Filed under: Capitalism, Editorials, Housing, Labor, Northwest, Southwest
Submitted to It’s Going Down
“This announces the end of a time period, the beginning of a new era in which the revolutionary confrontation will take place on an increasingly hostile and controlled ground. The profound penetration into all social relations which capital and state are trying to realize, particularly through the massive spreading of technologies, clearly isn’t announcing easy times ahead, but nevertheless the times are not lacking an insurrectional potential.”
–Negacion #7 (Mexico, December 2015)
Perhaps more than any other place in the global north, the western coast of the United States has been heavily restructured by capital and those who control it. While it is difficult to assign a proper time and place for the beginning of this repressive restructuring, we will chose June 29, 2007 as the moment of its inception. This was the day the iPhone was released at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The stock price of Apple rose from $17.43 to $27.20 before the end of the year and represented a rate of profit that was shared by another tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area: Google. The fortune of these two companies were tied together in a very material way, as the new medium of the “smartphone” brought more users to Google, and thus more profits.
Prior to the release of the iPhone, Google had introduced a free shuttle bus program for its employees. No matter where that employee lived, Google would pay for a private bus to deliver them to work. This program began in late 2006 and was quickly duplicated by Apple in late 2007. Many of these Google and Apple employees elected to live in San Francisco, a city long known for its subversiveness and its radical history, and the sight of these buses quickly became commonplace. There was no significant reaction to this development when it occurred, either from anarchists or anyone else. From 2007 to 2009, Apple and Google ferried around 2,000 people a day on these buses and no one seemed very concerned about this fact. In less than five years, these shuttle buses would displace tens of thousands of people from the city.
While this bus program spread across San Francisco, the “smartphone” spread across the global north and created a new capitalist subject. By 2008, it was abundantly clear to many observers that this new commodity was tying millions of people into a digital web of surveillance, commerce, and narcosis. While the global economy collapsed in 2007 and 2008, millions of people were kept entertained by the new commodity in their pockets, distracted by pictures of their friends on Facebook, and forced to maintain a social media profile in order to get a job. The tempo of capitalism rapidly increased, attention spans began to shorten, and old methods of struggle began to vanish.
Rather than make posters, fliers, or promote a demonstration by talking to people on the streets, anarchists in the global north began to rely on new mediums like the Facebook Event or the Twitter # to promote events, demonstrations, or actions. To an unfortunate degree, anarchist praxis in the global north became subsumed by this emergent commodity. Many people made the argument that the rise of social media was the like the advent of the newspaper and should be utilized to reach the maximum number of people. With the Greek and Iranian insurrections of 2008-2009, it became clear that social media was a powerful force in the new terrain of global capitalism, an observation that would soon be confirmed by the Arab Spring of 2010-2011. While anarchists across the globe retained their classical or analog skill-sets during this time period, tens of millions of people became plugged into the global network, into social media, into a feed, and they came to view these new technologies as the proper mediums through which to organize their lives.
Meanwhile, as the global economy recovered from its collapse, the city of San Francisco became host to dozens of new technology companies. The advent of the “smartphone” had brought with it the new economy of the “app.” By 2010, there were numerous companies designing “apps” for every conceivable task that capitalism required of its subjects, and these companies were gathering in San Francisco. The 2,000 employees shuttled into the city each day by Apple and Google were soon supplemented by 16,000 more bus riders. In addition to this were 50,000 tech employees from other companies that moved to San Francisco between 2007 and 2014, now accounting for 8%-12% of the total population. This was the invasion force that began the total colonization of San Francisco by techno-capital, driving up housing costs and starting an eviction wave that continues to this day.
From 2009 to 2012, the stock price of both Apple and Google rose together just as their technology spread further across the planet. Along with social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter, the techno-capitalist elite of the San Francisco Bay Area not only established a firm presence in the city itself, they had also spread their influence abroad into the lives of hundreds of millions of people. They accomplished this in less than five years.
This dual-movement at the local and the global level reveals a glimpse of how capitalism now operates in its terminal phase of development. The people who design the new technologies that saturate the globe are also the people who gentrify, develop, and colonize the local terrain. One paves the way for the other. The local population is displaced by the arrival of this new capitalist subject, just as capitalism sneaks into the lives of distant populations through its new technologies.
Once this model of repressive restructuring had been incubated, tested, and proven in San Francisco it was then quickly exported to other cities along the west coast such as Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.
Existential Coordinates Of Disaster
What is most disturbing about this development is the fact that each targeted city has been a historical site of struggle. The United States has enacted severe repression on its population whenever rebellion in the cities became too severe (the Red Scare, COINTELPRO, or the so-called “war on drugs”). The government was never able to fully extinguish this urban rebellion when it did emerge and the memory lived on in the minds of the rebels and their children.
For example, overt rebellion may have been pacified in San Francisco during the second world war, but it reemerged in the mid-1960s with the Hunter’s Point uprising and continued into the 2000s. During these moments of struggle neighborhoods tightened around each other to withstand government repression. The Mission, Hunter’s Point, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill, and North Beach are a few neighborhoods that harbored rebel populations through the 20th century, and today all of them have been either completely restructured (like Telegraph Hill) or are under heavy siege. Starting in the late-1990’s and lasting until the present day, there have been over 15,000 evictions in San Francisco and tens of thousands displaced. The average price for a single family home is now $1,130,000.
