Tuesday, December 3, 2013
"In the middle of the revelries, a man whispers into the woman's ear: What are you doing after the orgy?" (Baudrillard 1990)
In his "Cool Memories" on America, the French writer Jean Baudrillard discusses through his anectodes some of the problems that contemporary societies of mass consumption are facing: In an endless schema of frustration/gratification, is human desire kidnapped and turned into a hostage without exchange? Aren't we sacrificing something through the model of affluent society in which we are trapped in a vicious cycle of coping up with the others? Isn't our obsession to compare our desires with those of the others reducing the ambivalent character of it to a "natural" and "naked" state so that our only pleasure resides in the act of watching? Isn't this commensurate spectacle leading to the impoverishment of the ambivalent character of human desire? Or better, is ambivalent symbolism itself becoming a parody through the system of signs of social standing as an only way of existing in the society? Are the orgies, feasts, potlatches, in short, ecstatic states of mind where the people could forget their self consciousness and transgress the limits of reason in order to be a part of the other, becoming a simple pornography, a simulacrum, a hyperreality, a reality more real than real? Are our irrational passions continously captured and programmed into a hyperrational order? Are we living in a permanent state of surveilled dream?
The first aim of this presentation is to try to investigate the philosophical origins of our obssession to "discover" the human desire and to "colonize" it by turning it into "needs" and "wants". Secondly, I will try to discuss how these "discoveries" and their utilization in their attempt to "educate" people are implicated in the modern societies. Last but not least, I will try to question the "success" of these implications in the process of disciplining the behavior of the consumer and shape the discipline of "consumer behavior". Can we get a "well behaving" function of consumer behavior and does the consumer behave "well" as presupposed by the consumer researchers and mass-media?
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Europe has built a fortress around itself to protect itself from ‘illegal’ immigration from the South, from peoples fleeing civil war, conflict and devastating poverty. The story is best understood through maps.
The Forbidden World
It is a strange thing, this paranoid fear of invasion, this determination to protect themselves at all costs from these human beings who every year exile themselves from their homelands to head for an imagined promised land in the rich countries. But the rich have decided that these tides of humanity are unwanted.
They fortify their frontiers, erect barriers, build the walls higher and higher. A veritable military strategy put into effect to keep out the “invaders.”
In an act of mimicry, other important countries like Brazil, China and Russia are joining in, putting in place their own “fortifications” to limit economic migration from poorer areas to their own regions of rapid growth.
Such physical obstacles are efficient tools for criminalizing immigration, for making it possible to pronounce concepts that should be unthinkable: “Illegal immigrant.” They make people think they are breaking the law. With the help of these new obstacles, juridical and physical, we have created a new category of criminal: the migrant.
Thus do we confound both international law and universal values.
Europe's Three Frontiers
This map was drawn for the first time in 2003, thanks to the meticulous work of Olivier Clochard of the Migrinter Institute at the University of Poitiers. We update it regularly, and alas, every time we have to add more black dots and draw the red circles even bigger.
On Jan. 1, 1993, Gerry Johnson is discovered dead. A citizen of Liberia - a country at the time being destroyed by a bloody civil war - Johnson had suffocated in a train freight car in Feldkirch, Austria. On Oct. 3, 2013, a boat sinks near the shore of Lampedusa Island, with 500 immigrants on board, most of them from East Africa. Between these two dates and these two places, more than 17,300 other immigrants - and that is the low estimate for this unknown hecatomb - lost their lives while trying to get to Europe, the continent of liberty and human rights.
They die while trying to leave, too, like Marcu Omofuma, a Nigerian murdered on May 1, 1999 by three sadistic Austrian policemen aboard a Balkan Air plane during his forced repatriation.
The geography of an unwanted humanity
To the West are our pals, who are welcome to come over; they are the ones with the fat wallets. To the East, the unwanted, the unwashed, the little guys from a world too poor to ’deserve’ us. A near perfect symmetry: clusters of the poor persist in the West, and clusters of the rich in the East.
Manichean? Hardly. The political geography of European visas shows with a certain cruelty Europe’s vision of the world, an ungenerous thing. Someone must explain to me the logic of the EU requirement that the citizens of Kosovo — one of the poorest countries in Europe - purchase overpriced visas to be able to move around in the Schengen zone.
There are many methods of dividing the world, its territories, its regions. Whether it be according to the principle of the nation state, or of groups of nations, or by socioeconomic or political indicators, they all remind us cynically of what we would prefer not to see in ourselves: our selfishness, our violence. We pretend to aid in development of poor countries, while in reality we export economic models that cannot work.
And then we impose on their people our unattainable visas.
And yet, impoverished Africa like elsewhere, has culture, music, theater. Diplomats, teachers. Students, workers. writers. All are the human beings that Europe sends back tied up like sausages on airplanes - when it does not send them back wrapped in burial shrouds — for failing to obtain a visa or a residency card.
This project owes much to the careful work of the Dutch NGO United,
without whom this butchery would remain largely unknown.
Read also Alain Maurice and Claire Rodier, “The EU’s expulsion machine”, June 2010.
article's source: http://mondediplo.com/blogs/mapping-europe-s-war-on-immigration
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Dear comrade, for sure there are a lot of projects In this article that Void Network disagree with them or we could critisize them as naive, non antagonistic, alternative or passive. But we have to agree that there is a lot of inspiration, a lot of creative effort, a lot of fantasy and many many good intentions in all these projects that this article includes. It is the work of all of us to bring these projects further and further
to understand their limitations and use them as better as possible as 21st century beneficial tools for radical social transformation
Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
Originally published in two parts at 20minutos.es. Part 1. Part 2
“The old protests, so dull and single-minded, have passed into obsolescence, and given rise to infinite possibility. We’ve rethought the concepts of action, protest, relationship, the public, the common…”
In the collective text, This is Not a Demostration, we find a hidden corner of thoughtfulness completely ignored by mass media. This is Not a Demonstration isn’t an exercise in nostalgia. There’s no sense of longing for that Vibrant Mass that Occupied the Squares which formed that unpredictable collective body, the tangle of relationships some call “The 15-M Movement”.
