Filed under: Anarchist Movement, Civilization, Critique
Dispatches from an uninvited guest on COAST SALISH TERRITORY SQUAXIN AND NISQUALLY LAND
“The institution of Slavery is the principal cause of civilization. Perhaps nothing can be more evident than that it is the sole cause… Without it, there can be no accumulation of property, no providence for the future, no taste for comforts and elegancies, which are the characteristics and essentials of civilization… Servitude is the condition of civilization.”
–South Carolina Senator William Harper, 1837
“Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home. Each is an aspect of the other.”
“Hear ye, Dakotas! When the Great Father at Washington sent us his chief soldier to ask for a path through our hunting grounds, a way for his iron road to the mountains and the western sea, we were told that they wished merely to pass through our country, not to tarry among us, but to seek for gold in the far west. Our old chiefs thought to show their friendship and goodwill, when they allowed this dangerous snake in our midst…
Yet before the ashes of the council fire are cold the Great Father is building his forts among us. You have heard the sound of the white soldier’s axe upon the Little Piney. His presence here is an insult and a threat. It is an insult to the spirits of our ancestors. Are we then to give up their sacred graves to be plowed for corn? Dakotas, I am for war!
–Red Cloud (Lakota)
What follows is not an official position of the many-headed hydra of the olympia blockade. Cover photo from @stupice
IT SEEMS a minor furor has followed the appearance of the first issue of Commune Against Civilization. The liberals, activists, and union enthusiasts who would prefer a blockade with unified “messaging” broadcast to “the public” seem eager to speak for the entire affair, with a definite tendency wanting to present a discrete list of demands to be met by the City of Olympia as a condition for the cessation of hostilities and the resumption of rail traffic.
Among the sought after reforms that we hear about time and again are “democratic control” of the Port of Olympia and a “just transition” for port and rail workers to “good, green jobs” and even for the economy of Thurston County as a whole to transition (a la Bookchin) to a “cooperative, fair and sustainable economy.” Furthermore, we are seeing the ceremonious re-appearance of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience as guiding principles for a centralized movement that wishes to put its best face forward for consumption by a fickle population, or perhaps a potential constituency.
Some participants in current affairs who do not share in these concerns may find it necessary to address some common themes and (mis)conceptions operating beneath the surface of things in Olympia. For the present writing, from among the flurry of terms above, let’s start with one of the most enduring and spell-binding figments of the Leftist/revolutionary imagination…
the syndicalist recuperation/
the workerist fallacy/
the union con
For the sake of convenience and brevity, we can say that two great reservoirs of thought, feeling, and action inform the long tradition of critiques and attacks on syndicalism (or unionism) and its world. These many expressions flow, in a word, from:
1) the critique of civilization in its many aspects and in its totality (including its regimes of domestication, patriarchy, and the globalizing division of labor, of work itself and its abuses of life, creativity, and health, of ecological devastation and madness, of the profound and massively consequential derangement of the ecological, psychological, social, physical, emotional and mental needs of the human animal, etc.), and 2) the critique from a strategic and tactical standpoint, informed by an analysis of the transformations in capitalist/statist economies and by relatively recent historic events, boding for an insurrectionary perspective.
While the former set of concerns (the critique of civ) is inestimably more immediate and important, let’s start with the more circumscribed but complementary latter set of concerns (the strategic/tactical/historic/insurrectionary) in order to better confront the workerist nonsense on its own terrain and avoid (at least at first) the immediate leap to bad faith, knee jerk accusations (of mysticism, romanticism, obscurantism, tokenization, proto-fascistic affinities etc.) that are often elicited by any critique of industrial society and its imperatives. From there, we may dovetail into a brief discussion of the first set of concerns, working our way backward through of the detritus of ages.
What is Anarcho-Syndicalism?
The term anarcho-syndicalism denotes a conjunction of two grand traditions in the history of modernity, reflected in the name itself. The late-nineteenth century philosophical tradition of anarchism represented in the industrializing European register as the belief in the abolition of all government and the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force or compulsion (represented initially and largely, but by no means solely, by the “grand old men” of anarchy with the beards: Bakunin and Kropotkin).
For many, and with far-reaching consequence for radicalism, this tradition met its match in syndicalism (from the French word for union: syndicat), the theory for a type of economic system, considered a replacement for capitalism, in which workers, industries, and organisations be systematized into confederations or syndicates, achieving collective ownership through direct action in the workplace, whose culmination would be the general strike. In this manner, labor aristocracy would be circumvented and society instead run in the interest of informed and skilled majorities, through union democracy (this tendency was notably theorized by anarchist and anti-semite Proudhon, as well as French social philosopher and, incidentally (?), inspiration to the early fascists, Georges Sorel, author of Reflections on Violence).
