? The notion of a free will, the idea that man is at all times a free agent for good or evil; if he chooses the latter, he must be made to pay the price. Although this theory has long been exploded, and thrown upon the dustheap, it continues to be applied daily by the entire machinery of government, turning it into the most cruel and brutal tormentor of human life. The only reason for its continuance is the still more cruel notion that the greater the terror punishment spreads, the more certain its preventative effect.

Emma Goldman, Prisons

 

So long as there are prisons, the most courageous, sensitive, and beautiful among us will end up inside them, and the most courageous, sensitive, and beautiful parts of the rest of us will be inaccessible to us. Every one of us can become a prisoner. No one is truly free until all of us are free.

CrimethInc. Collective

 

What separates the prison from the rest of society are but the walls of the former.  But the walls multiply and proliferate, criss-cross and overlap, such that the walls isolating the prison lose distinctness.  The prison mirrors society (e.g. prison labour for “outside” sale) and society mirrors the prison.  The struggle against State and capitalist authoritarianism cannot then but embrace the struggle against prisons, as the these latter are the ultimate form of human domination and oppressive social organisation.

We share a text from the CrimethInc. Collective, in solidarity with the current united states prison strike and with anarchist prisoners.

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The limits of capitalism: Challenging the fetishism of labour and money

 

Capital is nothing more than value that must be valorized, which is to say augmented. Value empirically takes the form of money and in that sense its valorization can be illustrated in Marx’s famous formula M–C–M’ [M prime], that is money–commodity–more money. We can call this an end-in-itself motion because the same thing is at the beginning and the end of this endless augmentation loop: money is turned into more money. Value (in the form of money) therefore again and again refers to itself alone and the sole objective of this movement is the constant accumulation of surplus value. By its own internal logic, this end-in-itself motion does not recognize any limits. Because of its purely abstract-quantitative nature, it must, in principle, continue endlessly. That is the basis for the incessant drive for growth in capitalist society—which, as we all know, is destroying the basis of human existence on earth.

Norbert Trenkle

 

The marxist inspired critique of value offers an impressive theoretical framework for the understanding of the fetish-like nature of capitalist social relations.  It challenges the illusions of anti-capitalist politics centred on the liberation of work from capitalist exploitation, or on the legally imposed reform of the conditions of work, or, more recently, on nationalist “populist” promises of getting everyone back to work.  The problem is work itself, as the essential mediating relationship of all social life within capitalist societies.  Thus any meaningful radical politics against the reign of capital must begin by challenging the centrality of labour, along with commodity production and money as the end of “economic” activity.  Any piecemeal tinkering with these relations (through appeals to moral or legal restraint, calls for business ethics, for consuming more responsibly, demands for a “green” capitalism, and the like) will, at best, provide a brief respite for a privileged few, but ultimately, in our present of permanent crises, only render matters worse.

(This also obliges anarchists to critically reflect upon the creation of autonomous social relations under capitalism.  This would not be to dismiss the effort – far from it – but rather to point to the need to constantly reflect upon practices that pretend, rightly or wrongly, to free us from capitalist social relations).

It is not that the critique value cannot also be criticised (especially when it tends to ignore the social conditions necessary for the reproduction of capitalist social relations and the fissures or cracks that appear in the social body, in the securing of these conditions; the very cracks where autonomies can be constructed).  But much can also be learned from it.

We have on more than a few occasions translated and/or shared essays by authors such as Robert Kurz, Norbert Trenkle, Moishe Postone, Anselm Jappe and collective work by the Krisis collective, Manifesto Against Labour, of 1999.  On this occasion, we share a keynote lecture by Norbert Trenkle given at the International Conference
“Rethinking the Future of Work”, April 27 – 28, 2018, ICUB Research Institute of the University of Bucharest.

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Lessons from argentina: The FORA and Emilio López Arango

 

Emancipation isn’t a problem of mechanics nor an issue that can be resolved through technical means. A worker may be able to run a factory or put in motion all the machinery of an industry, but there isn’t in those attitudes the moral capacity to prevent servility and elevate oneself to a higher level.

Emilio López Arango, Means of struggle

 

The struggle for bread is not enough. Let us capture in the consciousness of man the value of the loss of individuality, establishing a moral resistance to the monstrous constructions of capitalism and opposing to material reality a reality of spirit.

Emilio López Arango, The Resistance to capitalism

 

Argentina’s Federación Obrera Regional Argentina or the FORA, founded in 1905 as an explicitly anarchist-communist labour organisation, offers a rich example – an example theorised in the writings of Emilio López Arango – of a mass anarchist labour movement that endeavoured to navigate between the shoals of reformist labour unionism and anarcho-syndicalism.

If we take López Arango as our guide, the FORA’s ambition was to ground anarchist politics in the practices of everyday working class struggles, thereby overcoming the risks of ideological sterility (and authoritarianism) in the former and reformism in the latter. 