This is Not a Demonstration has taken all-inclusive stock of actions, processes and projects which simply can’t be done justice by the old lexicon of protest. This is not a demonstration, we said: “And our imagination has totally overflowed the space of what’s possible, even as we build new worlds upon the carcass of the old”. This is not a demonstration. This is not a sum total. This is more than a rattling-off of victories. This is more than an echo of “we’re going slow, because we’re going far”.
Some of the media is too quick to bury “what’s left of 15M”. After the second anniversary protest of May 12th, which took place all across Spain, some will rush to hammer the final nail in 15M’s coffin. After the headcount, they’ll pick the photo with the sparsest crowd. They’ll even go so far as to manipulate some images, like any dictatorship would.
Alone in their cave, they’ll toast the funeral, reflected in the tarnished mirror of old-world media. They won’t see the details, the process, the steady drip. They will not take note. They will not listen. They will not read this text.
Surely, 15M is too complicated to be easily categorized, explained, translated. Besides, the eye sees what it’s used to seeing, as Amador Fernández-Savater reminds us in his highly recommended Seeing the Invisible: on Unicorns and the 15-M Movement. But it might just be possible to catch a glimpse of its transformative power by describing the little things, the modest dreams, the collective projects, invisible to many. There´s no need for that utopia of May 68, that ridiculous “Beneath the paving stones, the beach” which never materialised. There´s no need for it because 15M has already built its own: dozens, hundreds, thousands of networked micro-utopias. 15M has no use for a utopian model because it already has one, hundreds, thousands, of working prototypes. Micro-utopian prototypes, connected amongst themselves and (almost) in real time.
Keyword: Prototype. “An early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from”. Digital culture, copyleft processes and the hacker ethic, so pervasive in the leadup to 15M, all imbued their spirit in this new revolution of the connected crowd. The working prototype, within this new, open, process-based world, replaces any fixed model. And 15M is still churning out prototypes. It has built them collectively, as a network and in an open way.
The initial Acampada Sol (encampment at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square) wasn’t made up of groups protesting the collapse of the system. Within the encampments were prototypes for the new world. And the devil was in the details: its day-care centers, its open libraries, its food gardens, its video streaming, its analogue and digital mechanisms for proposing change. 15M – whether seen as a signal, a movement, a state of being or a set of human interactions – has built its prototypes, and they’re many: judicial, urban, cultural, economical, technological, communicative, political, affective.
The true power of 15M doesn’t lie in its (necessarily) reactionary collective defense of the welfare state. Its real, and massive, hidden strength is in its creative, innovative, proposal-oriented nature. Given our willfully blind politicians and media, increasing the visibility of these real, shareable, living prototypes is crucial, now more than ever. But it’s not a list we need, it´s more like an act of poetic justice. A subjective inventory, giving shape to something so big we don’t yet have a name for it.
As we’ve been saying for some time, being happy is our best revenge.
THE METHOD MICRO-UTOPIA
Image: Ondas de Ruído. Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0
The encampments of 2011, specifically their restoration of community assemblies, took the political old guard by surprise. Here were non-hierarchical, open assemblies that anyone could take part in. For the first time in decades, we saw political assemblies held in public spaces. Assemblies that turned into method, human hardware for uniting urban citizens. The need for consensus arose from a spirit of dialogue and coexistence, born in reaction to the visceral antagonism of the old political class: we won’t go until we reach an agreement. Following the erosion of the mechanisms of consensus during the encampments, the strategy of geographical and thematic diaspora came into being. #TomaLosBarrios (#TakeTheHoods). #TomaLaPlaya (#TakeTheBeach). #TomaLoqueQuieras (#TakeWhateverYouWant. Join with others. Open it up. And, from the hardships of coexistence, the slow nature of consensus, from decentralization, the workings of autonomy emerged..
In free software jargon, “fork” describes a peaceful deviation within a common project. The term was quickly adopted in 15M citizen politics. The newly formed Comité Disperso (Scatttered Committee) sums up 15M’s fresh ways of dealing with an assortment of processes. “You can be there without always being there. You can be, without being the same. You can participate without needing to tie yourself to anything or giving up your autonomy. Acting from mutual respect, scattered organization allows varying degrees of collaboration amongst people and collectives, according to their own wishes, goals and abilities at any given moment”. It isn’t surprising then that Partido X, Partido del Futuro, which forked out from 15M, defines itself as “a method”.
THE URBAN MICRO-UTOPIA
\Image: Campo de Cebada. Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0
The encampments led to a double mutation of urban space. First: the shift from public space into common space. Public squares, beset by excessive prohibitions and the privatization of their usage, were reborn as the urban commons. A leaderless, non-hierarchical citizen network organized this urban space “peer-to-peer”, consisting of interconnected public squares.
Second mutation: hybrid space. These weren’t squares made of paving stones. These squares were of bits and atoms. Analogue and digital life were intimately intertwined, inseparable. During the encampment at Sol, theTwittómetro connected networks and public squares, virtual and physical spaces. The #AbreTuWIFI, (#OpenYourWifi) campaign, which encourages people to open their home WI-FI access during protests to allow easy communication, nurtured this new hybrid urban space. Another good example is the #Voces25S map, created to protect mass groups from police violence. You only had to tweet from your GPS-activated mobile phone to lay out the “digital rug” over the physical city-space.
