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“We address ourselves to unconsciouses that protest. We seek allies. We need allies. And we have the impression that those allies already exist, that they did not wait for us, that there are many people who have had enough, who are thinking, feeling, and working in similar directions: they have nothing to do with a trend, but with a more profound ‘spirit of the age,’ in which convergent investigations are taking place in very different domains.”
An explosive flux of events has erupted from every corner of the planet—the same explosive gestures, signals, cries, laughter—the same pattern, scene by scene, continent by continent, year after year. Having taken part in this historical flux, I would like to reflect on the re-emergence of a power which I do not yet fully understand: the power of revolt–the power of our party. Not to be confused with the political organizations, our party is all of those who take part, who are animated by shared ethical tensions, by historical force, by autonomous social momentum.
From the materialist point of view– that is, from the perspective of what people are actually doing– it is evident that a new historical multiplicity has emerged from the disintegration of the unions and housing projects. Leaving aside the dogmas of leftist sects and so-called “radical communities,” one must recognize the emergence of a common disposition among many skateboarding crews, queers, soccer hooligans, juggalos, first generation immigrants, hardcore kids, service workers, martial arts fanatics, Burners, Makers, black proletarians, art hipsters, neo-hippies, graffiti writers, and gothic teenagers. Contemporary struggles have been composed of the struggles of real people whose existence evades stable “cultural” identity and legibility altogether.
Although it is unwise to judge a movement based only on what it says about itself, it is worth noting a few of the thousands of strange slogans echoed in the recent insurrectionary outburst: “the people want the fall of the regime;” “we are the 99%;” “anticapitalista;” “fuck the police;” “another world is possible!” The uprisings of the last quarter century have drawn their strength from the determination of real people, with all of their contradictions. Many have participated, but the movements do not belong to anyone– to the workers, to the minorities, the middle class, the immigrants, citizens, or anyone else. The deep and unsynthesized contradictions in the insurrectional party have not stopped us from shutting down cities, defeating the police, and creating shared practices for meeting up and transforming the social and spatial arrangement of life as a whole, if only temporarily.
A cursory overview of the very recent past illustrates the determination of our party in the face of the most extreme existential obliteration.
Seventeen years ago, in 1999, fifty thousand people descended on the streets of Seattle to block, disrupt, and smash the veneer of consensus reality obsessively maintained since the end of Soviet capitalism a decade earlier. Nothing that was present in that moment has disappeared from the current cycle of global antagonisms: street medics, clown-faced protesters, hooded rioters, the National Guard, media frenzy, pacifist denunciations, and the awkward return of normalcy.
The following years are often called the “anti-globalization” period. The defining conflict of that period was (and remains) the clash between the financiers, technocrats, economic planners and global lending institutions and the diffuse, disillusioned, unrepresented people created by the neoliberal economic scheme. Every time world leaders attempted to hold a conference—in Gothenburg, Washington D.C., Genoa, Quebec City, Thessaloniki—thousands descended on the streets, dancing between fire and tear gas, all fighting in concert, beyond identity, beyond personality, to the strange music of anarcho-punks and ex-hippies.
Later, in 2003, in the face of the coordinated war efforts of the US and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, millions protested by shutting down vital shipping ports, coordinating mass mobilizations and instigating riots. The blocking of logistical chains in Olympia and Oakland against the Iraq War proved a salient precursor to future antagonisms in those regions and beyond.
Simultaneously, young people from Moscow to Santiago to Eugene smashed, bombed and burned the offices, equipment, and infrastructure of those waging another war: the war against the rivers, watersheds, salmon, forests, mink, mountains and uncivilized life. In London, Utah, and Mexico, ecowarriors broke into vivisection labs, logging facilities, factory farms, and high-end fur stores. One particularly successful campaign bankrupted the largest animal-testing company in the world.