The FORA would finally weaken under a variety of pressures – including the assassination of López Arango -, but it continues to offer an illustration of the necessity of anarchism to remain vitally tied to struggles, as they emerge in different contexts, pushing them always beyond their limits, multiplying their interconnections (an exclusive appropriation of the means of production, or a conquest of the State and nothing more, would be no revolution for López Arango), against the restraints of capitalist social relations.   

Following Robert Graham’s Anarchism Weblog, we share a text by Scott Nappalos on Argentina’s FORA, and another text by one of the principal figures of the movement, López Arango …

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The swelling of leeches

Over the course of the lifetime of Green Anarchy, the collective behind it elaborated a intense criticism of “civilisation”, and it is above all the passion that they brought to this task that we wish to celebrate in sharing the article below.

Green Anarchy’s condemnation of “civilisation” and parallel defense of “primitivism” and “wilding” raises unavoidable questions for any serious contemporary anarchism (and beyond).  However, the conceptual framework of its critique is equally open to question.  Are concepts such as “civilisation”, “primitivism” and “wilding” sufficiently clear and robust to serve as the basis for an adequate criticism of contemporary forms of oppression?  Do they not obfuscate as much as they illuminate?  Do they not pass over historical differences in social and political organisation that cannot be ignored for the theory and practice of anti-authoritarian/autonomous anti-capitalism?  And these questions would be just the beginning of any meaningful evaluation.

None of these questions are offered up as refutations or dismissals; they are instead invitations for reflection.

(For earlier and rich reflections on these questions, and more, with a focus on the work of John Zerzan, see the series of the entries under John Zerzan and primitivism in the Anarchist Library, as well as the site johnzerzan.net).

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Between means and ends, between reflection and vision

(Charles Burchfield, The Builders (House Wreckers in June), 1931)

 

If the idea of “Revolution” is to retain any meaning, it needs to be situational in orientation, rooted in the personal desires for liberation, and also be relating to the context in which it resides. It is a living and breathing phenomenon and it is never complete. In general, it is good to avoid flattening situations, or standardizing responses. Flexibility is the key to avoiding stagnation of ideas and activities. Whether ideological or physical, it is important to think outside of our (or their) boxes, however radical we think our ideas are; it is the only way we may grow. Yes, there are times to draw lines, to place limitations or borders around things, but these should be temporary and consensual black and white directions and activities in a larger sea of gray. The gray line is what holds us together, and at the same time, respects individuality and the moment.

 

A reflection on means and ends, theory and practice, by A. Morefus, from Green Anarchy and the Anarchist Library

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To destroy the urban

 

While the world of commodities is in liquidation, threatened by the implosion of all human contact and by ecological catastrophe, while young people slaughter each other and adults muddle through on psycho-pharmaceuticals, exactly what is at stake becomes clearer: subverting social relationships means creating new spaces for life and vice versa. In this sense, a “vast operation of urgent demolition” awaits us.

 

What remains of the “right to the city” (Henri Lefebvre) when all use value is submerged under exchange relations, when the generalised commodification of social relations colonises all urban space, when the conditions necessary for the reproduction of such relations governs all city life and politics?

What remains of “public space” when cities are saturated with technologies of surveillance and control, when behaviour is mapped by systems of “social credit“, when all obstacles to the “free” circulation of “goods” are pushed aside, prohibited, repressed?

What remains  of the freedom of “city air” (Stadtluft macht frei) when the city is reduced to a multiple object of profit extraction and consumption?

To speak of destroying the urban is not a call for physical destruction (capitalists already do this daily), but for a wilding of the city, for the transgression of the norms and borders which divide the urban space into controllable, separate domains of activity, for an occupation that transforms all spaces into thresholds for endless creations and uses.

From Green Anarchy (via the Anarchist Library), “Thoughts on the city” …

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To destroy work

Continuing a reflection that began with our last post on David Graeber’s criticism of “bullshit jobs” (and with an earlier series of articles posted under the collective title “Against labour, against capital“), we share below an article that was originally published in Green Anarchy (Spring 2013) by Jeffery Shantz, entitled “Reflections on the end of work”, and which was also more recently posted on the Anarchist Library.

(The Anarchist Library has taken the initiative of publishing a series of articles from the old magazine Green Anarchy (2001-2008).  A full archive of the magazine can be found here).

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Looking back at “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”: David Graeber

… written down, shit does not smell

Roland Barth, “L’arbre du crime”

 

What constitutes a “bullshit” job?  David Graeber in a now famous essay, “On the Phenonmenon of Bullshit Jobs“(2013), which now finds a second life in book form, has argued that contemporary capitalism generates endless quantities of useless, unproductive work as a means of controlling workers who, having been made technologically redundant, constitute a menace to the reigning social order.

A difficulty however shadows the argument. In the original essay, it rests upon a distinction between “real jobs”, “productive jobs”, jobs that are subjectively “meaningful” to those engaged in them and that objectively benefit “other people”. These are jobs in which workers are “actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things”. They include nurses, garbage collectors, mechanics, auto workers, tube workers in London, teachers, in sum, jobs that we cannot do without. By contrast, “bullshit” jobs are largely administrative and subsidiary service sectors, and include everything from all-night pizza deliverymen to corporate lawyers.

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