The first of the two mutations described above is building a network of former public spaces, now transformed into self-organising, self-governed places bristling with activity, like Madrid’s Campo de Cebada, recent winner of Ars Electronica’s prestigious Golden Nica Award in the Digital Communities category. These spaces are often supported in part by stale, dried up public institutions desperate for new ideas. The second mutation is branching out through Convoca!, a mobile app that allows you to check in at gatherings, protests, events or encampments. Both mutations coalesce in a melting pot of networked spaces, connecting peers locally and globally, beyond institutions or boundaries, on the fringes of commercial logic.
READ MORE NEW PROTOTYPES OF STRUGGLE HERE:
Friday, October 4, 2013
(...) For weeks, the riots filled our screens with their void. What did we see? Fires in the night, enigmatic, faceless youths who disappeared seamlessly into darkness or behind smoke-screens, according to vanishing recipes we know nothing about. Something that refuses to be grasped but traps us in a fascinating anxiety. A possession. Like every magic ritual, a riot is a fleeting moment of perception of the invisible. It corresponds to an instant of intensification, to a charge. Suddenly our perception level increases and we see, as if looming up out of nowhere, another social space with its own connivances, a moment when everything that has been produced in secret is aggregated, illicit witchlike practices whose mode of transmission – like in every ritual – is first and foremost part of a practice, a performance. It is necessary to commit one’s body to receive this unspoken knowledge. By staying outside, one literally understands nothing. It is thinking through experience. Just as a vaudoo rite at nightfall reveals the incredible heartbeat of another world that is hidden during the day, a riot is not a rupture but, as we will try to imagine here, a secret community that briefly reveals itself before returning to its anonymity. The ghostly body of these hooded youths is that abnormal body which warns us that another world exists, beyond the visible. (...)
Void Network invites you to print and read this pamphlet that you will find here in pdf format:
for more info about how you can print a pamphlet:
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
"Down and Out in Athens" Documenting the unemployed and homeless in Greece / a photo journal by Yannis Behrakis
Reuters photographer Yannis Behrakis, based in Athens, spent several weeks documenting the unemployed and homeless in Greece as the continued economic downturn has impacted the numbers of homeless. Since the debt crisis erupted in 2009, hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs -- the unemployment rate in the country reached 26.8 percent, as the economy contracted by another 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and even stricter austerity measures are being urged. See also Portraits of Greece in Crisis from last year. [23 photos]
click on the right down side of the photo to see full screen
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Alexandros, a 42-year-old from Serres in northern Greece, sits in the abandoned car he lives in, at the port of Piareus near Athens, on April 10, 2013. Alexandros owned a plant shop in Athens until 2010, when it was forced to close, he became homeless soon after. According to Praxis, a non-governmental organization, the number of homeless in Greece has nearly doubled to over 20,000 from 11,000 in 2009.
Michael, 36-years-old and unemployed, poses by an abandoned open-air cinema in central Athens, on February 8, 2013. Michael worked as a hotel clerk for over fifteen years but when the hotel closed he was unable to find work and in late 2011 became homeless. Two months later he was diagnosed with lymph node and thyroid cancer. He now lives outside a church.
(Reuters/Yannis Behrakis) #
Adrian, a 51-year-old from Romania, extracts copper from a cable in central Athens, on January 18, 2013. Living and working in Greece for over a decade, Adrian lost his job in 2011 when the lorry company he was working for closed down. He now lives in an abandoned warehouse in an Athens vegetable market and survives by collecting scrap.
(Reuters/Yannis Behrakis) #
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
At the high point, it seems like it will go on forever. You feel invincible, unstoppable. Then the crash comes: court cases, disintegration, depression.
Once you go through this several times, the rhythm becomes familiar. It becomes possible to recognize these upheavals as the heartbeat of something greater than any single movement.
Over the past six years, cities around the world have seen peaks of struggle: Athens, London, Barcelona, Cairo, Oakland, Montréal, Istanbul. A decade ago, anarchists would converge from around the world to participate in a single summit protest. Now many have participated in months-long upheavals in their own cities, and more surely loom ahead.
But what do we do after the crest? If a single upheaval won’t bring down capitalism, we have to ask what matters about these high points—what we hope to get out of them, how they figure in our long-term vision, and how to make the most of the waning period that follows them. This is especially pressing today, when we can be sure that there are more upheavals on the way.
To this end, we have organized a dialogue with anarchists in some of the cities that have seen these climaxes of conflict, including Oakland, Barcelona, and Montréal. This is the first in a series of reflections drawn from those discussions.
Practically all of the participants in these discussions independently reported that it was really hard for them to formulate their thoughts: “I don’t know why, but whenever I sit down to work on it, I get depressed.” This suggests a broader problem. Many anarchists depend on a triumphalist narrative, in which we have to go from victory to victory to have anything to talk about. But movements, too, have natural life cycles. They inevitably peak and die down. If our strategies are premised on endless growth, we are setting ourselves up for inevitable failure. That goes double for the narratives that determine our morale.
Movement – A mysterious social phenomenon that aspires to growth yet, when observed, always appears to be in decline.
When social change is gathering momentum, it is protean and thus invisible; only when it stabilizes as a fixed quantity is it possible to affix a label to it, and from that moment on it can only decompose. This explains why movements burst like comets into the public consciousness at the high point of their innovation, followed by a long tail of diminishing returns. A sharper eye can see the social ferment behind these explosions, perennial and boundless, alternately drawing in new participants and emitting new waves of activity, as if in successive breaths.
In Occupy Oakland, a three-week occupation gave way to a six-month decline. This bears repeating: movements spend most of their time in decline. That makes it all the more important to consider how to make the most of the waning phase.
