ANARCHIST PAPER spcr | spcr ISSUE ONE spcr | spcr DECEMBER 2016
CRY OF REBELLION
I know, this is counter-intuitive. As anarchists, we have a political agenda: the advancement of a particular political viewpoint and, for some of us, revolution to bring this into practice. Why would we do this if we didn't think we had it all worked out?
We do this because the insurrectionists had a point: Only with the destruction of the old order will solutions become apparent, and feasible. Feasibility is a demon for us. "It's a nice idea in theory, but it would never work in practice". How many of us have heard this? For those who have put forward radical political viewpoints such as anarcho-communism, I venture to say that we have heard this every time we mention our politics at all.
We are restricted by the system of capital and the oppression that supports it, and we are all steeped in it. It is the only political system that we see from birth onwards. Wherever we live in the world, our respective governments exist somewhere on the spectrum between state capitalist and laissez-faire capitalist. We do not see large-scale alternatives in the mainstream.
We talk of "building the new society in the shell of the old" and this is worthy, but to do this requires working on the micro level. Illegal activity, affinity groups, squats, occupations, these are the places we feel at home, and these are where our ideas come into fruition, but they are, for the moment, doomed to remain at this micro level, igniting in one person at a time the radical notion that authority must justify itself in order to be legitimate. One person is infinitely more than none, of course, but it is only one more than none, too.
I do not have to convince you of the shortcomings of state and capital. You are aware of them, otherwise you would likely not be reading an anarchist journal. Yet, where do we go after criticism? Many writings are devoted to setting out this vision for the future. All of them are wrong.
None of us have any real idea what a different politic would look like, so steeped are we in the effluence of capitalism. We speculate, and we dream, but we have got no yardstick for setting out a large-scale reality. We are always talking with the base assumptions in mind that capitalism has instilled in us from birth. We argue amongst ourselves about it, of course, primitivists duke it out with transhumanists, communists with mutualists. We are familiar with our infighting.
We have our visions, but we have never seen them. They are at their heart immaterial and, yes, impractical. This is why the "great in theory" riposte is so frustrating, but also why it is made in the first place.
My proposed solution is to stop pretending we know what will happen. Stop pretending we have the answer, and instead counter our "it will never work" demons with an offer to our critics to take part in the formation of our new society. We will never win by convincing one person at a time that we are right. We would be arrogant to try.
Left-wing arrogance is a huge problem. The "leftist metropolitan elite" is not a false consciousness instilled in gullible people by politicians and newspeople. It is a valid critique. Our assumption of the gullibility of "the masses" is the problem. It is so tempting for us, with our reading material and our talking shops, to pretend we know what is best for those elsewhere.
We see a scary world, and we retreat behind our ideological walls. We act, in other words, like reactionaries. We may condemn the reactionaries, with their racism, their homophobia, their misogyny, but we do so by condemning the people themselves, not their ideas. We dismiss the footsoldiers of reactionary causes as lost causes, part of the enemy, in doing so falling victim to reactionary ideas. We shut out people to whom we need to reach out. We do not do this by claiming to know what is best for them.
This is normal. We were raised from birth to solve problems like capitalists. Breaking out of this is harder than simply reading Mutual Aid and agreeing with it.
When we do not make the effort to include those we dismiss in the discussions that highlight the fact that our fights are the same, we drive allies into the reactionary movements that prop up capital. The rise of Trump in the US, and the rise of the far-right in Europe, are due as much to our failings as to the success of reactionary politics.
We must stop pretending we have the answer because we don't have it. We have problems, and we have a belief. This belief is that no one should dominate another, by the power of resources or violence. We believe that authority is illegitimate if questioning finds it wanting. We undermine that authority, and seek to empower those marginalised by every interaction. This is the root of our politic, and it is very simple.
The solutions to the problems of state and capital are solutions which we have to work out along the way by working together. Our politics is, by its very nature, popular. It only works when everyone is involved. We have seen what happens when a revolutionary "politically aware" elite does what it thinks is "best for the masses". We have seen Bolshevism and vanguardism.
