Dave Antagonism examines Jacque Camatte's ideas on revolt.
The Revolt of Humanity Against Capital
“Revolutionary struggle is struggle against domination as it appears in all times and places, and in all the different aspects of life”
— J. Holloway “In the Beginning Was the Scream” in Revolutionary Writing: Common Sense Essays in Post-Political Politics
The Revolt of Humanity Against Capital
How can Camatte inform the creation of a viable and dynamic anarchic praxis? And is the struggle already throwing up forms and gestures that share a commonality with Camatte?
To begin with a radical politics informed by Camatte signals the end of the politics of the guillotine. The image of the revolt against capital being a war between two separate and distinguishable classes now finds little relevance. Instead we are presented with a revolt of humanity against capital: against a social relationship that is constructed out of the reification of our own activity. Revolution is reaffirmed as self-abolition: as the liberating destruction of the roles and behavior that make us up and force us to remake the conditions of our own enslavement. As Camatte writes: “each individual must be violent with him/herself in order to reject, as outside themselves, the domestication of capital and all its comfortable, self-validating ‘explanations’”. If we consider the global dimensions of the material community of capital, revolution grows from the self-abolition of the proletariat, to the self-abolition of a planetary work machine — the complete and total remaking of daily life. This concept of revolution goes beyond the standard ideas of both the Left and ultra-left: of the seizing of the infrastructure of capital and applying it to new management (whether that is of the party or councils).
Camatte is scornful of demands to occupy the factories: “so all the prisoners of the system are supposed to take over their prisons and begin the self-management of their own imprisonment”. The revolt against the despotism of capital, a situation predicated on the development of production forces, and historical presuppositions, is a revolt against the entirety of capital. It is a revolt against the nature and trajectory of civilization: against both the original ruptures of the gather/hunter gemeinwesen and its latest developments. This revolt has primitive and Luddite dimensions. But Camatte doesn’t turn this into an ideology, he doesn’t believe in a simple return to a perfect primitive stage (as some GA/AP proponents do); this kind of thinking is just another “echo of the past” — a product of a domesticated humanity.
Camatte argues that we must reject a mythology of class. He writes: “We are all slaves of capital. Liberation begins with the refusal to perceive oneself in terms of the categories of capital, namely as a proletarian, as member of the new middle class, as capitalist etc. Thus we also stop perceiving the Other — in his [sic] movement toward liberation — in those same categories.” I would also suggest that here we find a momentary link between Camatte and the kind of popular global Zapatismo that is found in many anarchic circles. The first global encounters that the EZLN hosted were for “Humanity against Neo-liberalism”. The rejection of the roles capital has created for us allows us to see the lines of connection we share with everyone. It also is crucial in the creation of praxis that does not reify particular social struggles as the determining element of general revolution. Thus we can move to construct the networks/ rhizomes/webs of resistance that can celebrate the difference, singularity and validity of each of its participants, whilst not collapsing into a politics of fracture.
The transformation from a proletarian project to a human one means that new methods of struggle are needed. It could be argued that the massive mobilization of civil society that opposed the latest chapter of war in the Persian Gulf, is testament to the living death and impotence of that standard praxis of both the Left and liberalism. Camatte argues that to be successful, a liberating revolution must take place on its own “terrain”. But if there is no exterior to capital where can this terrain be? Camatte is somewhat infuriating in not helping to identify this new terrain: he only identifies what it is not. For example: “Today humanity can launch its battle against capital not in the city, nor in the country side but outside of both: hence the necessity for communist forms to appear that will be truly antagonistic to capital, and also rallying points for the forces of revolution”. Where could this be? It is possible that this terrain to launch struggle from only comes into existence with struggle. One could think of the global movements that aim to redefine space such as squatted social centers in Europe, community gardens in New York, the autonomous municipalities of Chiapas, for example, as these new spaces. If one thinks of the latter then we can see how it is both rural yet global — space where various communities live daily agrarian lives, yet also a sort of planetary epicenter taking on people and meaning much broader than its physical borders. A host of other rebellious gestures both constructive and destructive — graffiti, rioting, crossing borders, Reclaim the Streets parties, the Temporary Autonomous Zone, communes, dumpster diving, voluntary homelessness — could all be seen as ways that this new terrain is created.
These kinds of activities invariably bring people into conflict with the state, as they disrupt the smooth flows of capital and transgress laws of property. This means the issue of violence must be confronted. Yet the rejection of the black and white of class war means we are pushed up against those who are just ourselves: humans playing roles assigned by capital. Camatte, while not sympathizing with the state, argued that many student clashes with the riot cops in the early 1970s worked to reinforce the roles capital uses to pit humanity against each other, not diminish them. Camatte doesn’t preach non-violence but rather that revolution must deal with a contradiction of violence: that it exists in social conflicts, that violence against capital is to be celebrated as essential, yet violence against capital often means violence against people, which can swamp the revolution and crush its liberating nature. This has a number of implications. For Camatte, since communist revolution is about the reaffirmation of life, the representation of revolution as war, with its focus on death and martyrdom, works only to project repressive notion of humanity into the core of the revolt against domination — “this would be putting itself (revolution) once more on the terrain of class society”.
Again he is vague about an alternative, suggesting “we have got to find new methods, such as treating all institutions with contempt and ridicule by leaving them trapped and isolated in their own concerns”. This perspective may have been viable in the early 1970s, when capital seemed to have lost any innovative qualities. However, facing the active project of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism, maybe a more insurrectionary approach is needed.
But if we look at the trajectory of the revolts against neo-liberal institutions that manifested in anti-summit struggles, we see some validity in Camatte’s concerns. The more ‘successful’ insurrections appear to be ones that were both festivals and insurrections: that participate in the creating of new modes of being as they jam the functioning of capital. Sometimes that smashing of the London stock exchange and the torching of police cars will be a central part of the destruction of domestication, other times it will be part of its reinforcement by brutalizing revolutionaries, and reducing everything to thuggery.
But can we even challenge domestication personally in the hope of challenging it socially? It is unclear. It is possible that a wide range of social deviance, of politics of the body, of culture, of irrational ecology concerns, of sexual liberation, contain within them wild feral qualities that offer at least the chance of rebellion. Humanity is not yet totally roboticised. So let us finish off on Camatte’s most optimistic note: “Living is not submission, but reinvention, creation!”