As all movements inevitably reach limits, it is pointless to bewail their passing—as if they would go on growing indefinitely if only the participants were strategic enough. If we presume the goal of any tactic is always to maintain the momentum of a particular movement, we will never be able to do more than react quixotically against the inexorable passing of time. Rather than struggling to stave off dissolution, we should act with an eye to the future.
This could mean consolidating the connections that have developed during the movement, or being sure to go out with a bang to inspire future movements, or revealing the internal contradictions that the movement never solved. Perhaps, once a movement has reached its limits, the most important thing to do in the waning phase is to point to what a future movement would have to do to transcend those limits.
We had occupied the building for almost 24 hours, and we were starting to imagine that we could somehow hold onto it. I was about to go out for supplies to fortify the place when something caught my eye. There in the dust of the abandoned garage was a hood ornament from a car that hadn’t been manufactured in 40 years. I reached down to pick it up, then hesitated: I could always look at it later. On impulse, I took it anyway. A half hour later, a SWAT squad surrounded the building for blocks in every direction. We never recovered any of the things we built or brought there. Over a hundred of us met, danced, and slept in that building, outside the bounds of anything we’d previously been able to imagine in our little town, and that little hood ornament is all I have to show it happened.
When I visited my friends in the Bay Area the following week, they were in the same state of elation I had been when I left the building: “We walk around and people see us and call out OCC-U-PY! Things are just going to grow and keep on growing!”
During a crescendo of social struggle, it can be difficult to maintain perspective; some things seem central yet prove transitory, while other things fall by the wayside that afterwards turn out to have been pivotal. Often, we miss opportunities to foster long-term connections, taking each other for granted in the urgency of responding to immediate events. Afterwards, when the moment has passed, we don’t know how to find each other—or we have no reason to, having burned our bridges in high-stress situations. What is really important, the tactical success of a particular action, or the strength of the relationships that come out of it?
Likewise, it is rarely easy to tell where you are in the trajectory of events. At the beginning, when the window of possibility is wide open, it is unclear how far things can go; often, anarchists wait to get involved until others have already determined the character of the movement. Later, at the high point, it can seem that the participants are at the threshold of tremendous new potential—when in fact that window of possibility has already begun to close. This confusion makes it difficult to know when it is the right time to shift gears to a new strategy.
We were outside at a café in downtown Oakland a couple months later. I was asking what my friends thought the prospects were for the future. “Things will pick up again when spring arrives,” they assured me.
At first I believed them. Wasn’t everyone saying the same thing all around the country? Then it hit me: we were sitting there in the sunshine, wearing t-shirts, in the city that had seen the most intense action of the whole Occupy movement. If there wasn’t another occupation there already, it wasn’t coming back.
Keep the window of possibility open while you can; if you have to split, split on your own terms.
Movements usually begin with an explosion of uncertainty and potential. So long as the limits are unclear, a wide range of participants have cause to get involved, while the authorities must hold back, unsure of the consequences of repression. How do we keep this window of possibility open as long as possible without sidestepping real disagreements? (Think of Occupy Wall Street when it first got off the ground and all manner of radical and reactionary tendencies mingled within it.) Is it better to postpone clashes over ideological issues—such as nonviolence versus diversity of tactics—or to precipitate them? (Think of the controversial black bloc in Occupy Oakland on November 2, 2011.)
One way to approach this challenge is to try to clarify the issues at stake without drawing fixed lines of political identity in the process. As soon as a tactical or ideological disagreement is understood a conflict between distinct social bodies, the horizon begins to close. The moment of potential depends on the fluidity of the movement, the circulation of ideas outside their usual domains, the emergence of new http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7462053410018632954#editor/target=post;postID=1108112499700313130social configurations, and the openness of individual participants to personal transformation. The entrenchment of fixed camps undermines all of these.
This problem is further complicated by the fact that the top priority of the authorities is always to divide movements—often along the same lines that the participants themselves wish to divide. It may be best to try not to precipitate any permanent breaks until the horizon of possibility has closed, then make sure that the lines are drawn on your own terms, not the terms of the authorities or their unwitting liberal stooges.
Push the envelope.
What is still possible once the horizon has been circumscribed? In a dying movement, one can still push the envelope, setting new precedents for the future so subsequent struggles will be able to imagine going further. This is a good reason not to avoid ideological clashes indefinitely; in order to legitimize the tactics that will be needed in the future, one often has to begin by acting outside the prevailing consensus.
For example, at the conclusion of November 2, 2011, Occupy Oakland participants controversially attempted to take over a building. This provoked a great deal of backlash, but it set a precedent for a series of building occupations that enabled Occupy to begin to challenge the sanctity of private property during its long waning phase—giving Occupy a much more radical legacy than it would otherwise have had.
One year’s breakthroughs are the next year’s limitations.
During the burgeoning stage of a movement, participants often become fixated on certain tactics. There is a tendency to try to repeat one’s most recent successes; in the long run, this can only produce conservatism and diminishing returns. Diminishing returns are still returns, of course, and a tactic that is no longer effective in its original context may offer a great deal of potential in another setting—witness the occupation of Taksim Square in June 2013, when no one in the US could imagine occupying anything ever again. But tactics and rhetoric eventually become used up. Once no one expects anything new from them, the same slogans and strategies that generated so much momentum become obstacles.
As soon as Occupy is in the news, anyone who had an occupation in mind had better hurry to carry it out before the window of opportunity has closed and nobody wants to occupy anything at all. In a comic example of this tendency to fixate on certain tactics, after Occupy Oakland was evicted, Occupy Wall Street mailed a large number of tents across the country as a gesture of support. These tents merely took up storage space over the following months as the struggle in Oakland reached its conclusion on other terrain.
Don’t regress to outmoded strategies.