In rejecting vanguardism we also reject a claim to ideological superiority. In rejecting vanguardism, we make the Socratic announcement that we do not have the answer, and we know nothing. Building the future means constructing something totally outside our ability to conceive of it. None of us know what the anarchist future will look like, but brick by brick it will take shape. This is the new society. I can't see it yet, and neither can you, and this is precisely what makes it a better future.
All of our interests lie in doing this, and doing it now.
Marx saw capitalism as a new mode of production which produced a new type of class society. This class system consists of three parts; the capitalist class, the working class, and the petty bourgeois class. The main dynamic tensions within capitalism that determined how it did and continues to develop are between the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, and the proletariat, who are the working class. The unique dynamics of capitalist competition and endless development of the methods of production make it revolutionary and ever growing, and simultaneously the class structure it produces creates a unique type of transformative and revolutionary potential unlike class systems which preceded it.
The capitalist class is the minority class which owns and controls the means of production, and buys the labor-power of the working class majority, who only have their labor to sell. This means that the capitalist is able to control the application of labor and basically owns the labor-power of the worker during the time the worker is on the clock for the capitalist in return for a wage. What differentiates the capitalists' control of workers from that of previous ruling classes preceding them is that, unlike the feudal lord and their peasants, the capitalist is not bound into any kind of permanent and reciprocal (though profoundly unequal) relationship with the worker. They can hire or fire workers as they see fit, but also the capitalists themselves are let loose to compete against each other as well. This competition produces a dynamic where a process of accumulation occurs through the circuit of capital, allowing and forcing the capitalists to grow their profits by reinvesting in more profitable methods of production. This revolutionizes constantly the methods of production and radically transforms capitalist society through commodification and the application of new technologies.
But since the worker essentially only has their labor-power to sell, they operate in the circuit of commodities where the sale of their labor-power to the capitalist is compensated by a wage or salary which must be spent to reproduce and maintain themselves, precluding accumulation to any significant degree. This shows where the tension between the controllers of the means of production and those who sell their labor to operate the means of production originates from and how the set-up of capitalist production reproduces these tensions.
This leads to capitalism's other revolutionary feature, in perhaps a different sense than the first one discussed here. That is the way its class society differs from previous ones. The tendency of capital to expand increasingly moves populations throughout the world towards becoming proletarians who must work for a wage or salary, rather than own their own means of production or subsistence. This is the process of proletarianization that depletes the ranks of the peasants and the petty bourgeoisie. This means that essentially capitalism is ever producing a simpler split between classes, that of owners and controllers of the means of production, and everyone else who works for them. This differs from the variegated and complex class systems which preceded capitalism, such as the ranked society of feudalism, caste societies, or ancient slave societies. This means that as class struggle is more and more and matter of two classes - one a minority, the capitalists, and the other the great majority in all its variations, the workers - that the class struggle of capitalism produces for perhaps the first time an opportunity for the great majority to become conscious of its class position and its common interests and to act on those interests by struggling against and overthrowing the bourgeoisie, and therefore becoming the new dominant class. This revolutionary class would then be the great majority, allowing for a transformation to a classless society, one of communism.
So capitalism is seen by Marx as releasing two unique revolutionary forces: the first being the constant dynamic expansion of the means and methods of production to totally reorganize society and its wealth, and the other; unleashing through its class structure and tensions, as well as its methods of production, the possibility for transformation and revolution towards a classless society.
True, the narrow greed common to "individualist" liberals and survivalists is self-destructive because it refuses to recognize the social nature of human beings. "The lonely individualism of Ayn Rand is only alienation accepted and alienation perfected."  However, this greed is a sort of apathetic greed that reeks of self-denial; instead of seeking to change society to fit one's own will, these "individualists" run for the hills in fear or alienate themselves from others with "ethical" egoism. On top of admitting defeat in the face of social pressure, these individualists subscribe to a purely abstract notion of "individual": "At the heart of society is its "opposite," the individual. At the center of the individual is his "antithesis," society. ... Both of the abstract universals, "society" and "the individual" find their concrete universal in the social individual."  All of this shows that, yes, this common notion of individualism is a delusion.