In 2005, these new guerrillas were repressed with the entire weight of anti-terror legislation, militarized raids, conspiracy trials, and psychological intimidation. The deployment of these new measures converged into a perfect historical arc: the 9/11 attacks, the threats of global conspiracy against capitalism, eco-terrorism against new industrial innovations in the energy and science sectors, which were, in turn, being used in the cybernetic innovations of capital. In the state of emergencies, from Seattle to Fallujah, Ferguson to Paris, the future is being exposed to constant deferral. But stalling cannot last forever.
In the final months of 2008, the world economy tumbled into deep recessionary crisis.
The failures of the past structure the nightmare of the present.
The global economic crisis of 2008 was caused by decades of budget cuts, market deregulation, and mass financialized gambling in the housing markets. The last great offensive against capitalist civilization—from 1945 to 1980—was ultimately resolved through the extension of mortgage credit to all of those who could not simply be executed or imprisoned. As production extended itself globally following the Second World War, the political unity of urban factory workers was reduced drastically. “Just-in-time” production transformed the battlefield of resistance by replacing the old organization of work with new, less stable, less unified, arrangements.
In Japan, the universities had become new hubs for insurrectional conflict. In Germany, armed teenagers used Soviet guns to attack the politicians and millionaires who had easily withstood the “transition” from Nazism to democracy. In Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, France, and Spain, the streets exploded alongside the factories, schools, and countryside. People united against layoffs, wage cuts, fascisms old and new. In the US, black people burned cities from coast to coast; illustrating to the world that America was still a massive plantation. Anti-colonial struggles sent three continents into protracted turmoil and unrest. Workers in Detroit and Budapest catalyzed new waves of workplace conflict, while dropouts and college students—from the hippies to the punks—renounced Western ideas of happiness even while immersed in them.
In December 2008, Greece burned.
A fourteen year old anarchist—Alexandros Grigoropoulos–was shot and killed by police on the edge of Exarcheia, the symbolic center of the Greek anti-authoritarian movement. The determination of the youth, the wisdom of the old, the frustration of the workers, of the migrants: for a month nothing stowed the maelstrom which had been unleashed in even the small towns and middle schools. By the end of January, the cities re-stabilized and the situation was returned to governability. The insurgents could not break through the age alone.
Just as calm was returned to Athens, black teenagers on the other side of the world, in Oakland, stormed the stage of history in memory of Oscar Grant III. They burned cars and trash cans, smashed storefronts, redistributed wealth, and won decisive battles against the police. Later, simultaneous occupations of university buildings on the East and West Coast introduced a new method of conflict for the precarious in the wake of the greatest economic crisis in sixty years. Each event mobilized a bit of the determination and intelligence of the others. Peace, briefly installed, was burnt to cinders when Mohamed Bouazizi—a fruit vendor from Sidi Bouzid—took his own life, catalyzing a wave of unrest that no one could have predicted.
The beginning of 2011, the “Arab Spring”, will be remembered for the way it revolutionized the meaning of life for tens of millions of people. When Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were deposed, it was the most stable, resilient dictatorships in the world falling away. Government after government collapsed under the weight of mass revolt. The plazas of Tunis and Thala, of Cairo and Alexandria; of Algiers and Sana’a, of Baghdad and Manama, of Benghazi and Damascus, of Daraa and Islamabad filled with hundreds of thousands of people experimenting in revolutionary transformations at a shocking scale and rate. The vital, sensuous content of these struggles will never be understood by those of us who were not there. Not even the participants will have fully understood the weightless flux of the events. The specific conflicts, between the plebs and regime, the young and old, the rich and poor, Shia and Sunni, men and women, the military and the insurgents, and especially the conflicts in the hearts of those who fought, have given birth to the first world-historical revolutionary chain since the insurrectional outbursts of the 1960s and 70s.
The following summer, the decomposed movement of Spanish “Indignados” coalesced once again, bringing throngs of disenfranchised people into the streets and plazas of Europe’s most imprisoned country for the second year in a row. In the US, one hundred thousand people took over the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin in solidarity with teachers’ unions and Egyptian revolutionaries. On September 17, a thousand people occupied Zucotti Park in Manhattan. In less than a month, Occupy-inspired events arose in hundreds of cities, transforming the struggles of the homeless, students, homeowners, the unemployed, service workers, the young and the alienated.