Sometimes, after a new strategy that is attuned to the present context has created new momentum, there is a tendency to revert to previous approaches that have long ceased working. When people with little prior experience converge in a movement, they sometimes demand guidance from those who have a longer history of involvement; more often, it is the veterans themselves who demand to provide this guidance. Unfortunately, longtime activists frequently bring in old tactics and strategies, using the new opportunity to resume the defeated projects of the past.
For example, fourteen years ago, worldwide summit-hopping offered a way to exert transnational leverage against capitalist globalization, offering a model to replace the local and national labor organizing that had been outflanked by the international mobility of corporations. Yet when labor activists got involved, they criticized summit-hoppers for running around the world rather than organizing locally the old-fashioned way. Likewise, Occupy got off the ground because it offered a new model for an increasingly precarious population to stand up for itself without stable economic positions from which to mobilize. But again, old-fashioned labor activists saw this new movement only as a potential pool of bodies to support union struggles, and channeled its momentum into easily coopted dead ends.
In the wake of every movement, we should study what its successes and failures show about our current context, while recognizing that by the time we can make use of those lessons the situation will have changed once more.
Beware of rising expectations.
When a movement is at its high point, it becomes possible to act on a scale previously unimaginable. This can be debilitating afterwards, when the range of possibility contracts again and the participants are no longer inspired by the tactics they engaged in before the crest. One way to preserve momentum past the end of a movement is to go on setting attainable intermediate goals and affirming even the humblest efforts toward them.
The trajectory of green anarchist struggles in Oregon at the turn of the last century offers a dramatic example of this kind of inflation. At the beginning, the goals were small and concrete: protect a specific tree or a specific stretch of forest. After the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, the goals of green anarchists in the region hypertrophied until they reached a tactical impasse. When your immediate objective is to “take down industrial civilization,” just about anything you can do is going to feel pointless.
Indeed, during a declining phase, it may be important to resist the tendency to escalate. When the SHAC campaign ran aground, Root Force set out to apply the same strategy against a much bigger target—scaling up from a single animal testing corporation to the major infrastructural projects underlying transnational capitalism. A SHAC-style campaign targeting a smaller corporation might have succeeded, empowering a new generation to go on applying the strategy, but Root Force never even got off the ground.
Quit while you’re ahead.
The declining phase of a movement can be a dangerous time. Often, popular support has died down and the forces of repression have regained their footing, but the participants still have high hopes and feel a sense of urgency. Sometimes it’s best to shift focus before something really debilitating occurs.
Yet quitting while you’re ahead is complicated. If the connections that have been made are premised on collective action, it can be difficult to retain these without staying in the streets together.
Months after Occupy Oakland was definitively over, police brutally attacked an anarchist march against Columbus Day, making several arrests and pressing felony charges. It is an open question whether this showed that anarchists had overextended themselves, but after a payback action the following night in Oakland, street activity in the Bay Area died down for almost a year. On the other hand, after the UK student movement died down, an explosion of riots in August 2011 suggested that many of the underclass participants felt abandoned by the withdrawal of their former activist allies from street action. It is possible that, had the movement continued in some form, the riots might have turned out differently—as a point of departure for another wave of collective struggle, rather than the desperate act of a marginalized population rising ruinously against society itself.
Be prepared for burnout and depression.
After the crest, when the euphoria is over, many participants will experience depression. Since the events that regularly brought them together have ceased, they are isolated and more vulnerable. Others may veer into addiction: substance use can be a way to maintain intimacy with each other and with danger itself when there is no more fire in the streets. The simple pleasures with which people celebrated their victories can expand to fill the space left by the receding tide of events, becoming self-destructive. This is another reason to establish new venues to maintain camaraderie and connection when the window of possibility is closing.
Save energy for the fallout.
All of these problems are often intensified by the explosion of discord that usually follows a movement’s demise. Once it is clear that a movement is definitively over, all the conflicts that the participants have been putting off come to the fore, for there is no longer any incentive to keep them under the rug. Suppressed resentments and ideological differences surface, along with serious allegations about abuse of power and violations of consent. Learning from these conflicts is an essential part of the process that prepares the way for future movements: for example, contemporary anarchism is descended in part from the feminist backlash that followed the New Left movements of the 1960s. But participants rarely think to save energy for this phase, and it can feel like thankless work, since the “action” is ostensibly over.
It was a few nights before the eviction of the Occupy Philly encampment, and we were holding a General Assembly to decide what to do. Tensions were running high between the residents of the camp, who were primarily homeless, and those who participated chiefly in meetings and working groups. That night, a homeless man interrupted the GA to accuse several of those in leadership positions of being in league with the police, being racist, and planning to sell out the homeless. The facilitator tried to ignore the disruption, but the angry man drowned him out and eventually riled up a few more people who began shouting too. In this moment of chaos and heightened emotion, we had a unique opportunity. We could have shifted our focus from the threat that the government wanted us to react to, instead using that GA to finally address the tensions in our own group in hopes of building a force that could survive into the next phase of struggle. Instead, the facilitator tried to restore order by directing us to “break into small groups and discuss what ‘respect’ means.” My heart sank. Our shared energy was explosive; we needed to channel it, not suppress it.
That was the last time I saw many of the comrades I’d befriended over the preceding months. The eviction wasn’t the greatest threat we faced after all.
Repression hits hardest at the end.
Government repression usually does not hit in full force until after a movement has died down. It is most convenient for the state to attack people when their support networks have collapsed and their attention is elsewhere. Operation Backfire struck years after the high point of Earth Liberation Front momentum, when many of the participants had moved on and the communities that had supported them had disintegrated. Similarly, the authorities waited until May 2012 to strike back at Occupy with a series of entrapment cases.