However, don't throw out individualism just because some individualists are shallow thinkers, self-contradictory, or suck in a purely theoretical idea of selfishness.
Just because I am a social being does not mean I subordinate my will to a collective. It is possible to both be a social being, understanding the benefits of society and technological advancement and recognizing the need for a society built on mutual aid, all while still shouting "Nothing is more to me than myself!”  I am a "social individual", the actually-existing individualist rather than a theoretical individualist ("ethical" egoists who lack a revolutionary perspective) or a self-destructive individualist (the survivalist).
The real "dangerous delusion" is the negation of egoism. Nietzsche talks a lot about this in his criticism of asceticism, saying "...certain human beings have such a great need to exercise their force and lust to rule that, lacking other objects, or because they have always failed elsewhere, they finally have recourse to tyrannizing certain parts of their own nature ... man experiences a veritable voluptuousness in violating himself by means of exaggerated demands and in then deifying this tyrannically demanding force in his soul."  Self-denial, selflessness, comes from the inability to exercise authority over oneself, which results in dominating oneself as the only means of exercising power. If people are not free, they develop a masochistic nature. This stems from tyrannical forms of thinking, and these self-denying individuals can be manipulated by power-hungry individuals.
This is a danger to an anarchist society; thus, we should base an anarchist society on the idea of the social individual, rather than collectivism or survivalist-esque "I don't need society" individualism. The former would recreate tyranny we oppose, while the latter is just an impossibility.
 The Right To Be Greedy: Theses On The Practical Necessity Of Demanding Everything by For Ourselves: Council for Generalized Self-Management; Thesis 40, Thesis 28
 The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner; “All Things are Nothing to Me”
 The Basic Writings of Nietzsche translated by Walter Kaufmann; “Seventy Five Aphorisms”, p. 150
The basic idea of contradictory class locations is that, looking at class in terms of the relationship to the means of production, the middle class as we discuss it commonly is not a new or distinctive class. The class system of modern capitalism still consists of the capitalists, the workers, and the petty bourgeoisie. Around these classes, but most importantly between the capitalist class and the working class, the dynamics of capitalism still revolve. But Erik Olin Wright's idea here was that while these classes explain the essential dynamics of capitalism, people in real life do not necessarily always cleanly fall into one category or another. They can fall in locations between classes where the influences on their interests are contradictory. Hence the term, contradictory class locations. In essence, between each of the three basic classes in the Marxist schema of capitalism, there is a spectrum of locations people may be located in closer or farther away from one class or another. Where they fall on these spectrums -and therefore how close their interests align with one class or the other- are determined by several key factors. These includes how much authority one has over how and when one works, how much authority does one have over others in the workplace, etc.
To illustrate this idea, imagine a triangle that represents the capitalist class structure. At each corner of the triangle is the location of one of the essential classes of the Marxist class analysis: the capitalist class, the working class, and the petty bourgeois class. But the line between each of these points represents a spectrum of positions between each vertex, each class. Let's look at each line separately and see how what we classify as the middle class actually falls into positions throughout this triangle, rather than being a coherent distinct class with its own interests.
The line between the capitalists and the workers could almost be imagined as -and in some instances could very well be- the hierarchy of a large company from top to bottom. At one end are the workers simple as we stereotypically understand them, be they in a factory or hotel or wherever. At the other end, the capitalists who own the company. But just above the worker is the worker's supervisor, and above them a manager. This proceeds until we find just below the capitalists proper, the CEOs, CFOs, and other top managers who control the company and usually hold some stock-options and receive huge bonuses for returning profits. In between are layers of middle management, managers and technical employees who have some control over employees beneath them but also answer to bosses above them.
So what does this mean in terms of the class interests of all the people in this spectrum? As we move from the worker closer to the capitalist, the types of workers we find progressively have more control and stake in the capitalist enterprise and more authority over other workers. When talking about supervisors and lower managers at the bottom end of the spectrum, they only have the smallest amount of control and increased stake in their employer, such that they are almost indistinguishable from the regular working class in terms of their class interests. The CEOs and CFOs on the opposite end of the spectrum however, have so much power and vested interest in the capitalist enterprise that even if they are technically employees of the capitalist, their interests are virtually entirely aligned with the capitalist class. The middle layers between these though are in a position where their class interests can be seen as more or less tugged in contradictory directions.
