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Midnight Notes Journal
Midnight Notes vol 01 #01 (1979) – Strange Victories
First issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes. From http://www.midnightnotes.org/mnpublic.html
A text version of this document (with an additional introduction by Alfredo M. Bonanno) is here:
Midnight Notes vol 01 #02 – No Future Notes: the Work/Energy Crisis & The Anti-Nuclear Movement
Second issue of the autonomist Midnight Notes journal.
I. An anti-nuclear summer?
From the point of view of the development of the antinuclear movement, the Three Mile Island accident was well timed and extremely beneficial. This is not to say, that the antinuclear movement would have disappeared without it or that the accident changed it radically. But the unexpected proof of one of the main arguments of the movement - i.e. that nuclear reactors are dangerous - helped expanding it both in numbers and in its regional distribution.
A superficial check of the materials available to us shows that approximatively 300,00 persons took part in antinuclear demonstrations, rallies, pickettings, alternative fairs etc. since March 28, including the 100,00 who attended the national rally in Washington DC on May 6. There were at least 80 anti-nuclear mass-events since Three Mile Island, among them 8 major demonstrations with more than 10,000 participants.
More important, perhaps, than the increased numbers of people involved was a wider regional distribution of the movement. It expanded from its former strongholds in New England (Seabrook), California (Diablo Canyon) and Colorado (Rocky Flats) into the Midwest (especially Illinois) and even the South (demonstrations were reported in Atlanta, Georgia, Miami and St. Petersburg, Florida, Bay City and Glen Rose, Texas)1
There were also small rallies in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico. New in the history of the antinuclear movement were also large demonstrations in cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco etc., which signalled an expansion of the activities from rural or suburban areas into the metropolitan concentrations.
But the most important question for us is whether this quantitative expansion of the movement has also affected its qualitative aspects, i.e. the type of people involved, its organisation, tactics, or more generally its class-composition. For, as impressive the numbers might seem at a first glance, they do not indicate any kind of an “historical break-through“ like the anti-war, civil-rights or student-movements of the sixties which were able to mobilize millions. Even the Washington rally was in fact a “deception” for many militants.
Considering the demonstrations in which we participated personally and the reports we got from friends on others, we conclude, that the class-composition of the antinuclear movement as it socially manifested itself has not significantly changed in this summer. By this, we mean, that mainly white intellectual workers (more or less involved in alternative ways of production or life style), including students, made up for the bulk of the participants. This is confirmed by the regional distribution which shows centers of educational industries (university-towns) as its organisational bases. What happened after Three Mile Island was merely that this type of people got mobilized also in minor educational centers, without changing the class-composition.2
It was typical, that an antinuclear march near Detroit (at Monroe, June 2nd), which drew several thousand participants, consisted almost exclusively of white students. Its class-basis was only the considerable university-industry in that city, but not the important automobile industry and its mainly black workforce
And this happened in a city which was, during the Enrico-Fermi-reactor accident of May 5 1966 “almost lost”, with all its workers, students, races and qualifications.
This general statement of a superficially stable class-composition of the movement must, however, be modified in some minor, but important aspects. A first modification occurred, of course, in Pennsylvania itself, where the movement not only expanded in numbers on its old class-basis, but also, in several demonstrations (in Harrisburg, Lancaster, York on April 8, Reading on May 20 etc.) included mainly “local residents”, i.e. clerical and state bureaucracy workers, Which make up a large part of that population.
The same type of people appeared also marginally in other demonstrations outside of Pennsylvania. This first modification is easily explained by the direct impact and health hazards of the accident itself (which, of course, cannot be considered as an “organisational model" for the movement as a whole). The material interests of these people are obvious, also concerning the possible decay of property values (even surveys showing so far no decline but the accident is not yet over).
Another important "marginal" change were "local kids” who intervened (or tried to intervene) in some demonstrations with unplanned and unpredicted actions, like storming and pulling down a gate during the Shoreham demonstration of June 6, without any consecutive effort to get arrested by the police. The official leaders of the movement had then, of course, to take their distances from such actions, which hurt the non-violent image of the movement (but also, we must add, the image of invulnerability of the nuclear reactor sites). These class-impurities put the “auxiliary police forces” of the movement to sometimes hard tests.
Other "local kids" were simply disappointed by the symbolistic and ritualistic tactics of the movement. After the Indian Point rites of August 5, I heard a group of such “kids" talk to each other on the way back from the ConEd gate (Where the Civil Disobedience-arrests were still going on) : "They are not serious", one said and tried to flush away his deception with a can of beer.
Is resignation the price of "non-violence"?
The counterattack with higher gasoline prices contributed to the preservation of the old class-composition of the movement. This is indicated by a growing gap between those who, in polls, are against nuclear energy and those, who are, additionally, for the closing of all nuclear plants. The fear of capital's "revenge" with price-hikes was stronger than the fear of radiation-dangers and created a paralysing schizophrenic attitude; if you are in a cage together with a lion, you don‘t tease him without, at least, a chair in your hands.
II A pro-solar summer?
But the almost 100% price-hike of the gasoline (over a year) was on the other side not as bad for the "antinuclear" movement as it might seem. This is why the “anti-nuclear” movement”, which has been very concerned about the "energy crisis” in general, never came out with any type of action against this ferocious attack on the working-class income and mobility. While the concerns of more and more people shifted away from Harrisburg to their own gas tanks, the “anti-nukers” continued their old civil-disobedience rites at nuclear plant fences, diminishing in numbers and enthusiasm.
But meanwhile, a “new optimism” grew within the movement: for the more expensive petroleum and nuclear energy became in this summer, alternative energy sources became "cheaper”.3 The pro-solar wing of the ”antinuclear” movement grew more optimistic while its anti-nuclear component felt a little bit “left alone" and went on biting its own tail. A shift from apocalyptic anti-nuke to optimistic pro-solar (or pro-alternative-energy-development) was visible in the "antinuclear“ movement long before this summer: alternative energy fairs began to replace anti-nuclear rallies already last year and a large part of the antinuclear militants, especially “informal” leaders, were stressing more the solar options than the antinuclear fights. Some of them are also involved in the alternative energy business which is booming especially in New England.4
The rise of the petroleum prices and electricity-rates has dramatically accelerated the pro-solar/alternative development, as is illustrated by the following statement:
"Earlier this year, when I was preparing my paper for this meeting," an expert on fuel cells said, "I made my calculations assuming that the price of diesel fuel would rise to 62 cents a gallon by 1985. It already reached that level, so the proposals in my paper have become economically attractive practically overnight.” (NYT, 8/10/79, report on the 14th Intersociety Energy Conversion Engineering Conference in Boston)
With diesel fuel being 90 cents (or more) by now, we are not living in 1979, but somewhere in the early nineties - as far as energy-profitability thresholds are concerned. The price-hikes of this summer have brought about a jump of a decade or so in the profitability of alternative energy-sources - and profitability is still the real planning instrument of capitalism. Higher energy prices are not just another rip-off, another attack on our income to raise the oil-companies' profits, they express a choice, an ultimately conscious choice made by capital in the planning of our future.