The chief goal of repression is to open the fault lines within the targeted social body, isolating it and forcing it into a reactive position. Ideally, we should respond to repression in ways that establish new connections and position us for new offensives.
Hold your ground.
How do we transition into other forms of connection when the exceptional circumstances that drew us together are over? The networks that coalesce effortlessly during the high point of momentum rarely survive. While new events were unfolding, there was an obvious reward for setting differences aside and interrupting routines to converge. Afterwards, the large groups that formed slowly break down into smaller ones, while smaller groups often vanish altogether. The reshuffling of allegiances that takes place during this period is vital, but it’s equally vital not to lose each other in the shuffle.
During the crest of a movement, participants often take for granted that it will leave them at a higher plateau when it is over. But this is hardly guaranteed. This may be the most important question facing us as we approach the next wave of struggles: how do we gain and hold ground? Political parties can measure their effectiveness according to how many new recruits they retain, but anarchists must conceive of success differently.
In the end, it isn’t just organizations with contact lists that will remain after the crest, but above all new questions, new practices, new points of reference for how people can stand up for themselves. Passing these memories along to the next generation is one of the most important things we can do.
Three Years since the Greek Insurrection, our interview with comrades in Athens about the months following the uprising of December 2008
Occupy Oakland Is Dead; Long Live the Oakland Commune
Cracking under Pressure: Narrating the Decline of the Amsterdam Squatters’ Movement, by Lynn Owens
 For example, the emphasis on tactical nonviolence that enabled a large body to converge around Occupy Wall Street became an obstacle to keeping the streets when repression escalated. Often, in places where a movement crosses a new threshold, it subsequently remains suspended at that point of development, limited by the same structures that enabled it to advance. After the occupation of the capitol in Madison in spring 2011, activity in Wisconsin never caught up to what followed in New York, just as Occupy Wall Street never matched the intensity of Occupy Oakland. In February 2012, after Occupy Oakland had died down, the student strike in Montréal set the high-water mark for contemporary struggle in North America—and anarchists in Montréal are still paying the price of this high point, facing intense police repression.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties anarchists face on a day to day level is that of finding reliable comrades with whom to carry out ongoing projects of revolt that are integral to their lives – projects that go beyond the customary formulas that can be found everywhere (Food Not Bombs, Critical Mass, collective businesses…). These formulaic projects develop easily because they require little thought. For the same reason (no real need to think) most anarchists seem to have little problem with spontaneous one-time night activities. But it is difficult to keep any sort of ongoing project in which a combined practical and theoretical effort is necessary going. Such projects demand an continuous assessment of what we are doing and why we are doing it in terms of our revolutionary desires, our relations with comrades and other people and the reality we are facing. They keep on calling our lives into question and provide no comfortable place to rest and say “I am content, I have it all together, I have no need to struggle with myself.” I think we all fear this.
For most anarchists, anarchy and revolution remain abstractions external to them, because their own lives remain external to them. They do not see their life as a totality and so they do not consider what they want to do with it on that level. So they don’t ever feel the need to create practical projects as an outgrowth of a life of revolt involving ways of relating that reflect the world they desire. This is not simply a matter of personal failing on the part of individual anarchists. There are concrete social reasons why people usually fail to get beyond this point of thoughtless activity. The social reality in which we exist forms its own totality and imposes it on our lives. Recognizing this imposed totality in a direct way would place an ultimatum before us that few of us are ready to face, one that demands looking the horror of our present world in the face and choosing to oppose it in its totality. It is easier for us to break our lives down into separate incidents, events, spaces and moments in order to avoid facing the full significance of this imposed totality. But this totality is that of the state and the market, the intertwining rule of wealth and power. And it imposes itself precisely by breaking our lives down into separate pieces, unrelated moments, alienated fragments. So our tendency to protect ourselves in this way plays right into its hands. Separated in this way, the incidents, relationships, activities and moments of our lives have no real meaning for us as individuals. So this tendency toward fragmentation is something we need to battle in every moment.
But to fight it, we need to try to understand how it operates on a concrete level. It is the reality of our daily lives, the endless parade of meaningless interactions and activities in which we are forced to participate: working, paying rent, buying and selling, paying bills, dealing with the presence of cops, bureaucrats, bosses, landlords, etc., etc. All of this together makes us dependent on the totality of the social order and at the same time transforms us into atoms that mainly seem to bump into each other randomly due to circumstances beyond our control in the meaningless, ceaseless movement of commerce. In the United States, an ideology has grown around this that absurdly goes by the name of “rugged individualism”. The absurdity is dual. First of all this ideology defines “individuality” precisely in terms of this atomized existence in which each one is nothing more than a cipher, equal to and separate from every one else in their nothingness. Secondly, these atomized beings that are the “individuals” of this ideology are made absolutely dependent by a social order that defines their lives as a competition for the same petty ends, thus guaranteeing their ongoing identity and separation. There is certainly nothing rugged in such abject dependence. The aspect of social fragmentation that this ideology seeks to justify – atomization –may play a major part in our inability to create real projects of affinity together that spring from our own lives, particularly if its ideological justification has penetrated into our own ways of conceiving individuality.
It seems to me that we still often perceive things in a fragmented and atomized manner. We look at work, the payment of rent, buying and selling, etc. as separate problems and come up with solutions such as work avoidance, squatting, shoplifting and dumpster diving, etc. (all fine things to do, mind you, but only in a context of the total conscious creation of our lives in revolt against this world). Since we perceive the problem in a fragmented manner, we look upon fragmented, often solitary, activities as solutions, and our practice remains one of getting by within this society. So there needs to be something deeper behind our projects, something that recognizes the totality of the enemy we face and the totality of what we desire on a concrete level. This begins with grasping our lives as a totality of our own. But what does this mean?
