A 2006 interview with the Spanish group, Los Amigos de Ludd, that published a journal of the same name until 2006, on leftism, environmentalism, revolution and utopia.
2006 Interview – “Los Amigos de Ludd”
1. In the last issue of your journal you explained the reasons for your group’s decision to cease publication of your journal and you evaluate the degree to which you fulfilled the goals you had set for it. One notable aspect of this evaluation is the abandonment of the label, anti-industrial, which you connect with your attempt to clarify one of the main criticisms that have been directed at your group: that you idealize certain aspects of the world of the past. On the one hand, we see the danger that anti-industrialism could become banalized and transformed into a new intellectual fashion and, on the other hand, it is hard for us to understand or to grasp your critique….
First of all, it is not so much the banalization of so-called anti-industrialism that worries us, but its ideological instrumentalization, which takes the form of a discourse reduced to simple-minded slogans and formulas typical of the dull routine of the college undergraduate. Of course, if this has taken place, it has not really extended beyond the borders of two or three anarchist groupuscules; we do not think you could call it fashionable…. In fact, the anti-industrial label, as we know, has not been adopted by anyone around here. But what matters is quality, not quantity. That is why, although it only affects a small minority, we prefer to clarify our intellectual standards. Hence, as a secondary consequence, the abandonment of any and all labels.
Secondly, it is true that the critique we have elaborated—with the help of a lot of external contributions, as well as some of our own—is hard to swallow, since its radical denunciation of contemporary society is obvious: really, what can you hope for? What can you believe in? When parliamentary democracy, from its very origins, has nothing really democratic about it and with each passing day what lies concealed—concealed?—behind the parliamentary façade is more clearly revealed as a mercantile technocracy with perfectly totalitarian ends, which functions by means of mass indoctrination and consumerist brutalization; when parties, trade unions, environmentalist groups and other associations (or state institutions) work together for the economic and technological progress of society, that is, disaster management; when our awe-inspiring productive system brings in its wake all kinds of harmful and destructive effects (which are now clearly visible on a planetary scale) and does away with the material independence of many peoples; when it is plunging us into a terrible universal emergency; when civic morality can be summarized as a cowardly blindness towards the consequences of modern life and a preference to sacrificing what is necessary on the altar of the superfluous. The existential and moral collapse of many individuals is an accomplished fact. It often happens that some people feel like they are being used, but that is as far as it goes. In reality, all of us are being used to a greater or lesser extent. This is the truly monumental victory of the current system.
2. How would you characterize the historical moment we now face?
The historical moment we now face is hard to define. We refuse to provide a characterization that would claim to be comprehensive. We obviously focus on what we think is of fundamental importance. We believe that the last few years have led to a radicalization of recent tendencies. These tendencies are expressed in the new wars, the climate emergency and the environmental chaos that is already manifested in a thousand ways, in the worry over energy supplies and fresh water…. Many would say that the situation is not so different from the situation that we experienced during the early 1970s. That is true, but now the situation is more disturbing. For example, the predictions that were being made during the 1970s about global warming or the depletion of energy reserves are now announced as proven facts. The victory of the modern, industrial, growth-oriented economy is imposed on nations like China and Poland, which were traditionally largely peasant societies. Since the tumultuous seventies, we have witnessed a gradual resurgence of technological expectations: the development of computer technology, communications, the role of science in development…. But, once again, it is this progressivist and innovative quality of the new society that renders the character of its destructive advances on other terrains more frightful. The power enjoyed by today’s ruling elites dwarfs that of their counterparts in the decades that immediately followed the war, because at the present time there is no consistent and significant political opposition anywhere in the world. The concentration of power in the West has not followed an autocratic course, as many people had predicted, but has simply been reinforced by the consent of the great bulk of the population, and this should be food for thought for those who are attempting to rejuvenate a political practice that has been deprived of its base. The militarist and police tensions of our time are for the purpose, above all, of assuring control over markets and the sources of energy and raw materials upon which our daily existence depends. It is not enough for us to speak of imperialist war to denominate these new phenomena of global control and international aggression; what we really have to reflect upon is the fact that the industrialized West cannot renounce this control without destroying itself, and this includes, of course, the most trivial daily routines of every inhabitant of the so-called highly developed countries. What is most terrible about our era is not the scale of the disaster, but the absence of a collective force that can understand it and act accordingly.