The capitalists have driven the housing costs so high that it is no longer possible for a working class to exist in the city (unless their apartment is protected by rent control). Teachers, cooks, maids, janitors, garbage handlers, cab drivers, and dishwashers can no longer afford to reside in the city, and entire apartment buildings are being turned into AirBNB rentals for the upper classes. Soon there will be a shortage of low-paid workers if the economy does not collapse. Without low paid workers, capitalism does not function.
By making it impossible for large amount of rebels to live together, the San Francisco capitalists have removed a threat that has troubled them for over a century. Rebel communities form in cities over decades and require an un-quantifiable amount of connections and relationships. They require multi-generational continuity, they require time, they require commitment, they require the ability to stay in place. Without this, they disintegrate.
Portland is another city that developed rebel communities in its interior, that kept alive the rebellion of the IWW, that resisted the pacification of capitalism. Like most cities in the Pacific Northwest, the neighborhoods of Portland were largely working class until recent memory, with a nasty strip of industry clustered around the river. Every economic depression affected the traditional industries of the surrounding region (logging, fishing, farming) and created a large class of itinerant people who flocked from the rural countryside to the city. From this came the combative, working class counter-culture of Portland that took advantage of extremely cheap housing costs to create a strong rebel community in the middle of the metropolis.
Repressive restructuring (or gentrification) began slowly in Portland, creeping in during the 1990s (as it had in other western cities), and then rapidly accelerating in the 2000s. An influx of highly paid tech workers arrived during the first tech-boom, moved away during the collapse of the bubble, and then returned. Around 30,000 tech employees moved to Portland and the “Silicon Forrest” from 2007-2015 and now account for 4.5% of its population. During this time, 58% of the remaining working class neighborhoods were gentrified. The working class was pushed across the river from Oregon into Washington, and only those who held onto their property remained in the urban core. It is the most rapidly restructured city on the west coast and now hosts a variety of tech companies, luxury apartment towers, and the average price for a single family home is now $350,000.
Seattle also a long history of rebellion, starting with the indigenous insurrection in 1856 and extending up to the annual May 1st demonstrations. It was a working class port city up until the early 1990s when a new influx of capital arrived with the Microsoft corporation. By the 2000s, a new company called Amazon had appeared on the horizon and repressive restructuring had already begun. The gritty, bohemian, and working-class character of the city began to vanish and be replaced by the now familiar luxury apartment buildings that dominate its hillsides. Now the city has become colonized much like San Francisco. There are new Google and Facebook offices, high housing costs, and a giant glass bio-dome on the new Amazon campus. Meanwhile rent is around $2,000 a month for a one room apartment, the average price for a single family home is $540,000, and thousands are being displaced to the surrounding suburbs every year.
Vancouver stands out among every city on the west coast for being the most expensive in North America. Unlike the cities of San Francisco or Seattle, the repressive restructuring of Vancouver did not occur because of free market tech-capital, but from the combined forces of the Canadian state and Chinese capitalists. By trading citizenship for investment, the Canadian state brought a variety of development projects to the city and money to its economy. This process started in the 1980s and continues to this day. Although the Canadian state created and encouraged this arrangement, the Chinese are currently being blamed for the gentrification and restructuring of the city.
The repressive restructuring of Vancouver was accelerated by the 2010 Olympics and the state repression that followed (against the anarchist movement, the indigenous, and the poor). Between 2010 and 2016, the rebel communities of Vancouver were either pushed out of the city or into silence. The new wealth flooding into the city attracted a variety of developers, co-investors, and contractors. The majority of these people are not Chinese but quite eager to profit from the influx of cash. Now the city is covered in luxury apartments and glass skyscrapers for the super rich. The average price of a single family home is $1,800,000 and much of the working class has been pushed far into the suburbs where it is still affordable to live.
From San Francisco to Vancouver, the capitalists have largely destroyed the ability for large numbers of working class people to live together in the metropolis and form communities of resistance. The one exception is Los Angeles. It has a long and continuous history of resistance. It is surrounded on all sides by suburbs and ocean, and yet it still holds a massive population of working people within its borders. Starting in the 2000s, gentrification began to spread into working class neighborhoods in East Los Angeles and around the edges of downtown. Certain neighborhoods have been lost to this repressive restructuring (such as Echo Park and Silverlake), but there are still strong working class areas and rebel communities that refuse to surrender. The average price for a single family home in the city is now almost $380,000. The repressive restructuring of Los Angeles is not linked to any specific industry or company. It is linked to the new capitalist subject itself. It is called many names: hipster, techie, yuppie, suit, bloom, although most people can see it for what it is. It arrives in luxury apartments, never looks up from its phone, and does not look at you.