Between the working class and the petty bourgeoisie there is similarly another spectrum of working people, most of whom Wright describes as "semi-autonomous employees". What this means is that these types of workers must sell their labor to someone else and do not own significant or any means of production, but they have a large degree of autonomy and control over how they exercise their labor. In this category we may look at professors, independent contractors, tech consultants, independent plumbers, many types of artists etc. They vary in how dependent they are on employment or selling their services directly. This makes them similar to the working class in the sense that they must sell their labor-power and work to sustain themselves, but also like the petty bourgeoisie in that they have a greater degree of control over when and how they work and some measure of independence from the capitalists. Hence they are pulled in contradictory directions between the class interests of these two classes.
Lastly the spectrum between the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie proper, the capitalists, consists of a gradual scaling up of the petty bourgeois self-employee to small and medium sized business all the way up to the big business of the capitalists. Small and medium business, unlike the petty bourgeoisie, rely on employing a certain amount of workers in order to extract surplus value. This means it isn't just the petty-bourgeois working the means of production themselves along with perhaps a few other employees who may be family or partners in the enterprise. But also unlike the capitalists, in small and medium business the owner may still work directly in the company on a daily basis themselves, and not simply own, direct, and extract profits from a distance. These types of bourgeois aspire to become proper capitalists but to the degree that they are smaller and work the firm themselves, they retain elements of the petty bourgeoisie's class interests. And so they have class interests which are pulled in contradicting directions.
As we can see, elements of the whole spectrum of the 'middle class', from the lower middle class to the upper middle class, fall into most of these locations between classes and do not form a distinctive class themselves. While their differences from the three basic classes are apparent, it is explained in this idea by how they are located in relation to the classes which are the basis for capitalism's dynamics. This is the basic idea of Erik Olin Wright's contradictory class locations. If you want to read more about it, I suggest looking into Erik O. Wright's book, Classes, or finding an article of his summarizing its basic ideas.
So said Errico Malatesta. It is a charming intuition, yet one that, at first, appears out of place among the words of the lifelong revolutionary. To understand how Malatesta’s gradualist theory of social change fit together with his tactical insurrectionism we must uncover the methodological inversion that underpins his reasoning.
Here, anarchism is understood not as a utopia - an ideal society to be brought about - but rather a process. It is a path we endeavor to walk, away from the territory of power, into the wilderness of the unknown. However, it is not an aimless wandering, an escape from the homeland, but a transformation of our lives. Thus we are revolutionaries, not rebels in exile. Romantic imagery aside, the key point here is that anarchy is something intentionally pursued, a conscious choice for each and every one of us to make, as opposed to a deterministic social evolution, a mechanistic historical process of which we are unconscious agents, or otherwise some divine salvation. Freedom is an active social process, not a passive social condition.
The walk towards anarchy is not a marching-in-step of the selected revolutionary subject, but an individually determined path; in other words: anarchy is intentionally pursued by self-aware, autonomous individuals. It is a tension within and between us, expressed through "our capacity to change the reality of things" (Bonanno). The more this tension penetrates the relationships constituent of the present society, the closer we move toward revolution; the more people choose this path, the more anarchy extends throughout our lives. Anarchy, then, is not a separate totality to be implemented by a collective force; anarchy is a living force here and now, a potentiality carried in every relationship that overcomes hierarchy, representation, alienation, and in every dagger drawn against the existent. The future can only be the product of our struggle (or its failure) for better or worse.