3. What is your criticism of leftist progressivism?
What today goes by the name of ‘the left’ is something as banal as it is a caricature. The most unfortunate thing about it is that those of us who do not participate in activist leftism or trade unionism are reproached for having comfort-loving, abstract or inapplicable views. In general, we respect the leftist views shared by thousands of persons in this country, but we do not share their obsessions or their causes. We shall cite a well-known contemporary example: the discourse concerning so-called “precariousness”. In our view, what lies behind the complaints about precariousness expressed by many well-intentioned leftists is the very language of the Welfare State, which does not allow the expression of any other critiques other than those that take the form of the false needs established by the State. The discourse of precariousness is the apologetic song of the current system, which has been established by way of propaganda and coercion, calling for the compulsory administration of the “poisoned abundance” of industrial capitalism. It gave rise to the vulgar discourse of “dignified housing” for the youth, stable full time jobs, etc. All these demands express the collective feeling that it is impossible to escape from the system’s blackmail. Trade unionism created the language of precariousness and has made it its own. We cannot deny that in other eras purely material or economic demands, or demands for labor laws, etc., formed part of the strategy of the struggle of the working class masses, but then, during the 1930s, the situation was very different, since all these efforts flourished in the soil of a culture of workers struggle and with a conflict that directly affected everyone. But we have to determine just what results were obtained by the struggles for improvements of the workers standard of living and what these results actually imply from a wider perspective. In Michael Seidman’s article, “The Birth of the Weekend”, published by the Etcétera Collective as a pamphlet, it is interesting to note how the consequences of the workers struggle of that era for time off on the weekends, together with other reforms, were already situated within a strategy of adaptation to consumer society. Seidman describes how the free time conquered by the workers was susceptible to being rapidly assimilated by tourism and the leisure industry. It was during this period that the French trade unions began to manage workers vacations, speaking of leisure and calling for the workers’ “right to snow”. While it is true that Seidman applies a positive valuation to the struggles for the weekend of that era, pointing out their subversive potential, for us it is easy to discern in these struggles one of the many steps taken toward the justification of the workers Welfare State as the final goal. On the other hand, we have to take into account the broader context of the workers’ demands, since George Orwell during his time complained about the fact that the wage increases won by the British miners in their trade union struggle presupposed a higher degree of exploitation of the colonial proletariat in India. This is not mere demagogy, for it is often said that the workers economic demands constitute the only terrain of concrete struggle upon which the struggle can be built. That is the theory! After more than thirty years of trade unionism, radical or not, in this country, one can clearly see that the struggles of the workers have only led to the glorification of the system as we know it: division of labor, technological change, ersatz foods, mass urbanism, alienation in leisure, education and health administered by the State or private capital…. It must be acknowledged that everything the workers can obtain today with their wages binds them more firmly to the system of alienation and brutalization, and makes them complicit in neo-colonial exploitation and the destruction of nature. By fighting for individual survival it is impossible not to fall into this trap, all of us are imprisoned within it, but what we denounce is the attempt to transform the workers economic welfare into a political cause.
This is, however, only one aspect of leftism. Over the last few years we have had to witness the rebirth of a self-proclaimed utopian and radical left, which was conspicuous in the so-called antiglobalization or global resistance movement. This movement’s rhetoric lacked visible social articulation, and had a perfectly predictable intellectual leadership (Toni Negri, Susan George, Bové, Klein, Ramonet, Manu Chao, etc.) and a militant core composed of professional activists. And we must call attention to the fact that not only is the social base of this movement lacking in quantitative terms, but even more so in the qualitative sense; for how do the demonstrators against the war or the disaster of the Prestige live in their everyday lives? There were brainless fools who had “Say No to War” stickers … on the bumpers of their SUVs! Many people who participated in the demonstrations were not prepared to acknowledge any relation between the war and their particular lifestyles, they were just anxious to vent their desperation about the government, Bush or the multinationals and, of course, the organizations of the left took advantage of this vague feeling of indignation on the part of the citizenry in order to try to recruit them for their own purposes. We are not such purists that we demand an absolute consistency between one’s ideas and one’s lifestyle, since we are also trapped in this system, but what really interests us is the fact that political struggles are revealing as clearly as possible the dependence that ties us all to the system.
On the other hand, on the side of real radical contestation, some writings, like those of Miguel Amorós or Carlos García, are even now dotting the i’s, to the dismay of many people, in order to prove that the anti-war movement was reduced to the symbolic plane and was incapable of resorting to instruments of social struggle like the general strike….