It is a choice that will be tested out exactly in the current recession, which, not by coincidence, is the third “accident" this summer. This choice creates an intense division between those, who have, financially or politically, invested in alternative energy and those (the majority) who don't have the means or the will to do so. While the pro-solar “anti-nuclear" movement can only be happy about the petroleum-price-hikes, most other working-class households experience it as a harsh attack on their income and are unable to see the “positive aspects”.
Why this attack and why now? First, it has to be stressed, that this crisis is by no means an energy-crisis. In a certain sense there was never and will never be a true energy-crisis, because, by the first law of thermodynamics, there is always a constant amount of energy. What capital faces (and wants us to work and pay for) is not in fact an energy- , but a work-crisis, a crisis of the transformation of natural and human energy into social energy, into surplus value and profits.5
The current work-crisis goes back to the early seventies when capital tried to reverse the drop of social productivity caused by the welfare struggles of the sixties (which resulted in a kind of “wages for housework” for a lot of people, especially women) by pushing people back into the waged labor-force and thus getting back more work for its money than from the (collapsing) households. Scores of women obviously accepted that deal, hassled by tougher welfare-procedures and tired of the continuous insecurity and struggles. But consequently they showed not much more enthusiasm for work in the expanding service-sector, where they mainly were employed than in their households before. Additionally the level of reproduction of their husbands and children (as future workers), of their lovers or brothers was damaged.
Capital tried to counteract these effects by a reorganisation of the work-day, introducing more part-time jobs, allowing more time for self-reproduction (like jogging, yoga, meditation etc.), redefining the role of the men, modelling the work-day on the pattern of housework (several small Jobs, high mobility, mixture of work and "recreation“). Waged work was generally expanded, but wages and work-time dropped, as well as productivity. Even the counterattack with inflation did not incite workers to work more.
Instead of working more intensively, they preferred to look for an additional little job or have two wage-earners in the household.
An expanded wage-fund combined with lower productivity means profit-crisis for capital. The broadly based inflation eroded the command-function of money, clearly visible in the expansion of consumer-debts. The response to this situation was the petroleum-price-hike, a “specific” inflation which was to produce a capillary profit-drain from low-productivity-businesses and working-class-income to the centers of highly productive, capital-intensive industries (among them not only petroleum, bud also nuclear, computer and chemical). With these profits, capital should then be able to make the next "jump". This solution, however, had its own economic and political dangers: petroleum-inflation reduced working-class consumption (e.g. car-sales), but was ineffective against the stubborn work-crisis. On the other end, isolated intensive-capital-production proved to be highly vulnerable and politically risky. 6
The current recession is the laboratory where a capitalist solution for this dead-locked profit situation is to be found. Capital is exploring the mysteries of the work-crisis by means of deep cuts into the social factory. Obviously capital is risking serious disruptions of the process of material production and reproduction, a certain level of destruction of its own assets (among them labor-power) and of its own political personnel (Carter). One surprising finding of this social surgery could be the alternative-energy production and lifestyle as a capitalist option.
III. Is small profitable?
The choice of the alternative lifestyle and way of production (appropriate technology, Buddhist economy) was an attack against the capitalist policy of the early seventies to push people out of their households in the offices, stores or factories, to become more productive. The retreat to the countryside (which in fact is nothing else than a big, natural household, with trees, mountains etc. as furniture) or to low-level consumption and ”tinkerer"-production was a response of a sector of the working class (mainly intellectual workers in a broader sense) which contributed during all this period to the capitalist work-crisis.
But on the other side, this political and (more and more) also technical creativity of the working class can be transformed from an instrument of attack into a condition of defeat, i.e. into the possibility of a “new mode of production" for capital itself. (This is just one example more for the basic logic of capitalist development, which has always been sustained by the antagonistic creativity of working class-struggle: as the 8-hour-day-struggle, the struggle for pensions etc.)
The alternativists have always stressed their interest in new ways of working, in human work and micro-productivity in the household, or small, autonomous communities. Already Schumacher in his famous book ”Small Is Beautiful“ discovered in 1973 the unexplored resources of our work day: only 3.5% of our "total social time” is actually used for material production in a developed capitalist society. Then, he concludes:
"Imagine we set ourselves a goal in the opposite direction - to increase it sixfold, to about twenty percent, so that twenty percent of our total social time was used for actually producing things, employing hands and brains and, naturally, excellent tools! An incredible thought! Even children would be allowed to make themselves useful, even old people. (…) Think of the therapeutic value of real work; think of its educational value." 7
There is no doubt, that Schumacher and the alternativists in general are sincerely interested in the good of mankind and are not mere apologetics of capitalism. But their interest in real work happens to be also the main interest and problem of capital at this moment. Capital is struggling against “unreal” work, unprofitable and unproductive work, and is on its way to destroy it: the lay-offs of this fall will show that.
Also capital wants to have a closer look at the immediate-work process and the structure of the work-day, after the obvious failures of previous explorations (Fordism, Taylorism, income-incentives, part-time work etc.).
The energy-price-hikes make “human energy" and other alternative energy and work-sources more profitable: a messenger on a bicycle is now even more profitable than before. "Man" becomes competitive again therefore also child-labor, grandpa-labor.
The decentralized, ecological, self-managed, self-disciplined, yogic”8 and appropriate-technology-work is now a viable option for capital. But this does not mean, that capital is willing or able to abandon the ”old" 3.5%-social-time-sector and that it is going to give up its command over the whole social factory. Its option is rather a combination of a modified "old" sector with a disciplined "new” alternative area.9
The capital-intensive industrial sector will be connected by various "umbilical cords" with the work-intensive sector and suck out its profits. Also for capital, such a proposal was until now a daring, an incredible thought! For the "productivity" of this alternative sector will certainly be lower as that of the old sector, when measured merely by output per capita. But on the other side, the reproductive productivity will be very high, although difficult to measure (the “therapeutical and educational value" of the new work, as Schumacher puts it). The work-day or work-life could be reorganized between these two poles of social production.
The exhausted labor-force or the intensive 3.5% sector could be recycled in the alternative "complementary paradise" and then re-enter intensive exploitation for another cycle. This would be the main source of profits extracted from the alternative sector. For capital, it could mean savings in social expenditures, welfare, health care etc. for all these services would be done "for free" by unpaid alternative labor. The alternative to such, a solution would anyway only consist in mass unemployment or “faked” employment in service jobs like in the seventies and would infect the productivity of the rest of the workers.