Here is the inversion: Malatesta turns away from the methodological holism ubiquitous to socialist revolutionaries, instead adopting a methodological individualism, where "the former explains the behaviour of individuals in terms of the influence and constraints that social wholes place on each of them; the latter explains social wholes as the end result of the complex interactions among actors" (Turcato). Essentially, the focus is placed on the agency of individuals, over abstract social forces. By this line of argument, "the relationship between the solidarity of individuals and the organization of society as a whole had been inverted [in Malatesta's theory]: it was no longer the case that the best organization of society ensured the solidarity of individuals, but rather the latter engendered, through free initiative, the best possible social organization." (Turcato). Rather than understanding society as a mechanism to be captured and reorganised, we consider society to be the resultant of individual lives and their interactions; consequently, the field of play for revolution turns out to be one's own life; and authentic, direct, human relationships are found to be the arteries through which a revolutionary situation may expand. "For Malatesta, social change was a function of the strength and direction of each component involved. If anarchists aimed for a more moderate goal, the result would also be a lesser change" (Turcato); minority action is hereby given a new meaning, and it follows that choosing our path according to our aims, desires, and needs is more effective than making pragmatic compromises, settling for the 'lesser evil', or deferring to reformism.
Acknowledging individual choice does not mean disregarding external constraints: it is precisely because most people are not able, in our present society, to break free from internalised social relations and ideology that we wish to bring about an insurrectionary rupture in the social order through purposeful minority action, to clear the path forwards for a gradual reproduction of society along libertarian lines without limit or end. But, if anarchy depends on the anarchist disposition of individual actors, and at the same time it is acknowledged that a process of alienation is materially intrinsic to capitalist society, how can our proposal remain tenable? At this point we must refer back to Max Stirner and his tour de force against every subjection of the ego. Self-liberation is at the root of anarchism. We refuse to be intrumentalised for any 'cause', we refuse to sacrifice our unique 'ownness' upon the alter, and we refuse to make any thing or idea a 'sacred', absolute value above ourselves. In the twentieth century, Stirner's egoism converged beautifully with the Situationist critique of alienation. Raoul Vaneigem's discourse on "The Revolution of Everyday Life" is no less than a handbook for self-liberation in the world of today.
"Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the State or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men's discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising, but a rising of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The Revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on 'institutions'." (Stirner)
We want to organise ourselves, not be organised, we choose our own individual paths, and do not subsume ourselves into a higher cause. It follows from this that the organisation of a free society, the development of liberated human relationships, depends on our individual dispositions and choices. Yet, unless we believe that the order of society is an entirely spontaneous product of composite self-interest, it must be recognised that solidarity, the keystone of communism, needs to be intentionally pursued. As Malatesta explained, association is that which creates society, and association may be hierarchical or egalitarian. Egalitarian relations are only made possible when the are consciously chosen and actively nurtured by the involved actors. In the absence of intentionally formed structures of equality, informal hierarchies flourish (the tyranny of structurelessness); in the absence of an intentionally chosen ethic of communism, competitive and power-seeking motivations readily fill the vacuum. As such, in Malatesta's conception of anarchism, ethical holism is the necessary counterpart to methodological individualism. The ethical holism of anarchism consists in understanding that each individuals freedom is co-terminous with the equal freedom of all others, and that this equality does not come about of itself. Stirner's egoism is not enough. Now, are we breathing life into a new morality of the common good? Lest churches be raised upon the fountains of anarchy, our ethics must remain an open question, ever transient and self-determined.
We seek to reclaim our lives, a venture that necessarily transforms the world of which we are a part. Once the illusory separation of one's internal 'self' and the external 'reality' is breached, we are able to re-imagine ourselves as the finite, transitory ego, within a web of social relations - neither the cog in the collective machine, nor the absolute ego. Authority is no longer a mythic enemy embodied in 'the state'; exploitation and alienation are no longer things we suffer at the whim of a foreign evil. Even the most dedicated of anarchists cannot help but be complicit in the horrors of this world, because we are constrained as such - in this way we suffer a lack of freedom most acutely in understanding that our participation in the capitalist economy - our position within the intersecting hierarchies, reproducing said economy and said hierarchies - deprives everyone else of their freedom. This is something we cannot avoid, unless we drop-out and run away to the wilderness (i.e. banish oneself to the dominion of exile). This tension, not a liberal guilt complex, but rather an understanding of the daily reproduction of capitalism and our role in it, of domination and exploitation as a social relationship in which we participate, is something that should inform and intensify our desire to rebel, subvert, and re-imagine our relations to other people. This is a route towards a so-called "revolution of everyday life", in stark contrast to treating exploitation and authority as abstractions to be fought on the stage of the spectacle, as with liberal protests or even Leninist urban guerillas. In my understanding, this signals a shift from the category of politics to that of ethics. Theory and action are reconnected, and the means by which I choose to act on the reality in which I participate becomes the proper location of revolt. 'I' am not independent of my social environment, yet at the same time, social reality only has reality through me. If once I attempt to survey this reality from the station of an outside observer (aping Godhood), then social reality reifies, becoming the object of authority. The attempt to transcend individual choice to direct other people according to a supposed knowledge of the objective mechanism of society is an unmistakable origin of authoritarianism, good intentions aside.