The overt marriage of these two ideological and activistic denizens of the modernizing world– with its carriage of secularization, liberalism, individualism, rationalization, bureaucracy, urbanization, industrialization, class upheavals, imperial expansion, colonialism, the advance of ever more powerful technology and technocracy, and a generalized deepening of domination and exploitation, malaise and horror– meant for its advocates that direct action on the job could be used to eventually topple all hierarchical economic power, sabotaging and striking until the whole works were taken and the State summarily abolished.
The term anarcho-syndicalism was not in wide usage until the 1920’s, when it was applied as a pejorative by authoritarian communists to any syndicalists (including the more reformist- or economically-minded, i.e. non-anarchist, syndicalists) who resisted the increased control of labor movements by communist parties, whose machinations were resisted by anarchists at most every turn.
However, years before this, the idea found one of its most beloved and enduring manifestations springing into life at the 1905 founding convention in Chicago of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) a scrappy collection of anarchists, socialists, communists, and footloose rebels with aspirations of an all-inclusive, international, and industrially-based labor union that would transcend the narrow and elitist trade-based organizations predominating in the labor movement of the time. Their motto was “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The IWW (nicknamed “the Wobblies”) played a significant and dramatic part in a large handful of labor disputes and massive strikes, as well as participating in the infamous “free speech fights” in the towns of the American west and northwest in the first part of the 20th century. Massacres and murders in which Wobbly blood was shed occurred as close to Olympia as Everett and Centralia WA, where animosity between Wobblies and the fascistic American Legion directly after the First World War led to some of the emblematic events associated with the first Red Scare of 1919-1920 (which, contrary to popular impressions, was mobilized primarily to stop anarchist insurrectionaries associated with Luigi Galleani, the same milieu that the distinctly anti-syndicalist Sacco and Vanzetti called their own).
The larger-than-life personalities involved in the union, the constant tramping and vagabondage, the proclivities of its members toward drink, song, violence, sabotage of the bosses’ property, and the insistence of many on just not fucking working, earned the Wobblies a permanent place in the heart of radical folklore in the United States, and paints a picture that has no analogue in contemporary radical scenes, even the ones bearing its name.
After the fortunes, and then the membership, of the IWW drastically ebbed away in the 20’s, the next major episode of note to the history of syndicalism is encapsulated by the breakout of the Spanish Civil War, that most lauded of sagas in all of classical anarchist history, representing for many the high point of libertarian struggle. Spain in the 30’s saw one of the most starkly dichotomized struggles between the political Left and Right to be found in any national context of the interwar years, and is popularly represented as an out-and-out struggle between democracy and fascism (although Franco and his forces were in fact traditional conservatives and monarchists, and his military dictatorship did not possess the populist thrust and obsession with national rebirth typical of fascist movements).
The explicitly anarcho-syndicalist confederation of unions called the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, or “National Confederation of Labour“) was founded in 1910 and dramatically expanded the role of anarchism in Spain, and eventually tagged up with the FAI (Federación Anarquista Ibérica, or “Iberian Anarchist Federation) to play an integral role in the Leftist popular front and Republican forces who mounted the ultimately and tragically doomed armed resistance to the forcible takeover of Spain by Franco after he lost the 1936 elections by a narrow margin. The bank robberies and valiant battles of anarcho-syndicalist militant, hero, and homophobe Buenaventura Durruti, as well as the post-Civil War clandestine exploits of the likes of guerrilla extraordinaire Francesc Sabaté Llopart (both of them dying in the conflicts), are perhaps better known than the sacrifices of the Iron Column, an all-volunteer and horizontally-organized militia in the war consisting of around 6,000 men and women, which drew its members not from the ranks of political groups or unions but from the recently liberated prisoners of the several penitentiaries that were broken open in the portions of Spain under anarchist control.
The Iron Column were among the most tenacious fighters in the attempted social revolution, engaging the right-wing forces on many fronts, always pushing things further and expanding the insurrectionary purview of the conflict. All the while its members suffered the slanders and manipulations of the more staid political militants of the Republican forces, their supposed anti-fascist “comrades.” Long before the Civil War was lost to Franco, the revolution was lost to the power-consolidation and imposition of hierarchy and military discipline of the Stalinists and their collaborators. The blood of the Iron Column still cries out to us from the soil where it was spilled.
The high-water mark of anarcho-syndicalist theory came in 1938 with the publication of Rudolf Rocker’s Anarchosyndicalism: Theory and Practice (subtitle: An Introduction to a Subject Which the Spanish War Has Brought into Overwhelming Prominence.) Rocker, a self-professed “anarchist without adjectives,” (a term spearheaded by Voltairine de Cleyre) of German origin and contemporary of Emma Goldman, can easily and probably accurately be seen to have delivered one of the most lucid and succinct expressions of the tendency, and a sort of apex for Left-anarchism in general, one whose contours would go on in certain times and places to inspire action for decades to come. For a handful of years in what seems like another life, I was its staunch advocate.