This anti-capitalism of the anti-war and the anti-globalization movements was actually a revisionist Leninism, third-worldism and eco-populism, all dressed up in the discourse of the new freedoms of the internet and State assistance (not in vain, the intellectual vanguard of the global resistance movement called for, among other things, a basic income, free software and freedom of movement across borders, as if it was a matter of issuing revolutionary slogans, when in reality all of these demands quite accurately reflect the operative mechanisms the system will need—and already needs—in order to administer and regulate the new economy….). In Spain, the maximum limit of foolishness was crossed in the elections of March 2004, where this whole banal left, which was raised to stardom by the opposition media, came to naught. There are still cretins who believe that the defeat of the Popular Party was some kind of victory, and that cell phones were the subversive technological means that contributed to such a glorious end….
4. You also often point to the contrast between ecology and environmentalism….
We appreciate ecology as a science of the earth, as a discipline devoted to the study of the history and the equilibrium of natural systems. In fact, we think that without ecology, a future politics would be unthinkable. What we reject is environmentalism, that is, the series of citizen’s movements that, since the 1950s in the United States and later in Europe, have appropriated the ecological question, separating it from the social question on many occasions, or combining the two after having previously evacuated the social question of any contents, a choice whose disastrous consequences are still being felt. It is certainly the case today that those who are now speaking in the name of “social ecology” only express a timid reform-oriented leftism, which is not at all threatening to the State and its institutions. The integral perspective of a society organized on other foundations and with a different relation to nature, a perspective that was grasped at certain times during the first decades of the 20th century within some libertarian currents, has been completely lost. And the environmentalist organizations, which negotiate with the State over the “environmental” conditions in which we must live, are those with the most interest in preventing the recovery of this integral perspective of ecology and society. This is at least in part due to the fact that environmentalism has become a way of life for them, but also because of laziness or ignorance. Institutional environmentalism, which was recently the object of a critique by Ramón Germinal published in Ekintza, along with trade unionism, are today the two great pillars upon which the capitalist propaganda to obfuscate consciousness and to prevent the formation of expressions of radical critique rests. On the other hand, the role of the institutional environmentalist is established as the environmental expert of the future, in the new stage of ecological and social chaos that is approaching: less biodiversity, great droughts, climate disorder, energy shortages…. In the midst of these emergencies, the environmentalist, the environmental journalist, will have his place, as he already does, as the official expert upon whom the classes in power will rely to interpret the destructive processes in terms that are acceptable for the purposes of population control.
5. Are there any contemporary struggles or initiatives that you find interesting?
Many people belabor us with the cynical reproach that our ideas lead to defeatism or paralysis. To the contrary, if they are interpreted correctly, our ideas are almost a desperate appeal to take action, although, of course, not the kind of action that leftist intellectuals, trade unionists or internet activists like.
First of all, it must be stressed that theoretical activity, understanding and the diffusion of ideas are indispensable. The ideas we have advocated in our bulletin were already discussed by others before us. In our view, there are two key texts that appeared at the end of the 1990s. One is “The Machine Breakers” by Christian Ferrer, published in 1997, if our memory is correct, which must have been one of the first texts in Spanish to rehabilitate the perspective of the Luddites; the other is the well-known 1999 pamphlet by Miguel Amorós, “Dónde Estamos” [“Where We Are”], an indispensable handbook that summarizes many of the theoretical positions that we have since adopted. We think it is necessary to mention these two works. Besides them, there are the old journals like Ekintza itself, or the one produced by the Etcétera Collective of Barcelona, which are still bastions of libertarian thought. Other publications have appeared, such as Ecotopía, Buruz Buru and Pimiento Verde, of disparate views, of course, but which share the desire to combine the ecological critique with the social critique. The publications and initiatives of such publishers as Alikornio, Octaedro, Muturreko, Virus, con.otros, and Pepitas de Calabaza, which, generally with modest means, have made important texts relating to the critique of industrial society available to a wider public, are also welcome. Finally, we shall mention the journal Resquicios, which is attempting to carry on the anti-progressivist critique from Bilbao.
Ultimately, all of these examples refer to the spread of ideas. We also believe that we have to pay attention to and support the few anti-developmental struggles that are being waged in Spain. The examples of Itoiz and la Punta, in Valencia, are vivid demonstrations of the great lengths to which the ruling system will go in its brutality. Other struggles have been carried on in the shadows, like the anti-TAV Assembly in Euskadi, or the anti-GMO struggle being waged by elements of Transgenics Fora! in Catalonia. All of these struggles necessarily involve small minorities, but they are today the only examples of anti-developmentalist opposition of which we are aware.