"Certainly every anarchist, every socialist understands the economic fatality that today forces man to fight against man, and every good observer sees the impotence of individual rebellion against the preponderant force of the social environment. However, it is equally certain that without the rebellion of the individual, who associates with other rebellious individuals to resist the environment and strive to transform it, such an environment would never change." (Malatesta)
By considering anarchism as the aggregate of individual anarchic dispositions - composing one force among many in determining the development of society - it may be tempting to conclude that a strategy along the lines proposed in Arshinov's Platform ("specific theoretical, tactical and organisational positions... on the basis of a more or less perfected, homogeneous programme", that is, uniformity of theory and practice) would be found most effective, and indeed Malatesta reached very similar conclusions. Our critique of Power has sharpened since those times, however, and today we see the qualititative expression of methodological individualism in an unconstrained multiplicity of theory and practice, a diffusion of insurrectionary affinities through unmediated relationships, and the rising up of ever more uncontrollable, unique individuals. Anarchism, as an ideal social organisation to be instituted by a political movement, sees its most logical application in the platformist and synthesist permanent organisations, since hypotheses of social organisation are necessarily holistic; however, where anarchism is conversely conceived as a method, an individuated experimental pluralism necessarily ensues, since methods of social action are individually applicable. There are as many paths towards anarchy as there are anarchic individuals; "Man is the measure of all things", including, it would seem, the subversion of our collective incarceration. Taking back anarchy, each one for themselves, in this way is not a hindrance to our desire for collective freedom but is in fact the self-evident prerequisite for an anti-authoritarian insurrection that may bring us closer.
What of "the people"? We don't consider ourselves prophets arriving to wake up the sleeping masses, nor the transcendent elite rejecting the pitiful resigned. We open space for rebellion - for ourselves first of all, but with an open invitation to all others. We don't want others to follow us or support us, but stand beside us as autonomous accomplices. If it is true that one who does not move does not notice his chains, it is also true that one who does not rebel does not discern rebellion. The way in which our news is mediated by corporations means that any effective rebellion is hidden from us, we only become aware of its existence when we seek out and embrace it. At the same time we cannot pretend that everyone is secretly in rebellion: of course most people are living within the bounds set for them. However, the point is that we should not say that we are few, only that we are isolated. "We are simply saying that we do not know who our accomplices are and that we need a social tempest to discover them" (Daggers Drawn). Once we accept that people are not all resigned or lost to the dominant ideology, the responsibility lies with us as much as with them to reach and and find each other, to build revolutionary affinities, complicities, to share each others struggles on an open terrain, and to learn from one another. Therefore our relationship with the lonely crowds of advanced capitalism becomes the disruption of our social normality (exposing the emptiness of the spectacle and the possibilities of freedom) and seeking out affinities in these situations; we propose to others, and act upon for ourselves, a method, the anarchist method of freedom. Finding such affinities is perhaps the most difficult task we face in a society of constantly reproduced separation; nonetheless, our fires of revolt light up the terrain such that our friends become visible to us, and our enemies are caught, with blood on their hands, like a rabbit in the headlights. If we may say that we are living through the darkest of nights, we oppose those who wait for the rapturous dawn, who mythologise the rising of the sun, we oppose them and instead set ablaze our world, lifting the black veil of passivity.
*Primary reference: "Making Sense of Anarchism, Errico Malatesta's Experiments With Revolution", by Davide Turcato