From Stirner, we get the clue that each of us must be our own basis, and from Vaneigem we get the further clue that this requires a “reversal of perspective”, in other words, turning around to look at the world from a new perspective – our own. But these clues remain useless if we continue to conceive of individuality in the way this society does, as something abstract and isolated, as some mystical “nature” within each of us, completely separated from the relationships that make up our lives. If we see individuality in this way, we will not be able to grasp the totality of our lives, because we will lose all the relationships, interactions and historical and social realities that weave into who we are and who we are becoming. The concept of individuality that this society imposes stands as a crystalline and pure object outside of all relationships, but real concrete individuality is, in fact, a relationship. I become who and what I am in relation to Esther, Dave, Tiger, Susannah, Mary, Ivy, Anais, Membrane, Brendan, Brandon, Avram, Mandy, the woman at the coffee shop, the preacher in the church my parents made me attend, my parents themselves, the cops, the state, the economy, the technological apparatus, etc., etc. None of these relationships determines who I am, but all play a role in how I create who I am. A relationship is not a crystalline statue. It is an activity, a movement in course. And so this is also the nature of individuality. I do not want to be misunderstood – my individuality is not ever imperfect or partial. It is always whole, but that whole is a movement – a dance, if you will, with others – and is therefore never finished. Its end could only be in death.
Thus, I could say that my individuality is a dialectic between myself as a being who desires and acts and the environment through which I move (including all the personal and social relationships I am involved in directly or indirectly). Realizing this dialectic on a practical level – the reversal of perspective – means looking upon all these relationships either as enhancements of myself, thus worthy of encouraging and strengthening, or as obstacles in my way, which I will strive to remove from my life, destroying them if necessary. The totality of this society acts to bury the awareness of this dialectic. By attaching individuality to sacred (i.e., private or collectively “owned”) property (as an identity bought both figuratively through competition for prestige and literally as identifying merchandise), this society places it outside of us as human beings and so undermines our awareness of the dialectic between ourselves and the world around us. As sacred property, individuality is not our activity, but a thing outside of us which we must purchase, which means we must competitively strive for it. But as I indicated above, this competition atomizes and homogenizes us, thus completely undermining true individuality.
It might be easier to understand the difference between the conception of individuality as economic property and that of individuality as relational activity by looking at the trait of strength. In this society, strength is a kind of private property. It is the individual’s capacity for defense, for armoring her or himself, for standing alone against the world. As such, it is limited and measurable, and therefore easily depleted. This conception can create some twisted dynamics between individuals. People often seem quite willing to nurture the weakness of others, offering a kind of personal charity that maintains the other in their weak state and maintains the nurturer’s role as the strong provider. Of course, such relationships are two-way, and the process is largely unconscious. So there is no use in trying to place blame. Nonetheless, such relationships maintain the private ownership of strength for the one providing the “nurturing”. And if strength is indeed private property, if it is simply one’s capacity to withstand external attacks and to stand alone against the world, it makes sense to act this way. While one can indeed be another’s hero, using one’s own carefully guarded strength to protect them, one can never truly act as their comrade or accomplice, breaking down the boundaries between individual strengths so that they can intertwine with and enhance each other. Since anarchists desire a different social reality, we need to develop a different conception of strength, one that is based on the refusal of atomization, on the discovery of the enjoyment and wealth that we can find in each other. This means recognizing that strength is not a commodity in limited supply for which we are competing, but is rather something that increases when shared. It is not a question of self-defense and standing alone against the world, but rather of our capacity to realize our desires within the world in relation with others. In this sense my strength is indeed my own, but not as private property with its boundaries; rather it is my individual capacity that perpetually challenges and expands itself. As such it is not weakened, but expanded when I combine it with that of others whose aims intersect with mine.
Recognizing individuality as a relational, dialectic movement, rejecting the idea that strength – and similar traits such as love, freedom, etc. - is limited private property to be held in reserve and protected, it becomes clear that grasping one’s life in its totality in order to fight against this society means grasping all the relationships that make up one’s life. Of course, this is never a finished task. The social reality that surrounds us perpetually intrudes and imposes itself. So this is something we can only do in ongoing revolt against this society. But the ongoing battle to grasp one’s life requires a high level of awareness. We need to examine each and every relationship we participate in, not moralistically, but to determine whether it is helping us practically to build the life we desire. Since we are not looking for “purer” ways to survive, but are rather striving to grasp our lives as a totality we create, it may be that the sorts of projects we decide to carry on against this society can be accomplished more readily if we have a steady residence – and in the present social context this may mean paying rent or buying a house. We may need money or specific tools to carry out our projects and may use a job, disability or other welfare bureaucracies to get these things. There is no use in lamenting or moralizing about this. What is important is to know precisely why we make the choices we do in terms of how we are desire to create our lives and our projects of revolt.
But this brings us back to the area of our relationships with each other. If the lives we wish to create are lives together, if we want to build comradeship, practical affinity and mutuality, then we need to communicate in a straightforward manner so that we can make intelligent choices. This goes against everything this society instills in us. Trained to view everyone as a rival, we build up unconscious defenses. Thus, we have a tendency to use manipulation rather than straightforward communication, to dance around each other rather than with each other. If supposed comrades and accomplices constantly dance around each other, unconsciously manipulating each other in order to get what they want, no one will ever be able to make intelligent choices, since all of our choices will be founded on illusion. Yet this is how we are taught to relate – it is the basis of negotiation and compromise. But how can practical affinity, comradeship, complicity and mutuality ever come from this? We frequently have to deceive and lie to our enemy – the power structure and its lackeys – but since we are striving to create life together in a different way, we can’t relate to each other like this. To build affinity and mutuality, we need to be clear with each other about our needs, desires, capacities, aspirations, dreams and what we are willing to offer each other in the mutual realization of these things. Lives, strengths, struggles and projects can only intertwine in a mutually beneficial way when everyone involved is straightforward about their aims and desires, and thus provides a real basis for affinity.