If the profit-transfer is secured, low-level-productivity is still preferable to no productivity or counter-productivity, even in “developed" countries. Jonestown, the fourth ”major accident“ in recent US-history, was nothing else than a model of this new mode of production. Otherwise unproductive or unemployed people (mainly black welfare-people) were put to work, not only for their reproduction but also for external profits, and their "wages” were used for capital investments in the alternative sector. This experiment failed, mainly because of the unability of the “command-personnel" (Jim Jones and consorts) to deal with the highly explosive internal dynamics of “voluntary alienated” work. His people began in fact to refuse the 24-hour-work-day and that could only mean the break-down of Jim Jones' complete control over them.
Refusal of work, refusal to love work, ended also the "love affair” with Jim Jones. In such a situation, death was preferable. What else can you do with a labor-force which even refuses "alternative work"?
Following a more balanced and less isolated "Jonestown"-model the alternative option could mean that energy and other commodities (also food) which had previously been produced in the 3.5%-sector would be produced by our unpaid housework and that we would have to invest our external wages as capital in our household economy. For example, we would have to pay for our solar collectors and bio-mass-devices and additionally have to take care of their maintenance. The establishment of this expanded household sector (which could also exist on a neighborhood or community-level) creates a tremendous new market for “3.5%-industrial products" (solar collectors, sheet metal, storage batteries, electrical appliances, all types of hardware, electronical equipment etc.) and so secures another profit-transfer-”umbilical-cord", a source of profits. A relationship of unequal exchange, comparable to that between developed and underdeveloped countries, would be established. Capitalism, after all, has always been a combination of development and underdevelopment and cannot exist in any other way.
The difference between those two complementary sectors is not, that has to be stressed, the choice of the technology. There will also be a solar-industry in the 3.5%-sector, e.g. huge solar collectors in Arizona or ugly shale-oil-mining, or bio-mass gas-plants. Capital is more and more interested in this use of "alternative” technologies, but this has nothing to do with the establishment off a parallel "soft path". Not only Big Alternative is acceptable for capital, but also small alternative.
Decentralisation of things, e.g. self-made solar collector on the roof versus giant collectors in deserts or nukes versus windmills, does not automatically imply decentralisation of command over our life, as many alternativists hope. If this was true, capital would never have admitted the individual car as a means of very "decentralized" transportation and would have favoured railroads which are much more centralized and easier to control (a central headquarter could determine the schedules, the location of stations usw [sic].). Capitalist command is far more sophisticated and is essentially not command over things, but control over circuits, movements, connections and exchange (mainly done by money, with fiscal policies, but also electronics and by police or other “physical" interventions only in case of breakdowns). Material decentralisation and destruction of capitalist command are not the same thing.
The shift from antinuclear to pro-solar within the antinuclear movement, the emergence of more and more “anti-planning"10 and less and less ”obstruction" in relation to capital are an expression of an underlying capitalist option. It‘s revealing that these anti-planners, though they base their confidence on the technical creativity of the working class-tinkerer, have no confidence in the political creativity of the class, i.e. are continuously concerned about what could happen "afterwards" and are afraid of so-called chaos or anarchy. (This is also visible in their police-tactics in demonstrations and in the fact, that some of them now stab in the back as the direct-action-people, who are ready to rely more on the political creativity of the movement.)
Capitalism is depicted as a mere self-destructive, suicidal monster and they propose to organize an alternative “where capital has left“. But while focussing on the oldest and politically already harmless sectors of capital, they cannot see, that capital never "leaves" and that they are only in competition with more capital-intensive paths of development (nuclear, Big Solar etc.) which in reality will go together with “soft paths", unless capital and all its "possible alternatives" are definitively blocked and the monster is blown out in space from our spaceship Earth.
IV Who can do it?
With its numerical and regional expansion the antinuclear movement has increasingly become the theatre of a struggle around the question: who will provide the polit/economical personnel capable of managing the alternative sector and the "new mode of production" as a whole? Who will be able to domesticate the alternative area, which is still an ambiguous and explosive mixture?
Who will function as "social control rods" that would guarantee an orderly combustion of the new human work? Who has the experience and the political credibility? Time has come for a completely new type of polit/economical personnel, for "soft" social engineers.
Some of these command problems are presently being rehearsed in the antinuclear movement. In large measure it appears as a spectrum of choices ranging from Jerry Brown's Presidential Bid, to the Citizen's Party of Barry Commoner, the legalistic Friends of the Earth, the “old" antinuclear types pushing consciousness-raising, the re-initiators of the Clamshell tactics of ritualistic fence climbing (SHAD etc.) and the “extremists" of the Coalition for Direct Action. The future of the movement appears as a “choice” between these tendencies, which can be looked at as various political approaches to the "new mode of production".
Though, at times, they take themselves as mutually exclusive, there is a constant shifting among their personnel, for they all find their material interests forwarded by the increase of energy prices (For example, there has techno serious attempt on the political horizon stretching from the electoralists to the direct actionists to even rhetorically combat the energy price hike.)
The various demonstrations of the summer were supposed to demonstrate the mobilizing capacities of the different tendencies and were explicitly meant not to accomplish anything substantial against the nuclear industry or even the plants. There was no need to push a development which was already being accelerated through the price hikes by capital itself. In this situation fence-climbing and the star-shaped die-ins a la Jonestown left the civil-disobedience-tendency in the awkward position of l'art pour l'art. With the state closing down plants, the utilities and the banks refusing to finance the nukes, and the business press filled with solar optimism, what was the need for jumping fences into the arms of the bemused police?
The main effect of these disguised political power-games was the growing deception and disaffection of the sincerely anti-nuclear militants and a certain erosion even among the ranks of the most disciplined non-violence activists.
By the end of the summer the crisis of the movement is more than visible. It expresses itself in the decadence of the commitment to non-violence, consensus-decision making and affinity-groups.
This process is exemplified most starkly by the SHAD-alliance in New York which attempted to follow as rigidly as possible the precedent of the Clamshell. But after its almost Racinian demonstration at Shoreham (June 6), it was forced to "compromise" its consensus-procedure and go along with a ¾ majority-rule in the preparations for the Indian Point demonstration of August 5. Following on the consensus degradation, SHAD accepted the heresy of affinity groups being formed right at the demonstration, with little or zero non-violence training. As all non-violence cards have been played and “strange victories“ are being won elsewhere, the old social activist part of the political personnel is becoming increasingly nervous and feels cheated by the legalist tendency which is beginning to harvest the electoral fruits of their own labour. Who needs militants experienced in crowd-control when the crowds disappear by themselves?
Thus, the direct actionists have to prove that the movement can still "get out of hand" and that they are needed for the future management of the alternative area. They have to act quickly, before capital may do the Job by itself with its price policy, or the legalists may establish themselves too firmly. This situation is partly responsible for the sudden "extremism" displayed by the Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook in its organisation of the Oct. 6 occupation. The ante is dramatically upped by the disavowal of absolute non-violence and the call for the use of "tools" such as ladders, shovels and wire cutters.