Why is Syndicalism Inadequate to Our Struggles?
Syndicalism came to prominence and achieved such relevance as we might attribute to it during a phase of capitalist civilization that has come to a close, yielding more and more to a qualitatively different state of affairs which calls for its own perspectives and methods of anarchist action.
The societal transformation from an industrial culture to a post-industrial culture (at least in the broad swaths of the Empire which constitute the centers of relative privilege where cutting edge technologies predominate) has informed and conditioned insurrectionary analysis to a vast extent. However, talk of the transition to post-industrial capitalism is not meant to suggest that industry has been done away with, or that it isn’t important. In fact it has more to do with the fact that the number of workers employed by industry and agriculture is decreasing while productivity remains the same, or even improves, rendering the human being increasingly superfluous, redundant.
Underway for the past several decades, and concurrent with the post-war transition from outright colonialism to a regimen of neo-colonialism, there has been a vast change wrought in the process of production. The introduction of information technology, computerization, and automation has accelerated the globalization of capital, and lead to a radical decentralization of the productive process. It has deepened the global division of labor and opened up competition between work forces the world over.
But much more is at stake than what we’re accustomed to hearing about in the activist broadsides against globalization.
The transformation under discussion first affected the advanced industrial states like the US, and the other countries of the so-called “first world,” although it increasingly affects the furthest corners reached by capital, the frontiers that it must attain in order to survive. In the former centers of industry, the factories, docks, and mines of classical capitalism have now mostly disappeared, and with them, an entire culture and set of values related to work. The worker, once imagined by authoritarian revolutionaries and many anarchists to be the revolutionary subject of history, occupying a privileged position in their theories, has been ejected by a long, slow process from a situation where he or she had relative job security for life, a steady wage, maybe a skill if they’re lucky (but more likely some dull, mind- and body-destroying repetitive task on an assembly line)… and now faces something with which many of us are quite familiar: precarity.
Among other things, the new situation has fundamentally altered the nature of class struggle, recommending the analysis of insurrectionaries: in place of the old clearly demarcated classes in conflict with each other, two molar heaps who are to fight it out for control of the machinery, there are now two reservoirs of rebellion: the included and the excluded. Each of these camps is subject to the capricious whims of the modern administration of power, both in qualitatively different ways than the sheer brutality of yesteryear. The carrots as well as the sticks of modern capitalism’s opening industrial phase have ceded the ground to new schemes of recuperation and repression.
On an increasingly massive scale, relatively privileged people shuffle back and forth through the revolving doors of unemployment, part-time or underemployment in predominantly service sector jobs which have proliferated profusely, the dead end of student debt and having a degree but no prospects. Flexibility is the new watchword above all. The included, the mostly white and/or assimilated citizen-subjects of Empire whose lot corresponds with “the Workers” of yore, must now be prepared to be re-trained, relocated, re-certified, etc.
For the excluded– those who exist below the bottom of capitalism’s alleged lowest rungs, the heirs to the history of colonization, chattel and prison slavery, and forcibly imposed social death, the situation is different. Denied access to the tools, training, and even the language of the included, their exclusion isn’t solely marked by their annihilation in the outlands of the Empire or their confinement to the stereotypical ghetto here at home, a geographically circumscribed area, but by their very lack of access to the new processes of capitalism, their lack of an ability to communicate with the rest of society in a coherent way.
Basically, the ground has fallen out of the terrain on which reforms and all the utopian aspirations inherited from the history of industrial radicalism used to be launched, and there is no viable arena for the energies that used to be put toward winning them. The figments over which to quibble are less convincing, exercising less of a pull on the imagination. This is part of the reason for the increase in the frequency and intensity of acts of irrational violence, like riots.
The development of technology has superseded the old situation where the working class opposed the owning class for a share of the wealth and power in society, for a piece of the pie. The antagonists in the old struggles shared a common scale of values, and despite appearances were ultimately united by similar priorities. This is less and less the case. Those excluded from the benefits of post-industrial capital form something like a reprise of the old barbarians outside the gates of civilization, while the most disenchanted among the included, the Romans themselves, succumb just as readily to a violence which demands nothing, and is dismissed on all sides as “senseless,” regardless of just how sensual the experience can be.