Revolution is not just a bunch of atomized ciphers throwing themselves against the walls of society; it is individuals, discovering themselves as such, coming together against a common enemy, finding ways to intertwine ongoing struggles. The history of insurrection shows this to be true even where there is no evidence that potential for this awareness existed before the uprising. Those of us with a conscious desire for a different world need to be willing to make an effort to relate differently now. This means developing practical relationships of affinity. Affinity is too often looked upon as something abstract: we have similar ideas, therefore we have affinity. But if we cannot transform these shared ideas into concrete projects, into a real intertwining of lives and struggles in a focused manner, then our supposed affinity is just another meaningless spook haunting our heads. Thus, we need to recognize our strength in each other, and put effort into each other for mutual strengthening, rather than offering charity to each other and nurturing weakness. To me, this is where Stirner’s union of egoists and Kropotkin’s mutual aid come together.
So if we want to grasp our lives in their totality to enjoy them fully and make them weapons against the totality of this society, we need to understand how to relate in ways that enhance each one’s individuality. In this light we should consider a few things: What is practical affinity? Isn’t it a real knowledge of each others’ ideas, dreams, desires, capacities, aspirations and needs that permits us to come together on a projectual basis, intertwining our rebellions? And this requires us to talk with each other without hidden agendas. What is comradeship? Isn’t it the willingness to have each others’ backs in a practical way, to wager ourselves on our comrades, because they are our wealth, our joy in life? What is complicity? Isn’t it the recognition of a specific intertwining of projects where it makes sense to join forces to accomplish a specific aim – the recognition on the immediate level of struggles and rebellions coming together? And what is mutuality? Isn’t it a reciprocity that does not weigh or measure, in which all involved recognize each other as sources of strength, enjoyment, and the only kind of wealth that matters – the fullness of life? Brought down to the practical level we need to ask ourselves: Are our relationships our own creation, or the product of unconscious habits instilled by this society? Are they really mutually strengthening and expanding? Are we creating and enhancing the wealth of life and joy in each other? Are we multiplying our ferocity against this authoritarian, money-based civilization by intertwining our lives and struggles? If not, we should question why we have any sort of relationship. Because the point is not that we owe something to each other. We don’t. The idea of debt is part of the economic framework of this society. The point is that the best way to fully enjoy and grasp our lives and to fight against this society is to make every moment, every activity and every relationship significant in the creation of a unitary life to the extent that we are able. And until we destroy the society that imposes its reality on us at every moment, this will be a constant struggle and challenge, requiring a high level of awareness and mutual effort.
I would like to discuss all this more with people who are willing to put a concerted effort into overcoming the various ways of thinking and acting that spring from the fragmentation and atomization this society imposes, who are willing to put in the effort to become ongoing creators of their lives, relationships and struggles together, who are ready to pursue ongoing projects of revolt together, projects aimed immediately at attacking specific factors of this society that stand in our way here and now and that expose the nature of this society in its totality.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
The events of the past couple of days are the latest step in a sequence of events by which the military can consolidate its hold on power, aim towards the death of the revolution and a return to a military/police state.
The authoritarian regime of the Muslim Brotherhood had to go. But what has replaced it is the true face of the military in Egypt – no less authoritarian, no less fascist and for sure more difficult to depose.
The massacre carried out by the army against pro-Morsi supporters in Nadha Square and Raba’a has left around 500 killed and up to 3000 injured (Ministry of Health figures- the reality is likely much higher). It was a pre-orchestrated act of state terrorism. It’s aim is to divide the people and push the Muslim Brotherhood to create more militia’s to revenge and protect themselves. This in turn will enable the army to label all Islamists as terrorists and produce an “internal enemy” in the country which will allow the army to keep the military regime in an ongoing state of emergency.
They go after the Muslim Brotherhood today, but they will come after anyone who dares to criticize them tomorrow. Already the army has declared a state of emergency for one month, giving the police and military exceptional powers, and a curfew has been declared in many provinces for the same amount of time from 7pm to 6am. This gives the army a free hand to crack down on dissent. It is a return to the days before the revolution, where emergency law had been in place since 1967 and it provided the framework for wide-spread repression and denial of freedoms.
The character of the new regime is clear. Just a few days ago 18 new governors were appointed, the majority of which hail from the ranks of the army/police or even remnants of the Mubarak regime. There has also been an ongoing attack on workers who continue to strike for their rights (such as the recent army attack and arrest of steel workers on strike in Suez). The military regime is also hunting for revolutionary activists, journalists have been beaten and arrested, foreigners have been threatened against being witness to events. Both local and global media has told half truths and built narratives supportive of a political agenda. The counter-revolution is in full flow and it knows how to break the unity of the people in its effort to divide and conquer.
In the past two days there has been a rise in sectarian reprisals, with up to 50 churches and christian institutions attacked. The army and police were not seen protecting these buildings of the Christian community. It is in the interest of both army and the Muslim Brotherhood to stoke tensions and create fear and hatred in the people. They will fight for their control of the State as people’s blood fills the streets.
We condemn the massacres at Raba’a and Nadha Square, the attacks on workers, activists and journalists, the manipulation of the people by those who vie to power, and sectarian attacks. For the revolution to continue the people must remain united in their opposition to the abuses and tyranny of power, against whoever it is directed.
Down with the military and Al-Sissi!
Down with the remnants of the Mubarak regime and business elite!
Down with the State and all power to autonomous communities!
Long live the Egyptian revolution!