The aim of the demonstration lies no longer in the “symbolic value" of the numbers arrested, but in its “effectiveness in directly blocking further construction" (cf. Handbook for Oct.6). All the previous ingredients of a tight crowd control have been reduced.
The participants will have a choice of 35 assembly points before the planned occupation and are free to take the type of action that they want. Moreover, the size of the affinity-groups has been been reduced to 5-10 (instead of 15-20 as before), which allows for quick decisions and unpredictable behaviour. All this indicates that the organizers have to make large concessions in order to win back the antinuclear militants who have been "abused" during the summer. And there is at least the possibility that something could happen, especially if large contingents of urban blacks or “local kids" were to take advantage of this occasion to show their interest in social disruption (see our description of the Levit-town-riots below). The October 6 occupation as a final battle is an attractive bet also for scores of "old" militants who cannot afford to wait for an alternative future. It has the attractiveness of a reversed Minas Tirith, where all free nations of Middle-earth join their forces to beat the Black Lord before the long winter begins. But they should not forget that some unknown nuclear worker is still on his way to Mount Doom with the Ring.
At the same time the organizers keep the cards in their hands.
First, the model of the occupation (Marckolsheim and, more particularly, Whyl) involved only planned reactor sites and not almost finished plants like Seabrook. The marginal tolerance of the nuclear industry and the state will be much lower than in any previous occasion while the support of local residents is by far less impressive than in the German model case. Indeed, one of the organizers told us that "just anything that happens is a victory". It is as if they knew they are going to fail, and this very knowledge will be the main element of control over the demonstrators.
Conceived as an “effective" antinuclear action, the demonstration has only a very slim chance. However, for the first time in the American anti-nuclear movement a space is opened to the political creativity of various types of people. The organizers are going to take a risk - why should other people not take a chance?
The lateness of the planned occupation (nights in New Hampshire get cold in October) indicates another source of anxiety for the direct actionists. The connection with the first primary of the 1980 Presidential election in NH, only four months after the demonstration, is more than obvious. The occupation date seems to be a compromise between climate and electoral politics: continuous with the anti-nuclear summer, cool enough to make it short, and close enough to the spring to have an impact on the primary.
If the direct actionists cannot display strength and control in October they will be completely washed up in the melting snow of early March. For the electoralists present a very powerful argument; the price hikes have established the material feasibility of alternative production; consequently the point is not to push capital, but to institutionalize this production. What better way to institutionalize it except through elections? A lot of "older" social activists in the movement have already made this choice.
They are now afraid that an “ugly” outcome for the October 6 action could damage their electoral positions, spoil the party -and delay this institutionalization process. That's why even Anna Gyorgy, Harvey Wasserman, Sam Lovejoy and others, although officially ”endorsing" the demonstration, are in fact going around and stabbing in the back the direct actionists. (Our hope is, that everybody’s party gets spoiled!)
The clearest example of the new electoralist tendency is the Citizen's Party (a "Third Party" against the Democrats and Republicans). Barry Commoner is its mentor and likely candidate, while its organizational units (beside some “socialist" elements from the Democratic Party and some unions) are the "grass-roots” organizations of the ‘70s. These locally based, issue-oriented or constituency-focused groups expanded during the 1973-74 crisis involving themselves in "bottom line” economic issues, ranging from taxes to utility rates. But the present energy squeeze, and recession price hikes are putting this movement into crisis. They are facing the futility of single-issue-campaigns, which fail to build a wider social power. At the same time, their bases in the community and the neighborhoods makes them the natural allies of the alternativists. This is what Barry Commoner represents.
He speaks for a "new rationality", i.e. an alternative, decentralized but supremely efficient production and reproduction. Although his anti-capitalism is very much of the Second International variety, he does not opt for the archaic nationalization of large industries, but finds in the home and the community the basic mode of production. The ideology of alternatives meets with "neighbourhood-power” in the Citizen's Party, whose very name indicates its acceptance of the most abstract form of capitalist work: voting.
As for Jerry Brown, he represents the future interaction between the alternative sector and the 3.5%-sector (Big Business). Cutting social expenditures, implementing unpaid alternative services and using the money instead for productive investments (also in the alternative energy sector, in mass-transportation etc.) is his program. It makes perfect sense for capital and is not just an expression of demagogical opportunism, as many of his critics argue. Jerry Brown's weakness is probably his lack of a grass-root basis. But Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda are working on this with their Campaign for Economic Democracy.
Power in the antinuclear movement (which went from the legalistic Friends of the Earth to the alternativist mass movement, as e.g. the Clamshell) seems to be shifting back from the direct actionists to the electoral sphere. Only an unexpected turn could reverse this tendency which undoubtedly represents an immediate defeat.
V. Who won't do it?
The enemies of the alternativist proposal are two: one apparent the other real. The alternativists take as their enemy capital-intensive, centralized industry (which they at times identify with “capitalism”). But this “enemy” is now more concerned with hiding his sympathy for the alternative mode of production than attacking the alternativists. (In this context, Jerry Brown is already a very "compromising” figure for capital.)
There is, however, a more immediate enemy: the movement against the energy price hikes. This movement got its most concrete social expression in the independent truckers' strike and the "gas" riots of Levittown, Pennsylvania, (June 23/24). This movement is a "diffuse" movement, almost subliminal, completely distinct from the “Newtonian“ anti-nuke movement which is obsessed with getting the exact number of participants at a demo (e.g. at the Indian Point rally of August 5 people were stamped not to be double-counted by the organizers, so anxious were they to give accurate accounts of mass, space and time).
Another “Newtonian" aspect is the use of buses (with sharp schedules) to ship home demonstrators exactly at the point when ”interesting things“ begin to happen. The anti-price-movement appears to be ruled by a kind of "Heisenberg“ principle of class struggle: when you look at the mass, you don't see the movement; when you look at the movement, you don’t see the masses.
While its action seems swift and involves only relatively few people (e.g. Levittown involved at most 2,000 to 3,000 at its peak, though nobody was counting) it obviously has a large working class potential. This movement, that is against the price hike, thinks the gas shortage is a ”hoax", but presents no plans, appears to both capital-intensive industry and the alternativists as purely negative and even ”reactionary“. Further, it is of necessity violent since only the "dangerous types" can have an effect on a target like oil prices, which appear unassailable by the usual methods of protest and subversion.
One important fact that must be stressed is that the price hike had no pre-determined limit (in Europe, gasoline prices are now between $2.50 and $3), for all prices, especially oil and energy prices, are determined by the class struggle. There was no necessity for the price of gasoline to settle at about $1 at the beginning of July. As Marx pointed out, the prices of commodities are determined not by the value (socially necessary labor time) crystalized in the commodity, but by the ratio of capital to labor absorbed in its production. When there is a lot of capital compared to labor in a commodity then its price is higher than its value, while if a commodity is labor-intensive its price is lower than its value. (This principle underlies the unequal exchange between developed and underdeveloped countries.) This is especially true of gasoline which is produced with very little labor, because there is very little labor to exploit in a refinery, e.g.