The architects of this new world order have nothing to offer the undesirables but more control and alienation. With the closing of the geographical frontiers of the planet, and with capitalism still possessed as ever of its need to expand to new markets or die, it is increasingly the internal frontiers which are colonized- new aspects of daily life come into the purview of commodity and spectacle, new services which before were unneeded and undreamt of, the mapping of the human genome, the commandeering of our very imaginations and most intimate faculties. Yet the geographical outer frontier still exists as well, in the form of a blatant continuation of Manifest Destiny: the “exploration” and colonization of outer space. (This frontier, as long as civilization remains online, could prove even more crucial in the long run than the internal ones in securing returns on new investments and keeping the whole shit show going.)
It is in this context that we must understand other new technologies like genetic engineering, bio-technology and cell phones as deliberate acts of war on the rebelling human body, itself having lost its prior corral: the beloved workplace. This is just as sure as factories were introduced in a prior era as an intentional campaign of counter-insurgency against the craftspeople of the directly pre-industrial era of capitalist life.
With the shift from an economy based on massive, centralized fortresses of production to an economy predicated primarily on consumption and commodity flows, the locus of rebellious strategy and tactics has shifted from the workplace strike to riots, looting, theft, sabotage (another old Wobbly strong suit), and to occupations and blockades. It has shifted to interrupting the flows of capital and contests over the meaning and use of space.
All of this is why anarchists increasingly talk about “no future” and “demand nothing.” This is why they advocate for a greater frequency and intensity of the riots that are becoming a mainstay of our era, but also for pushing the explosions of irrational violence in a more anti-authoritarian direction, for attacking the symbols of power directly, attempting to further the de-legitimization of government and capitalism in a bid for egalitarian relations.
And this is only the barest perspective on why syndicalism cannot deliver us from the un-living monster.
Let’s Destroy Work, Let’s Destroy the Economy
The open secret of life and history in the sickening wasteland of the United States is just beginning to be declared again, louder and louder since Ferguson, Baltimore, Oakland, Milwaukee… as the bodies of hundreds of black people continue to slam into the pavement, the lifeblood ebbing away after the bullets from the guns of officer after officer after officer. 880 people have been killed by police so far this year.
The open secret is this: the “Workers”– the white working class– did not build America. Slaves built America. The secret is that slavery never went away.
It wasn’t the exploitation of wage workers that primarily enabled the initiation of the exploratory ventures of the European empires who proceeded to relieve their bowels all over the world. It wasn’t the plight of workers that definitively launched the transatlantic trade or the brutal subjugation and ongoing attempted genocide of the First Peoples of Turtle Island, the punching through of the first iron and steel snakes from one end of this continent to the other, all of which will be joyously celebrated throughout the white hell of civil society on this farce of a holiday known as “Thanksgiving.”
What enabled the assembly of this white hell was the forcible, terroristic domination, the criminalization, the endless living death imposed on black and brown bodies. It was chattel slavery, later transformed and enshrined in the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution as prison-slavery, as provision was made for the imposition of forced labor as punishment for crimes.
Beneath the ostensible bottom floor of the “pyramid of capitalist society”– beneath its exploited workers– lies another complex of layers entirely, a catacombs of never ending loss hidden from our vantage. It includes all those silently and automatically tasked with the reproductive and emotional labors which act as grease for the megamachine, soaring up from the bedrock of the patriarchy, those earmarked for the brutality of gendered disposability. It includes the brown women and children throughout the neo-colonized nations of the global South who work on plantations and in mines and sweatshops, slaving in unimaginably horrific conditions so that we can have coffee and metals and garments that fall apart after a year. It includes the other-than-human relatives who are exterminated for the coltan in our cell-phones, and the new, literal continent of plastic garbage in the ocean, the one for which we traded away living coral reefs and seas teeming with fish. It includes every voice of every numinous presence that populated our world that has been choked out for the continued extraction of profit and maintenance of control.
On this road to hell, an injury to one should have been an injury to all, but it wasn’t. Not even close. Despite the best of intentions, the labor movement made sure of that.
The Industrial Revolution is a Bourgeois Lie/
Early Labor was a Criminal Conspiracy
This first thing to understand is that unions essentially exist to pimp labor to capital. This is their undeniable function. I’m not sure what is supposed to be so radical about it. It’s a truth that no labor radical I’ve known likes to attempt to address. Unions exist to communicate with the enemy and negotiate the terms of the surrender of your life and energy to a pre-existing capitalist enterprise that was erected on stolen land. They negotiate the end of hostilities. They are organs of integration for the capitalist system and its settler state. This is why unions have been used to great effect in the pacification and domestication of revolt, and played a crucial and racist role in the imposition of colonization.
Unions are capitalist structures that helped usher the Irish into whiteness and americanism, with devastating consequences for Black populations and all people of color. Unions helped crush the aspirations to a better life for untold droves of asian immigrants. And on and on. They are the loyal opposition to this culture.