The events gave birth to a new generation of fighters and dreamers, temporarily shattering the self-isolation of pre-existing militant formations. On October 15, a massive black bloc laid siege to Rome in memory of Carlo Giuliani, a young protester killed by police ten years earlier at the G8 protests in Genoa. In November, tens of thousands of people marched through Oakland, blocking a port, materially enforcing the first American general strike in over 60 years by vandalizing banks and rioting through the night. In Europe, the “movement of squares” represented the spread of Spanish protest measures to surrounding countries. In England, a combative student movement gave way to an American-style urban conflagration with widespread looting, rioting and arson after the death of Mark Duggan in the hands of the police.
In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, sending shockwaves throughout black America. The streets of Barcelona and Seattle exploded on May 1st. The Syrian Revolution collapsed into a civil war as Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against the revolutionaries. Damascus, the oldest occupied city in the West, fell into ruins. For 100 days, the streets of Montreal shook with the joyous clamoring of the students who initiated the biggest strike in decades.
In 2013, there was the Gezi Uprising. Defending just a bit of green space in central Istanbul, determined people built a commune in Taksim Square. Food, clothing, and literature were collected and distributed freely—a feature common to the entire global cycle. Kurdish guerrillas sang songs with Turkish nationalists; queer feminists and riot-prone soccer hooligans outflanked and overpowered the police together; the old and the young catalyzed a revolt with important historical implications for that part of the world and beyond. Simultaneously, millions marched, organized, and rioted in the streets of Brazil against a twenty cent fare increase. Messages of love and solidarity between the two movements circulated virally online.
The following year, in 2014, while the streets of Ferguson, Missouri occupied the public imagination, Palestinian revolutionaries sent instructions for tear-gas remedies via Twitter. In November, hundreds of cities exploded when the there was no indictment for Michael Brown’s tragic death. Five months later, Baltimore burned for Freddie Gray. There was a nearly one-to-one ratio of arrestees to burned cars. Across the world, Kurdish guerrillas are still fighting militants of the “Islamic State” in northern Syria. In southern Mexico, and in some other indigenous American territories, the struggles against colonization have continued uninterrupted for 500 years. When forty-three normalistas disappeared after clashes with police, it has been the entire force of that history which has been brought to the heart of Mexican society, from Iguala to Mexico City and beyond.
On the Luna New Year 2016, thousands of street vendors and young people clashed with police, angrily burning cars and barricades in Mong Kok, Hong Kong – the same neighborhood occupied a year earlier for months by young demonstrators carrying umbrellas. It is widely believed in Hong Kong that the events of this day are destined to repeat themselves throughout the coming year.
This is our context. That millions don’t already see themselves as party to the global insurrectional movement is a tremendous historical curiosity. Perhaps there is no greater proof for the existence of an invisible and global amnesia-inducing power.
If sentiment indeed changes slower than reality does, then it is likely that the dominant moods of the 1990s—bored anticipation, misanthropic cynicism, depressive comfort and withdrawal—will persist much longer than the unparalleled economic growth and political stability of neoliberalism, “The End of History”, and Xanax. Just a few years ago, suburban teenagers might have dreamed of subcultural escapes from the social disaster. The boredom and the subcultures are fading, even for the middle classes. From the Great Recession to Occupy to Ferguson to Baltimore, by way of Ebola, refugees, hydro-fracking and the “Islamic State,” there is scarcely a single soul left unaffected by the global flux of forces. As I write this, serious flooding has swallowed towns in Missouri and Dallas in the days following the warmest Christmas in documented history.
So now we have this: mass anxiety, pharmaceutical pulverization, and fear. A billionaire right-wing US presidential candidate has advocated forced registration of Muslims, while the left wing has committed itself to the mass deportation of Central Americans. No amount of respectability or upheaval has managed yet to halt or slow the giant trash compactor of history in which black proletarians are tossed daily.