Where, then, are the profits of the oil industry coming from? From the discrepancy between the gasoline price and its value. It is surplus appropriated socially, from the totality of exploitation induced in all the other areas of production and reproduction.
Hence, the subtleness of the exploitation and the difficulty of confronting it directly.
The struggle that has most helped determine the price was the truckers’ strike and the Levittown riots. Neither attacked the oil companies directly; rather, they were directed at the social and political circuits upon which the surplus of the energy corporations depend. Both the strike and the riot threatened the functioning of the exploitative mechanism which determines the value of capital and, therefore, the price of oil.
In one sense the truckers strike was a classic struggle; it began with wildcat disruptions, grew to a point where the union officials had to take on the strike, then it got out of control, turned into a riot followed by a “compromise” settlement and the return to work. But though the details are familiar, the shape is quite different.
In late May and early June sporadic reports of blockades at truck stops began. For example, on June 3 there was a blockade at a truck stop in Oklahoma City.
Then followed reports of sniper fire throughout the Midwest, from Rapid City (South Dakota) to Lolo Hot Springs, Montana and Sioux City, Iowa. As the heat built up the Independent Truckers Association (ITA) was forced to formally back the strike on June 12. But the formal backing by the ITA neither halted the shooting nor the unannounced blockades of gas stops, diesel-depots and highways all around the country. June 22-24 was the climax of the strike. Carter’s first concession was followed by gunfire in Louisiana, Minnesota, Tennessee and Illinois. The scene was set for the Levittown "white riot", at the cross-section of the gas-powered, suburban-based proletariat.
It was meeting of truckers and kids going through the "cold-turkey“ that exploded and it was the decisive point of the oil price hike curve in the U.S.
The site of the riot, Five Points Intersection, is the natural spatial spot of this ignition, for it is literally the auto-highway-heart of the suburbs! A meeting place of five roads, at each of the vertices three gas stations, a tire shop and a produce market in front of a diner. Around it is Levittown, the first planned working class suburb of the post-WWII period, all neat and deceptive in the now relaxed grass plots and shade trees. On June 23 the truckers helped spark a confrontation between young guys hanging out or cruising and the gas station owners. They were blockading the produce market on the other end of the intersection and when one of the station owners tried to shut down "for lack of gas” tires began burning, rocks were thrown and cars wrecked in the middle of the intersection.
When the police arrived they were met with sticks and the fire men were met with bottles. The local cops were completely overwhelmed by their own "citizens" and had to call in reinforcements from all over the area as well as the state police. After arrests and battle, things quieted down only to be met the next afternoon by a neighborhood crowd milling at the intersection. An old sofa is pet up in flames, a junk car is dumped in the intersection by an unidentified tow truck and the battle explodes again. "Firecrackers, including powerful M-80s, boomed and sparked throughout the night."
At the height of it Bucks County Sheriff, John Mitchell, said:
“There is a complete breakdown of law and order in Lower Bucks, all police powers are exhausted” and asked for ”partial martial law“. As Mitchell continued: "(The first night) was well planned... they (the truckers) are very well organized, probably better organized than we are," while the second night was "spontaneous"; but either way the police was definitely spooked. They had a “police riot" of their own, beating up “innocent bystanders", roughing up the arrested and chasing the "protesters" in "a guerrilla type warfare into the residential areas surrounding the intersection."
They continued their jumpiness into the next day when they arrested a local woman for "assaulting a police officer" after she threw iced tea and ice cubes at him. Their “own people" were striking back at them and they didn't know whom to trust.
After the riot the truckers strike began to taper off. (although June 26 saw a blockade snarling up 30 miles of traffic in the Long Island Expressway) even though the official demands of the strike were far from met. For example, the elimination of the 55 mph speed limit was never negotiated, while the fuel pass along and the uniform weight standards were postponed.
However, the essential demands of the strike - more diesel and stabilization (if not roll back) of the prices - began to be met in a ghostly fashion. By the last weekend of June and the first of July the gas situation began "improving” - the alien threat of shortages disappeared as quickly as it struck.
Though the strike and the riot could be looked upon as the work of a very small section of the working class (the truckers and auto junkies of Levittown) having rather precise needs dictating an assault on rising fuel prices, theirs turned out to be the most visible action against the gas shortage. But its archaic details mirrored important novelties in its targets (the state directly), breadth (continental), organizational form (uncentralized, flexible, unpredictable), technology (the extensive use of CBs to coordinate blockades and police confrontations), and generativeness (across age and occupational gaps).
At the very moment when capital lives or dies by the price of oil, those who were considered the most anti-revolutionary and bought off sectors of the working class became the most obstructive to capital (whatever the reasons in their heads). The truckers put their demands as pure income/work issues: they wanted to go faster (finish earlier), carry more and not pay for the gas hike. In this, however, they expressed the demands of most of the working class: they did not propose another plan for more work (as the alternativists have). They refused to provide a solution to the work crisis, and respect the demands of "general" capital and insisted on their particular interests. In this they appeared “backward"; but in the context of the present crisis any attempt to holdback preserves the work-crisis that capital so desperately needs to transcend.
VI. Where is the real anti-nuke movement?
The whole point of our analysis up to now is to drive a wedge between the alternativist ("pro-solar") and the anti-nuclear movements. Though historically they have developed together, the last few months have increasingly separated them out. The reason for the initial identification of these two movements has a simple “economic" determination. The alternativist movement understands that it was in its interest to make nuclear power more expensive so that “solar" costs would be more competitive. Hence, it has always "fought the nukes". At first they fought against "3.5%" capital for in the 1960's up to the early 70's expensive nukes were not in the interest of this capital. But since 1973 ”3.5%" capital's strategy has definitely changed. (Cf. "Introduction" and "Notes on the International Crisis" in Zerowork 1.)
The leap of oil, coal and uranium prices in 1973-75 made it clear that capital's mode of realizing its profit would take the energy instead of the "auto-industrial" sector as its basis in the U.S. Since then the interests of the alternativists and the "3.5%" capitalist have increasingly coincided and in the recent months have all but become identical. That is, both are interested in higher energy prices though they compete on what forms of energy production will be developed.
The argument for nukes, shale-oil or coal gasification does not depend any longer upon the possibility of lower prices as a selling point. Carter's recent speeches on energy have taken the "millions for independence and not a penny for tribute to the Arabs" line. Presumably “we" are interested in buying freedom from shortages at any price.
The only question asked is whether the money will go into shale, more oil drilling, alternative technology, coal gasification, nukes or whatever.
As a consequence of the shift in capital‘s strategy since 1973 and, more immediately, the price squeeze of 1979, capital-intensive industry and the alternativists have a common interest and a sphere of negotiation. The ground has been prepared for a kind of energy Magna Carta. For example, the alternativist movement can concede to the completion of, let's say, 50 or 60 plants under construction on condition that a certain level of investment goes to the "alternative technology" sector.