Finally, we should pay special attention to the constructive projects based in cooperativism, mutual aid, self-management…. In the Madrid region we have examples of cooperative communities like the BAH or the Apisquillos, who are pursuing a very interesting project. Producers and consumers cooperatives are very important stepping stones towards the construction of self-sufficiency and the recovery of forgotten knowledge. Likewise, the organization of free schools, networks of barter and exchange, and self-management of health, are rungs on the ladder that leads to the autonomous society of the future.
The problem is that, as we have pointed out on more than one occasion, all these initiatives are still minuscule and have an underground existence. There is a lack of a shared independent language that could unify all these experiences, a lack of continuity among them, and also a lack of the large numbers of people who are needed to commit themselves to them, from the cities, small or large, from the towns and the villages, to form that great community of practice and ideas that we need.
6. You reject the idea of revolution, but you reclaim the need for utopia….
It is not that we totally reject the idea of revolution, but that the circumstances we have examined above render revolution impossible. Another question that could be examined is the significance of past revolutions, since this term embraces very different phenomena…. The revolutions prior to the 19th century, like the American or the French revolutions, have no relation, or very little relation, to the social revolutions that took place after 1848, and which were constantly perfecting their means and their goals: the Paris Commune, the 1905 Russian Revolution, the German revolution of the councils… The culminating point was reached, for us, between 1936 and 1937, during the Spanish civil war, particularly in Catalonia and Aragon, where all the forces of reaction—bourgeois, Stalinist and Fascist—shared the goal of crushing the libertarian social revolution. By means of the extermination and forced dispersal of the revolutionary elements of that era all memory of the emancipatory social project of Iberian anarchism was erased, which constituted an enormous victory for the current system of domination. What came later, the uprisings in the Stalinist countries, or the revolts of the autonomous proletariat, constituted the last outbursts of the struggle against power, since they were trapped in the contradictions of the capitalist-technological system and in the mechanisms of consumption and compensation, the leisure industry, etc. All of which forms an insuperable obstacle for any revolution in the old style, whether we like it or not. But the fact that revolution has been rendered almost unimaginable does not necessarily imply that we must renounce the attempt to preserve a desirable social ideal. Without this social ideal, all struggles will lack meaning. This ideal, as we said in our last bulletin, constitutes a horizon towards which we must always direct our efforts, even if we know that it is unattainable. This is for us the meaning of utopia.
7. We would like to pose for your consideration a concrete example that concerns the difficult transition from critique to practice. Economic globalization has, in the West, generated phenomena like industrial reconversion or relocation. Faced with such a sensitive problem, we see how the defense of their jobs and the fear of unemployment is generally the sole mobilizing factor for workers and trade unions (including the most radical ones). In many cases, however, the enterprises in question manufacture automobiles, weapons, chemicals and other unnecessary products whose disappearance would seem to be one of the preconditions for the creation of another kind of society. How do you think that this logic can begin to be broken and new perspectives opened up?
We will try to be brief. We think that the place for struggle and reflection will continue to be the workplace, but not in the way it is conceived by leftist ideologies, in the form of the dialectic of capital/labor. To the contrary, we think that the latter perspective is dead, and that labor and trade union struggles, etc., the struggles that have nourished the left for decades, are, for us, a null terrain for action and reflection. We think that reflection on labor begins precisely with the negation or the supersession of these questions…. This is why the logic you mentioned is so hard to break. We hold a belief that is very unpopular and disturbing for the left, which is that the majority of the individuals of this society, who are exploited to one degree or another, largely share the values of their rulers and that, for that very reason, their subjection to the system is based more on their beliefs than on real material necessity. Millions of employees obsessed with their mortgage payments, with buying a mountain of absurd commodities and services for themselves and their children cannot be taken seriously when they complain about the poverty of the system…. Faced with all this, we speak of reestablishing human life in a framework of cooperative, self-managed labor, of making production simpler without opposing it to the metabolism of nature, of recovering knowledge that could help form a basis for autonomy…. But we are realists: most people are not prepared to reinvent new ways, they will continue to protest and to fight, those who will still fight, to consolidate their hold on the very things that are enslaving and destroying them: harmful production, industrial food, wage labor, higher salaries, paid vacations, dreadful housing, etc. We do not want to become dreary prophets of what the workers have to do to save their lives. In our everyday lives we will continue to try to be consistent—which is not always easy—and we shall continue to look for a way to make contact with all those who have chosen ideas and follow paths similar to ours. We must all make a great effort to preserve the values of authentic social emancipation of past eras, combining them and contrasting them with our present experiences and knowledge.
Los Amigos de Ludd
Translated from the Spanish.
From the Basque journal, Ekintza Zuzena, No. 34, April 2007.