On September 11, 2001, the West was finally able to render the enemy it had sought since the fall of so-called Communism. The simpler fears of death, of “urban crime,” of bullying or child predators could not by themselves justify the extreme forms of securitization a few determined Wahhabists and their symmetrical adversaries in the Department of Defense have orchestrated under the so-called “War on Terror.” At the same time, a few hundred dedicated teenagers, using mere stones and molotovs can reduce a city or suburb to a warzone in just a few hours. This is what unifies the situation — from the perspective of those getting organized on the opposing side of things — between the flashpoints of extreme social disaffection. Riots break out in Ferguson, in Baltimore, terrorism in Boston, party riots in San Bernardino or Iowa City, a stand off in Texas or Oregon, a psycho shooter somewhere in Colorado, a snow storm in north Georgia, a hurricane in New York. One could even analyze the immuno-fascism mobilized across the the Ivory Coast during the Ebola outbreak for examples of the type of militarization I am describing. Speaking to the Harvard Institute of Politics in October 2014, US Vice President Joe Biden warned that “threats as diverse as terrorism and pandemic disease are crossing borders at blinding speeds…This has led to a number of immediate crises that demand our attention from ISIL to Ebola to Ukraine — just to name a few that are on our front door…Each one in its own way is symptomatic of the fundamental changes that are taking place in the world. The international order that we painstakingly built after World War II and have defended over the past several decades is literally fraying at the seams right now.”
So what then? It is up to us to unfreeze the situation and to reassert our collective powers in the situation. We cannot win a permanent stand-off with governments who are adopting strategies to outlast the peace they once promised to bring. Repeatedly, governments have fallen only to be replaced by new ones — sometimes liberal and sometimes fascist. The world situation calls on us to find the keys to ungovernable forms of struggle, and of life as a whole. There is no sense in waiting. Farming and technological means, fighting and healing prowess, common spaces, resources and especially time itself must be freely appropriated. We must be capable of envisioning revolutionary measures: the storming of silos, the seizure of airfields, the liberation of prisoners, mass expropriations. By investigating our history, it is appropriate to identify the lines of growing and receding power: where have the others fought and with what means? What devices, discourses, and counter-moves returned the situation to governability? What will we need to know in order to do the opposite? Are there skills to learn now that could be useful, or maybe people worth connecting with, spaces worth opening or defending? In Egypt, the trains were hijacked to move insurgents from Suez to Cairo. In Ukraine, the massive stores of food preserved by hobbyists — senior citizens, in fact — fed thousands of revolutionaries in the months before the fascist takeover of that movement. In Notre-Dames-des-Landes, woodworkers built the squats and tree houses in which the anti-airport movement has lived and strategized between battles with developers. Even if we cannot win, the free exploration of our powers – creative and destructive – will bring us a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
I have taken it upon myself to gather texts produced by revolutionaries from around the world. As the global sequence of events have rushed forward with greater and greater frequency since the late 90s, and especially since 2011 it has become difficult to transmit historical lessons to the newest among us at a time when it is most desperately needed. This project, entitled Contemporaries, is one of many contributions to the situation, responding to sensible needs and not to ideological reflex.
I hope these texts will be useful to those who are searching.
Keep going and never stop.
The Contemporaries Project is an organ of the Atlanta commune. Under other names, and sometimes under none at all, we have produced posters, leaflets, reports, and a newsletter. We operate in the autonomous areas of life and revolt, where control breaks down, where representation is routed, and where worlds are in formation. These pamphlets have been produced to respond to a general need among many comrades for greater historical perspective. As the global sequence of events have rushed forward with greater and greater frequency since the late 90s, and especially since 2011 – from the riots against globalization in Seattle and Genoa to the explosions in Ferguson, Istanbul and beyond – it has become difficult to transmit historical lessons to the newer comrades at a time when it is most desperately needed. These pamphlets are one of many contributions to the situation, responding to sensible needs and not to ideological reflex.