Indeed, the recent interest in the electoral "solution" is a natural result of this new commonality. The Brown and Commoner campaigns can be seen in this light. For, after all, where better to make a deal except in the ”smoke filled rooms" of electoral politics, even if the smoke is grown in Columbia instead of the Carolinas. The alternativist element of the movement, who believes the time is ripe to begin to actualize its envisioned form of production, will undoubtedly flock to these campaigns (under the banner of "realism” no doubt).
Where is, then, the real-anti-nuclear movement? It must clearly be built out of those whose material interests cannot be negotiated with either the "3.5%" capitalists or the alternativists. At this point there are two movements in this position: the anti-price-hike movement and the movement of nuclear workers (in the narrow and broad sense). The anti-price movement is directly anti-nuke simply because the strategy upon which nuclear development depends is based on the increased price of energy. Every victory of the anti-price movement undermines the expansion of the nuclear industry. The nuclear worker's movement is based upon the refusal of the work of absorbing radioactivity and it has two sections: those in the plants and those outside.The anti-price aspect is the money side while the other aspect is the work side. The real anti-nuke movement is the refusal of wasting your body and your life for radioactive capital.
The truckers and Levittown rioters are the most visible protagonists of the anti-price movement; the rest is subliminal and indirect because the energy price impact is "capillary" and is felt as just another consequence of “inflation". The anti-price struggle is ultimately a wage struggle. However, the problem of this struggle is that the wage is less and less determined at the locus of the job or state agency (e.g., the welfare office) but is increasingly a direct social quantity determined by the transformation of basic commodity prices.
Hence the sense of a pervasive but almost invisible conflict throughout the post-1973 period in the U.S. In order to see this conflict a reclassification of working class action is necessary.
Consider bank robbery. At one time bank robbers were divided into the professionals for whom the heist was a kind of wage and the unemployed "amateur" who took the money as an alternative wage. But the explosion of bank robbers (33% increase in two years since 1976) in a period of dropping unemployment indicates that bank robbery is increasingly a way of fighting inflation for those who have a wage (in one form or another) but whose wage is being attacked by the energy-price inflation. As Jay Dixon, security director for the Crocker National Bank, analyses the situation: "the bulk of bank robbers are not professionals; for one reason or another, it is someone who needs money..." (N.Y. Times, 8/25/79). Bank robbers increasingly lose their precise socio-economic categorization (no more being the "pro" or the "hard-luck losser") and merge once again, after a century and a half, with the working class as a whole, i.e., as "someone who needs money". (Cf. "Wages of Crime” a forthcoming Midnight Notes publication).
While the bank robber takes the money form directly as the target of the price struggle, other elements of the anti-price movement take the more traditionally defined wage form as the ground of battle. For example, the collapse of the Carter wage-price guidelines indicate that this terrain is still very dangerous territory for capital, perhaps permanently. The anti-price-hike movement has different strands that are far from connected and have many contradictions among them, but it forms a basic root of anti-nuclear behavior today. For the anti-price-hikers approach the energy/work crisis of capital not with an alternative way out but merely" a "plan“ for intensifying it. That is why, undoubtedly, they appear to the alternativists as "reactionaries" who must be educated.
But what kind of education are they proposing? That radioactivity is dangerous? Every five year old child knows that. No, this education mania in the alternativist anti-nuke movement is really about re-educating the working class out of its struggle against work and for wages. They are to be taught that their interests are misguided, their needs are false and their desires are illusions, not that nuclear plants and wastes can kill.
The other root of anti-nuclear behavior lies in the nuclear workers' movement, which includes both those who work directly in the plants and fuel cycle and those living around the plants. Even the nuclear industry recognizes that living around the plant is work for it pays the bulk of the town taxes for local residents (which many consider a kind of wage). It is anxious, however, to "limit its liabilities" since, after all, a large portion of the population is immediately affected by radioactive emissions (e.g., traces of radioactive iodine showed up in N.Y.C. milk after TMI). The focus of this movement is the work we do, more or less directly, for the nuclear industry. The essence of this work is most clearly seen in the case of nuclear workers proper like the 'jumpers‘ who are paid $100 for turning a single screw in two minutes in a highly radioactive area: their work is to have their bodies exposed to radiation for in this industry work appears in its pure form: not as physical effort,but as the destruction of the body.
The struggle of nuclear workers against their work inside the plants is shrouded by a thick security web of nuclear industry cops, F.B.I. and military agents, NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] and union bureaucrats. Thus, very little gets out. But the nuclear workers' subversion of the plants has its muffled echo in the increasingly elaborate security procedures and continuous anxiety concerning "human error" infecting the official guidelines and reports of the state and industry. We are told that TMI itself was due to "human error" and we know that on April 27, two nuclear workers, William E. Kuykendall and James A. Merrill, in the Surrey, Virginia nuclear plant carried a bucket of caustic sodium hydroxide past about 15 other workers into the fuel storage room and damaged about $30,000,000 worth of rods.
A month and a half later they held a press conference to charge that the plant was making illegal radioactive releases, had been poorly maintained and had violated technical specifications set by the NRC. This incident touched off another flurry of public nuclear soul searching with the NRC's Frank Gillespie saying: “What can you do?...It would be like your wife going and setting a fire in your house. It presents us with difficult questions. How many people do you need watching each other to be safe?" Clearly the "wives" of the industry are refusing the nuclear housework.
The nuclear worker movement is not confined inside the plants for increasingly the plants are becoming the targets of attacks from the outside. These attacks range from "local residents" demonstrating against the plants (e.g., at TMI), and refusing to provide water and other services (e.g., at Seabrook) to real or implied physical assault.
For example, the General Accounting Office reported that 62 incidents occurred in the 21 weeks ending Sept. 30, 1976 "involving bomb threats, extortion attempts and actual security breaches." The assumption of the nuclear industry that if you locate a plant in a "conservative” rural area all will be well no matter what happens is wrong, as the aftermath of TMI shows. Psychologists in the area say their caseloads for youngsters of preschool age increased 25% after the accident and a suit is being filed by some local farmers against Met Edison for the psychological damage done to their children (many of whom believe they will die in a decade).
Months after the accident, Middletown “the once closely-knit community is now split over the merits and hazards of its nuclear neighbor, the division spilling over into heated debate across backyard fences and at borough meetings." (Philadelphia Bulletin, 7/8/79) The social "peace" the nuclear reactor depends upon and was meant to deepen had turned into a protracted guerilla warfare. TMI won't be over for decades.
The anti-price-hike and nuclear workers movements form the basis of a real anti-nuclear movement that will not, because it cannot, compromise with the development of nuclear capital.