Where, then, might the prospects for true opposition be found?
The repression and alienation of our animal selves didn’t start with the modern capitalism that we know from the tracts of european anarchists and socialists of the past couple hundred years, although it accelerated and deepened the aggregate of prior alienations. If hierarchical society and ecological catastrophe made their first appearances between six and ten thousand years ago then it stands to reason that some of the dynamics of the enemy we face played out in that time as they do in our own. The seeds of this ongoing repression and alienation were sown in the societal transformation that occurred when agricultural domestication of plants and the husbandry of animals (with their built-in guarantees of ecocide and forced servitude) became the sole subsistence basis for society, humans became sedentary, surpluses of food were stored and certain kinds of knowledge and spiritual practice were guarded jealously for the first time by new strata of specialists, namely, when the artificially separated spheres of life called class society and patriarchy themselves were inaugurated, and with them, a struggle between freedom and servitude that has continued from that time till this.
A hundred centuries of struggle as old as the appearance of the first patriarch, the first fence erected to keep out the wild, the first campaign to dehumanize some foreign enemy. It is reiterated in every bashing of someone who uses their body as they please, or refuses to use their body as prescribed. In fact, this ever-growing monster, the nightmare vessel called His-story, is the cesspool from which springs every system of oppression, every bigotry that we are accustomed to hearing and talking about in their reduced, specific dimensions. This runs contrary to the narrative of Progress shared by syndicalism and all of its closest relatives.
Later, in the Middle Ages of european history, the desert deepened incredibly with the mind/body split– the subordination of the passions to a disembodied reason– agreed upon and imposed by religion, science and civil society alike, and by the proto-capitalist enclosures of the Commons, communally held lands where gathering, hunting, and fishing could be engaged in by anyone. In school, where we “learned” about it briefly and in the most boring way possible if we learned about it at all, that time was called the Dark Ages, a drab and motionless time from which Progress supposedly delivered us. But what they didn’t tell us was that the new regime of repression called the Enlightenment triggered waves of upheaval across Europe and the “New World” so massive, so quaking and terrible, that we can scarcely imagine from our extremely degraded social vantage point their scope and significance. It gave rise to a culture of resistance so rich and so beautiful that it took the burning and breaking of millions of heretic and witch bodies to reorder the world for the emergent capitalist scheme.
The advent of clock time being forced upon human beings in order to synchronize their activity for the sake of productivity or war foreshadowed this holocaust of the witches, as well as the most dramatic change since agriculture: the birth of industry. The mechanical discipline required to make the new capitalist work machine go was resisted fiercely everywhere it was introduced with daggers, poison, guns, riots, arson, and cursing. There were fucking murders. The new soaring structures, the pride of the latest applied sciences, were burned to the ground. This toll was exacted on the bosses, the architects of a new world order, for attempting to make proud and skilled people into dull workers and automatons, but vagabondage, drunkenness, a grueling, poison work week, and the first prisons were the price the rebels paid for defeat.
It is well-documented but not well-known that factories, contrary to the contemporary popular conception of them, were not the natural result of human ingenuity and curiosity, not the spontaneous outgrowth of some innate will to dominate or the inevitable outcome of the forward march of time, but were introduced by the new ruling classes as a deliberate, targeted means of social control and conditioning for a population still too recalcitrant, too unruly, too free to be subjects even after all the abuses and losses of centuries. Factories were a weapon of social control against recalcitrant populations. (At its birth, industrial capitalism modelled its factories on the earliest prisons. In its twilight, prisons are modelled on factories.)
Concurrent with the defeat of the exploited was the rise of both political parties and labor unions, the original recuperators of the modern era, pale and deranged caricatures of the threat that once menaced capital and the state.
In England, not only the first but also the flagship case of the industrialization of a great power, the entire territory of that nation was convulsing in disgust and rage and despair. At the climax of the upheavals that included the Luddite conspiracy, the British government deployed more troops domestically to stop machine-breaking than they deployed in the whole Iberian theater of the Napoleonic Wars that were then wrapping up. Soon, union membership would be encouraged by those with political power. Breaking a loom, on the other hand, was made a capital offense.
The very earliest workers’ movement– before the unions as we would come to know them– was a criminal conspiracy to expropriate and kill the bosses and sabotage their machinery. The bosses thanked their lucky stars when unions made their appearance and began their task of domesticating labor unrest and manufacturing consent for industrialization, and when, in tandem, modern mass political parties attracted the gaze of the discontent. It must be mentioned here, that democracy is the form of government which was developed to correspond to this industrial slavery. It is the spoonful of sugar that the bourgeois revolution and the modern nation-state brought along with them to make the poison go down. For this and other reasons democracy is just as devoid of liberatory prospects as Progress or syndicalism, and it doesn’t behoove anarchists to meddle with these.