Limits of the Environment
Now that the working class has been mostly displaced from the urban centers along the west coast, it will take many years for communities of resistance to naturally emerge elsewhere. 25 years is the standard measure of how long it takes to form a multi-generational movement or community. Given the current state of the planet, the next 25 years will bring great disaster and calamity for hundreds of millions of people across the planet. Coastal cities will flood with water, refugees will flee northward more land dries up, and capitalism will collapse. This is an absolute certainty, objectively and materially. Living in the metropolis has been and is currently unsustainable and will become increasingly precarious and/or pointless in the near future.
Take an average one bedroom apartment that costs $2,000 a month to rent. Let it be situated in any of the cities listed above (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles). If two people split the rent, they are each paying a capitalist $12,000 a year. An average working person in the United States makes less than $30,000 a year and spends the rest of their wages on food, entertainment, transportation, and sometimes property (although this requires frugality over many years). The unfortunate American tendency toward selfish individualism prevents people from putting their money together for a common purpose, unless it involves marriage or cheap rent. Two people making $30,000 a year spend almost half of it on rent and on the other half replicating themselves as workers: eating, driving, washing, cleaning, shopping, partying, etc. If there is any money left over, it sits in a bank account at a Wells Fargo or Chase or Bank of America and generates money for the capitalists. If these two workers take on debt to buy a house, they quickly enter an endless cycle of capitalist replication that only traps them further.
This is all completely commonplace and represents a widespread mass-behavior in the global north. It is quite simple to extract oneself from this pointless and destructive cycle, but it is only possible with the help of others. For example, a group of people can easily squat land or a building or live in tents in the area near San Francisco, obtain government food stamps, get high-paying service jobs in the urban center, and save all of the money they accumulate for one calendar year. Since there is a lack of workers in San Francisco, it is easy to obtain employment for service positions. If there are seven people involved in this venture, the profit from selling their labor will be around $200,000 at the end of the year (assuming each person is being paid $15.00 an hour). This money can then be taken out of the metropolitan area and sunk into a land project near sources of water. If this process is repeated by 100 people, that profit will increase to nearly $3,000,000 and it will become possible to immediately create rebel communities outside the metropolitan area. The only thing that prevents a group of anarchists from accomplishing this scenario is the western individualism that reigns supreme in the global north, an ethos that commands the individual to care only for their short-term survival, pleasure, and comfort.
Every tactic used by anarchists, communists, leftists, or unionists in the United States has been predicated on the existence of rebel communities living in the major urban centers. For this reason, the capitalists have systematically and intentionally undermined the ability of these communities to exist in their places of origin. Now that the capitalists have been largely successful in their displacement efforts, it is necessary to form rebel communities elsewhere, places where it still possible. This could be in the mountains or it could be in a workers suburb, it could be a communal store on a coastal highway or a communal farm at the top of a hill. In short, it could be anything that allows a future outside of capitalism. All of the political tactics of the twentieth century need to be abandoned and new hybrid forms created out of the decomposition.
The capitalist ruling class of San Francisco (and every other city in the world) are irredeemable sociopaths, permanently contaminated by greed and committed to their own destruction. Despite the obvious and undeniable collapse of the environment, the capitalists are still plunging forward in their desire for suicide. The ruling class has projected this desire onto the physical world, and it is up to all of us (and the earth) to channel this destruction onto their heads alone. There is no anthropocene. There is only a capitalocene. We are not responsible for what the ruling powers have done to earth, but we will be responsible for our own survival in the near future, and we must take matters into our own hands immediately.
To quote from our friends, “seceding means inhabiting a territory, assuming our situated configuration of the world, our way of dwelling there, the form of life and the truths that sustain us, and from there entering into conflict or complicity. So it means linking up strategically with other zones of dissidence, intensifying our circulation with friendly regions, regardless of borders. To secede is to break not with the national territory but with the existing geography itself. It’s to trace out a different, discontinuous geography, an intensive one, in the form of an archipelago—and thus to go encounter places and territories that are close to us, even if there are 10,000 kilometers to cover.”
The new capitalist subject is a needy subject, and capitalism is the manufacturer of those needs. The need for a daily shower with soap, the need for a proper outfit, the need for cosmetics, the need for plastic, the need for petroleum, and the need for a dishwasher are all needs required and manufactured by capital. To quote again a well known text by the Invisible Committee, “the commune addresses the needs with a view to annihilating the being of need within us. Where a lack is felt, its elementary gesture is to find the means to make it disappear as often as it may present itself. There are those ‘in need of a house’? One doesn’t just build one for them; one sets up a workshop where anyone can quickly build a house for themselves. A place is needed for meeting, hanging-out, or partying? One is occupied or built and also made available to those who ‘don’t belong to the commune.’ The question, as you can see, is not that of abundance, but of the disappearance of need.”
It is necessary to extricate ourselves from capitalism and form communes and rebel communities where it is still possible. There are several indigenous land occupations along the coast of British Columbia, just as there are entire autonomous communities in Mexico, from Chiapas to Oaxaca to Guerrero. But along the western coast of the United States a coherent separation from capitalism has yet to take place. We wish everyone who reads this the best of luck in their efforts. It is clear where the enemy is, where they sleep, where they work, where they eat. What is not clear is how we are going to survive the future, and it is best to dwell on these matters.
The Anarchist International (Western Branch)