The crisis of the anti-nuclear movement, as presently constituted, is whether it will continue to develop as the cutting edge of the alternativist movement or will separate from it. The tension within the anti-nuke movement this spring and summer does not come merely from the choice of pro-solar tactics, but rather from the fact that many in the anti-nuclear movement are increasingly unable to follow the alternativist path. They are interested in closing the plants and not in an "alternativist future". This tension and division infects all the different strategies mentioned before (from the electoral to the direct action). Many of us simply can't afford the alternativist future.
For this spring and summer have modified the "old" class composition of the anti-nuclear movement. The mostly precariously employed white intellectual workers increasingly feel the strain of unemployment, inflation (especially after the "counter-attack” on gasoline prices) and in their material perspectives are increasingly pushed to the present, away from "alternativist futures options".
What then could the real anti-nuclear movement be? A meeting point, perhaps, of the anti-price-hike and nuclear workers movement, a nexus of money and body politics. On the one side, the anti-nuclear movement could be a catalyst for anti-price-hike struggles, e.g., struggles against utility rate increases and fuel pass alongs which will undoubtedly increase this winter as the price of warmth will become impossible for many. On the other side, it could materially support nuclear workers in the plants in order to bring about a live option for them (e.g., by supporting an immediate pension plan that would make it possible for plant workers to leave their jobs without hurting) and increase our resistance to all the nuclear work that they try to make us do.
The problem for the anti-nuclear movement is not to provide a solution to the work/energy crisis but to intensify the refusal of the nuclear and "alternativist" future that capital will try to synthesize in its search for survival.
August 28, 1979
491 Pacific Street
Brooklyn NY 11217
- 1The antinuclear movement had expanded in new regions even before Three Mile Island to a minor degree. The last year saw small demonstrations in Louisana and on the eve of TMI, there was the first demonstration in Mississippi (Coleman St. Park, March 24) which drew 200 people.
- 2How this class-composition deveIoped historically and what it signifies for the organizational and ideological character of the movement we have attempted to analyse in Midnight Notes, "Strange Victories: The Anti-nuclear Movement in the US and Europe”
- 3This relative cheapness doesn‘t mean that solar will be more expensive than any other energy before. It requires furthermore initial investments that poorer people will not be able to afford. The cheapness pays off only after a long period of operation which has to be anticipated financially.
- 4Cf. “Hands On: A Guidebook to Appropriate Technology in Massachusetts”, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1978.
- 5Even on the level of presently available energy-sources, there is no real shortage: petroleum can last for decades, coal for hundreds of years.
- 6Cf. Midnight Notes, - Strange Victories, Bad Surprises, on safety-problems.
- 7Small Is Beautiful, Harper&Row,1973,p.151/152
- 8Cf. the “eight aids to the achievement of the goal of yoga are listed as: (1) abstinence from injury, falsehood, theft, incontinence, and the acceptance of gifts; (2) cleanliness, contentment, self-castigation, study, and devotion to the Ishvara; (3) stable and easy posture, accompanied by the relaxation of effort, or by a state of balance; (4) restraint of breath; (5) withdrawal of the senses; (6)not allowing the mind-stuff to wander;'(7) focusing the mind-stuff, or contemplation; (5) concentration, wherein the object of contemplation is transcended and duality destroyed." (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali [illegible in original] Harvard Oriental Series XVII (Cambridge; Harvard University Press, 1914) quoted in: Bierman/Gould,Philosophy for New Generation, Macmillan, New York, 1970, John Koller, Self-discipline and Yoga, p. 487.
- 9Already Schumacher is for a “mixed economy", for a co-existence of different levels of productivity.
- 10Cf. Midnight Notes, “Strange Victories”, on the “Self-definition of the Movement” and the ”anti-plan-problem”.
Midnight Notes vol 02 #01 (1980) – The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse
3rd issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes
The apocalypse...is capital's threat, if we go too far, to take us all down with it. If we annoy God too much, if we agitate tooo much, of we become too unavailable for work, then the “mutual destruction of clases” is used as a club to bring us back into line. But must the molecule fear if the engine dies?
The true cause of capital's crisis in the last decade is work, or more precisely, the struggle against it... The proper name for the crisis then is the “work crisis” or, better, the “work/energy” crisis.
The essence of transformation of values into prices is that through capital extracts surplus locally, it does not let those who do the extracting command and expend this surplus value.
“I am I” booms capital out of the whirlwind and the petty bosses slink away with their boils.
The revolutions of desires that lay behind the tides of capital's technological “creative destruction” are rooted in the refusal of the working class to just be.
Big Mother Nature is now used to squeeze little mother dry. If Big Mamma is stingy and has turned cold, capital turns to little mamma: “Help me out or we'll all go down together.”
As women refuse this deal...the energy crisis collapses. As this final veil falls capital is faced with a working class untorn by the pose of sexual powers. An apocalypse indeed.
The latest joke of the polish workers: “ Only those who strike eat meat.”
Science, Capital and Apocalyse
- A. One's Apocalypse Is Another's Utopia
- B. Decoding The Apocalypse
- C. The Keynsian Crisis
- D. Prices and Values
- E. The Deduction of the “Energy Crisis”: A Theoretical Interlude
- F. The Manifold of Work: Reproduction
- G. The Manifold of Work: Anti-Entropy Qua Information
- H. The Manifold of Work: Anti-Entropy Qua Shit
- I. The End of The Apocalypse
Midnight Notes #04 (1981) – Space Notes
4th issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes
The initial Reagan year was one of world-wide capitalist recession, wage cutting, union busting and...space wars in Berlin, Brixton, Amsterdam and the key vault of capital, Zurich. Space Notes includes a long interview with a participant of the glass breaking struggle for a new social space. This is followed by a historic piece by the murderedYolanda Ward, "Spatial Deconcentration in Washington, D.C.," where the detailed government plan for "the transformation of parts of Washington, D.C. from a riot-torn, abandoned murder-city to a fast growing executive's paradise" is uncovered. The issue concludes with a discussion of race as a class special category in the U.S.
- Fire and Ice: Space Wars in Zurich
- Spatial Deconcentration in D.C
- Postscript: Planning, Space and Race Space
Space is but Time congealed.
An arrangement of Work/Life in integrated sequences.
The Earth is another Matter however.
So why this urge to get out of Earth? To simultaneously destroy it and transcend it?
Is this capital's nasty little secret: the destruction of the final recalcitrant Body? The in-itself of capitalist functionality, the residue of a billion years of non-capitalist formation...why should there be Mountains here, Rivers there and an Ocean exactly here after all?
Why indeed space shuttles, space colonies mixed with such a density of bombs, bombs and still more bombs...to destroy the Earth n--times over as if to assure not the least roach existence.
Why the simultaneous attempt to re-code chromosomes and the neural system?
Why if not to define a truly capitalist BEING, in a purely capitalist plasm and a final purely capitalist sequence of work events. Weightless, formless neuro systems unwebbed and ready for infinite rewebbing.