The profound pessimism about the experience of black, brown, and indigenous people on this continent– a pessimism born of the hidden material and structural realities of the system– is the key to the downfall of the American Empire, more than any workerist identity or workplace campaign ever could be. These endlessly obfuscated matters of race and colonization are not separable from the technologies and social forms themselves of the colonizing culture, and none of these are separable from the increasingly grievous matters of ecology, subsistence, and resource extraction, the question of the land and our relationship to it, or our increasingly evident mal-adaptation to this state of affairs which manifests in generalized and intense mental illness and misery.
The two reservoirs that I mention in the beginning of this dispatch– the critique of civilization as such and the critique of its recent historical turns– are intimately bound together, and they pass through the crucible of the European subjugation of Africa and conquest of the Americas. A revolution of the Workers conceived along syndicalist lines is incapable of substantially touching any of this.
The logic of Progress favored by the syndicalist, as well as the Bookchinist and the authoritarian “communist,” is consonant with the logic of colonization. For them, feudalism and capitalism represent sadly necessary phases that must be passed through on the way to a technologically-enabled libertarian communism of one sort or another. Uncivilized cultures are lumped onto the back end of this linear continuum and, of course, considered all the more barbaric for it. It’s no longer savvy for progressives to admit that they think peoples who have remained practitioners of a primitive or traditional subsistence strategy for their culture are, in the words of Murray Bookchin, “lacking in evolutionary promise,” but each time an advocate for an anti-civilization perspective is smeared as an advocate for “genocide,” this is the implication. In fact, it is the advocates of civilization whose hearts lie so much closer to Social Darwinism, however mystified this fact may be by contemporary sophists.
Like all visions that reach no further and dream no deeper than a tinkering and accounting of the economy, the awareness of the costs which lie outside of their blueprint is pre-emptively snuffed out. Genocide is now. Ecocide is now. Omnicide is now. And it is the world of work and factories and agricultural domestication that has birthed this state of affairs. The mayhem of civilized way of “life” is undeniably, factually horrendous. The mayhem attributed to the enemies of civilization is wholly conjectural.
The lives and dreams of coral reefs and orcas, the aspirations of wolves and salmon and dragonflies and fungus and prairies, the health and well-being of the traditional indigenous peoples of the world… these all are intimately connected to the fate of human society as a whole, and they figure not at all in the workerist vision. Some slapdash scheme of a collectively-run post-industrial society somehow accommodating these is laughably implausible.
Like the “Pilgrims” being toasted on this day, the true “barbarism” has always lain with the civilized. The ideal society of the Left-anarchists, the capitalism of Marx’s day, and the feudalism, pastoralism, and simple agrarian civilizations of yore and yonder– all of these have more in common with each other than any one of them has in common with the untrammeled life of the foragers, of the social hunters, of those who remain or aspire to be truly at home in the world, if only through the realization that they are its honored guests and not its masters. The spectrum of lifeways that obtained for over 99% of human existence, before civilization came along in the last couple of seconds, geologically speaking, and murdered almost the entire biosphere. The cast of historical characters who are smitten with the accumulation of surplus capital in one form or another are distinct from those who insist on the society against the state. What’s more is that their two modes being, perception, and subsistence cannot coexist for long. They are absolutely incompatible. As we see.
Such a lengthy rebuttal to syndicalism may seem redundant in an unfolding situation which seems bound to render the One Big Union more and more irrelevant. The tendency may be enjoying something of a resurgence in some anarchist circles (prompting the present dispatch), but not in the society where factories don’t even exist for us anymore. One would hope that a tendency whose apotheosis and ultimate legacy is represented by the fact of the “anarcho-” syndicalists of Spain becoming the government would be transparently absurd enough to be avoided. But when we also hear people around this town in their Che Guevara t-shirts pining for a “strong, centralized socialist state” in order to “avert the ecological disaster,” along with a spate of silly, skewed, and reductionist garbage like “joining the union is anti-fascist action!” then we cannot hope for the realization that joining the union is not even anti-capitalist action. We cannot convey the height of naivete involved in believing that statecraft is capable of adequately addressing the problems inherent to its functioning.
Syndicalism isn’t a threat to shit. Nothing could be clearer from the chuckles that occasionally issue forth from its advocates in response not only to the security concerns but also to the ambitious and expansive ferocity of the communal aspirations of the insurrectionary anarchists. Not only will they definitely not succeed in unionizing Jimmy Johns or Starbucks (especially not with such loose lips in such a small town), but even if they did, it would leave in place all of the structures that colonize, toxify, disenchant, and butcher life. After all, why do away with the structures of which you are enamored? No need to answer or even take the question seriously when it’s not you who faces the brunt of the state’s response, when the ax continues to fall on the others, near and far.
Syndicalism, in sum, is a colossal anachronism, but one that even in its prime was always mistaken. And yet, another rivulet in this cascade of irony is that anti-civilization anarchists are the ones accused ad nauseum of being lost in a dewy-eyed nostalgia, wayward children ignorant of the fact that we “can’t go back.” This charge rolls most readily and with most relish off the tongues of college kids who have basically formed a historical re-enactment society so that they can LARP as “fellow workers.” Nostalgia is nostalgia no matter which way you cast it, so you may as well dream big.
“Marx says that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps it is quite otherwise. Perhaps revolutions are an attempt by the passengers on this train – namely, the human race – to activate the emergency brake.”
“But what does the tradition of the oppressed consist in, if not in the discontinuous series of rare moments in which the chain of domination has been broken?”
A couple nights ago, I was taking a shift in the wee hours, doing a security lookout with a couple friends at the top of the staircase that leads down a hill to the railroad blockade: our nascent commune. Under the prettiness of the peach, light-polluted night sky, in that stretch of cold quiet night whose peace is spiked with the anxiety or excitement of any movement of vehicles, any strange sound, any false move, we spoke of all these things and more.
We felt in our bodies that the danger inherent in the blockade was an aspect of the freedom and community attained in the act of seceding from everyday life. There is no way to test the mettle of our visions without beginning to fight. The time is never right, so it may as well be right now. This is why it’s not any union campaign or membership organization that set things alight, but a multifarious and messy blockade and, dare I say it, a voluntaristic change in lifestyle that has breathed life back into the commune and threatened to derail Time.
This is why despite all differences in the camp we are strong in the face of our enemies. The shabby collection of tarps, tents, and fire barrels on the tracks were nothing a week ago, but now they are a tear in the bio-political fabric, a hole ripped in the expanse of the society of property out of which continually springs all manner of righteous things denied to us in our compartmentalized boxes of normality. Shout into the void for what you want, and watch the comrades come through with it, watch yourself come through with it. Demand spraypaint and a never ending supply of free pizza and an impromptu hockey game out front, just because. The flow of bodies, ideas, materials, and affinities must continue, must thicken, clogging the steel and electric veins of the Monster eating away at us when we are outside the orbit of blockade-life, commune-life, battle-life, and kill that fucker off.
There is no way that our animal dreams could ever fit into their organization. Furthermore, we have no delusions that these bodies, these forms we inhabit now– whether coddled by the abusive hands and stolen spoils of the civilized or not– could ever last more than a handful of years, the blink of an eye in an eternal cosmos where all difference is an illusion, and every end is a beginning.
As I sat still in that spot that I’d hurriedly bustled past hundreds of times before, now staring northward down the corridor of Jefferson in the general direction of the Port of Olympia, seeing the street as I’d never had the time or inclination to see it before, my friend suddenly piped up, “Oh, look! Look!” I whipped around in the direction of the Post Office to see two coyotes trotting off toward the library. My friend and I looked to each other as she murmured, “this is such a good sign.”
If I had told the coyotes, “You can’t go back!” they probably would have laughed at me. Go back to where? You don’t have to go back to what you never left. You can’t cease to be the kind of creature that you are, here and now.
It is the admirers of civilization, with its comforts and elegancies, the products of domestication and slavery, who continually insist on “going back,” diving head first back into the increasingly bloody and ceaseless wandering of humanity, away from the only straits in which it has been known to thrive, its humble place among all the other-than-humans that people all of creation.
Imagine: you are a passenger in a vehicle on a long trip, speeding around winding mountain passes. The stock of food in the vehicle has almost run down to nothing, and it’s starting to smell strange and acrid inside. Smoke starts to issue from the control panel. Your head is getting dizzy. Moreover, the vehicle keeps accelerating, and each winding pass around the mountain feels more and more treacherous, more and more like you are going to fly off the cliff. The anxiety is mounting. Finally, you can’t take it anymore, you turn to the driver and demand to be let out. The air outside seems inviting and a stroll through the brush along the side of the road might restore you. Then you’ll reconsider if you want to keep going along with this.
The driver turns to you and says: Oh no. We can’t go back. And we can’t go out there. It doesn’t look like there is much to live on out there. It looks very inhospitable to me. There are too many broken down car parts and roadkill animals and oil slicked plants all around from our many trips. I’ll tell you what though, I’ll let off the accelerator a tiny bit for just a minute before resuming. When we get back to the garage, I’ll think about tuning up the engine.
He then accelerates. There is a copy of Lenin’s The State and Revolution on the dash, and a copy of Bookchin’s Social Anarchism Vs. Lifestyle Anarchism in his breast pocket (left side). He goes on to tell you that if you do fly off the mountain, it will most assuredly be your fault. End scene.
The passenger and the driver do not understand each other. They are speaking in two different registers, about two different “realities.” They have incompatible visions of what it means to live well, to be free.
What we ask of the syndicalists is the removal, even just for a moment, of a veil from their eyes. What the syndicalists ask of the anti-civ anarchists is for us to un-see what we have seen, and to un-feel what is felt. And although we condemn syndicalism all on its own demerits, without equating it, one-for-one, with something like all of the atrocities of the USSR, the most faithful of the syndicalists, on the other hand, never part with their one favorite rhetorical flourish: that the critique of civilization is “genocidal.”
But if you think an attack on industrial infrastructure is genocidal, how do you justify your own participation in a railroad blockade? Why are you blocking infrastructure? Do you really believe that you are the one primarily responsible for any uptick in the privation that might ensue when these proppants don’t make it to their destination? When the blood of the earth is ripped from its bowels and a trail of broken lives and lands are left behind so that we can flick on a light switch?
The syndicalists’ refusal to make any adequate response to anti-civ discourse, their refusal to engage honestly with what we are putting forth at all, means that they have no idea and apparently wouldn’t care if it were indeed a fully voluntary transition away from civilized life– a soft landing– that we aim for. Why not start now? Take everything offline, piece by piece, starting with the biggest offenders and bullies, taking away the toys and superfluous comforts of white people and gradually taking it all down, while curtailing human consumption, having smaller families or abstaining from having kids, temporarily using less destructive technologies on the way to full sustainability…
Of course, this isn’t the way mass society and its technology work. They are not and have never been voluntary, consensual, or chosen by the vast majority of people. And in 200 years, all life on earth will likely be extinct because of them. Go ahead and read the latest science on the topic if that’s what you need to rubberstamp the analysis. The above “soft landing” scenario is almost as ridiculous as the idea of electing anti-civ politicians to gradually implement de-civilizing policy. But the point stands: the critique of civilization is an assessment. What we do with it is up to us. It is bound to appear as a sheerly negative program and invite heaps of invective from people who somehow have trouble believing, or even entertaining, the idea that our liberation will have to be found in a trajectory that leads outside and away from all of the established institutions of the world of fluorescent lights, parking lots, and prisons we have inherited.
Anyone with so colonial an outlook and so exorbitant a sense of entitlement that they declare “space communism will prevail!” without realizing it as a slogan of the avant-garde of capital and white supremacy has a corpse in their mouth when they sing Solidarity Forever. Anyone who insists that overpopulation is not now and could never be a problem (as we reach 7 billion, and then 8 billion, and then 9… as global temperatures go up and up and up) have eyes closed and fingers plugged in their ears while they sing. Would they– and could we– begin a dialogue with extant indigenous people living in traditional or semi-traditional ways, or those on the frontlines of resisting the latest vistas of assimilation and incursions onto their lands, and ask them what they think? Syndicalists consider any insistence on preserving or returning to an ecologically-sound lifeway to be tantamount to conservatism or proto-fascism, or an anomalous eruption of the barbarity of the past into the otherwise forward march of Progress.
Amidst smoldering ruins and tepid empty seas, amidst the floods and droughts, amidst the mass die-offs that are already happening year after year, we are those partisans for a life in common that leaves nothing out, that incurs its own costs, that suffers its own losses and mortalities with dignity and grace, without multiplying and offsetting them onto others like fucking bastards and guaranteeing a grid crash that we will blame on any messenger bold enough to name it, anyone with the honesty of a child who points out, once again, that the Emperor still wears no clothes.
For some of us, our own day mournful and overcast has come and gone, and we half-live as ghosts in the fallout. For some, there is something of that day in each day of our lives, lived on the far side of the apocalypse. All heirs to the intransigence of the Iron Column live inside of this day, and know that a time approaches when its treachery will once again be writ large.
Those who have no beef with democracy, industry, and work have no beef with the State. And the State is what differentiates civil societies from un-civil ones. It is only a matter of time before they betray us. They will do their level best to stop the insurrection, to arrest our hands reaching for the emergency brake.
As always, those for whom the horizon of life and struggle is circumscribed by the quantitative delusion have a price, and when it is paid they will make the trains run on time again.
Because, strangers to themselves, they never really hated the system.
///some catastrophic commune kids
Against the hallucinations of false opposition wherever they are found.
For War on the Death Machinery.
Decolonize means NO industrial infrastructure.
Power is logistic, block everything!
SHOOT THE CLOCKS
PULL THE EMERGENCY BRAKE
BENEATH THE PORT, THE BEACH
ALL OUT FOR BLOC FRIDAY