Why if not a search for a being unprogrammed by millennia shifting at the bottom of a ton of oxygen, lugging all this weight around, this gravity against work.
Space is ultimately the obstacle of Time. Bergson got it wrong...Lukacs too... capitalism is not the spatialization of Time but rather the temporalization of Space, the dissolving of distance, of the Just-Thereness of where we come from.
"Outer space" is not Space as we know it; but a final merging with the relations of time. It is lusted for not because of the minerals on Mars--no more than the gold and silver in the rivers of the Caribbean isles was--but what they can do to you on Mars when they get you there.
This is why the working class is so archaic, such a malfunctioning machine. The early Hobbesians were only partly right: Humans are not Machines but only poor copies of them. Their desires are too limited and then again too wide. They have a desperation for a housework built on a million years of non-capitalist pleasures and pains and a revulsion of their own archaic-ness that is too arbitrary.
The Lebensraum of Hitler was really an Arbeits raum that required an immense destruction of “leben" to achieve and then finally failed. So too with porcelain tiles glued on, computers in a soap opera of "You don't understand me": the return of the space shuttle is heralded with a desperation that you wonder at this desire for a biologically pure realm, freed from the seasonal, diurnal and lunar cycles, airless, weightless and open to infinite reductions.
This has always been capital's fatal attraction: its indifference to Space. For the Here-Now disappears when your essential problem is not what I need, desire and want now but what another needs, desires or wants of what I need, desire or want. The Here vanishes in an abstracted There-Here-There.
You can see capital from its space stations looking down..."Those poor, slightly crazed machines! Their needs have been so thoughtlessly defined, their sexuality is inconsiderate, and their desires are fixed by bio-chemical cycles so local that they make you want to cry! When will we finally be able to rid ourselves of these Bodies?"
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou has hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
I. In the Beginning
Capital is the process of transforming human energy into work: creating work for the purpose of creating yet more work. For this process to be the human who works must first of all see no escape to the fate of being a worker except the usually illusory "option" of becoming an exploiter. But forcing someone to become a worker is a continuous and continuously perilous task. Capital must not only create the worker --itself a paradox-- but must also create the proper worker and the correct mix of types of labor power with past-dead labor in a hierarchy of wage divisions so as to guarantee the accumulation of work.
From conception to birth, through school, children must be "socialized" and "educated" into becoming "productive": a good worker. Mama, Father, the school, the "Future" all must combine to create the correct mix of death and life. Once labor power in its multifold forms is created, it must be fused --but kept divided in its embodiments- at each workpoint throughout the system in proportions that end up as profit.
Everywhere, the system is resisted. The children rebel, the Mothers rebel, the teachers and foremen tire, while the end products of decades of discipline revolt themselves, strike, demand more money, become unproductive and dangerous to the dead labor around them. This has happened again and again, but thus far the system metamorphosizes and goes on. How?
It is obvious that our work is capital's motor and as we recreate ourselves as workers through our work we recreate our divisions and weakness. What should be obvious -but is not- is that our struggles against capital are its only motors for development. This is not a picture of some pure defeat in which the harder we struggle the more we perfect capital's dominion; rather, the struggles that develop in one mix of living and dead labor, in one social arrangement of exploitation, force that specific arrangement to collapse. A crisis ensues. In the labyrinth of the crisis, capital can only find its way by following the working class and trying to devour it at the exit. For the capitalist relationship to continue, a new social arrangement, a new mix of variable and constant capital must be organized. But this newness can only come from the revolt itself.
This is the irony of struggle: at the very nodal point it creates, an Apocalypse appears that seems to make exit impossible, chills the blood, hesitates action and demand, making further struggle seem futile, and suicidal.
II. "Apocalypse Decoded" Decoded
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
And no man in heaven, nor earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse (MIDNIGHT NOTES, vol. 2, n.1) explored in detail the collapse of "Keynesianism" brought on by the struggles of various sectors of the working class living at the core of the arrangement: the mass factory worker and the housewife. This struggle came in many colors, e.g., Detroit's League of Revolutionary Black Workers as well as the West Virginia wildcat miners, the black welfare women's movement as well as the W.I.T.C.H.s. This collapse of Keynseanism was immediately interpreted by capital as a dramatic decline in the rate of profit.
In 1973, capital transformed its "crisis of profitability" into a problem of Nature and Arabs: "There is too little energy and what there is, the Arabs have," they cried. But the real mechanism of the "energy crisis" was that the oil, coal and uranium price increases were designed on the one side to fragment anew the too-homogenous working class (in the U.S.) and to reassert a pronounced hierarchy of wages and labor power.
The very existence of the Reagan Administration is one proof that this part of the strategy has had some success. On the other side, it was a strategy to ensure a re-structuring of accumulation: concentration of constant capital at a higher level (e.g., nukes and computers), elimination of the "middle" (e.g., robotization of the auto plants) and a vast expansion of the low-waged service and clerical sector. Such a strategy can ironically answer women's demands for income apart from the husband's while simultaneously increasing the overall social quantity of work so as to pay (create the value and surplus value) for the leap in "high tech" development.
The two poles -high tech and low-waged service sectors- apparently so distant capitalistically require each other. What unites them is capital's need to create work in one part of society and transform it to another in order to ensure accumulation.
In the "Apocalypse" we began an exploration of the developing shape of the working class. Capital seeks to transform energy into "useful work" on a system-wide basis while stablizing a given cycle of exploitation. We examined four sectors and transformations within them during the last decade: the factory; housework and the service sector; information and knowledge control; policing, repression and waste removal. These sectors cut across sex and race/nationality lines to some extent, but largely reproduce a hierarchy of those divisions in the new wage structure which once again widen and becomes increasingly dispersed. Each sector poses different riddles:
The new factory will be robotized with fewer workers; the old line worker is dying but the labor power that remains works amidst ever higher accumulations of constant capital. Should these workers get out of control, they pose an ever higher degree of danger for a capital in hostage. What is the price capital must pay to keep these workers "in line"? What social relations on and off the job can keep them working?
How will labor power be produced and reproduced --capital's most dangerous problem-- and who will do it? Will the population become increasingly black, Hispanic and immigrant? How can "good" labor power be assured in the new model? Will the women in the service sector settle for shit wages? Can a purely monetarized reproduction system for high tech workers work? And how can capital turn it all into a profit to pay for the hightech accumulation of dead labor?
Who will sort out the information sorters? Can dysinformation interfere with capital's need for faster information processing? Can workers be trusted with all the newly concentrated constant capital? How vulnerable is this constant capital physically? What price will capital have to pay to keep it safe, and at that price can it be profitable?
The problems of eliminating capital's variable and constant shit: the "troublemakers" (criminals, marginals, hustlers, delinquents, terrorists, etc.) and the highly lethal wastes of the high organic composition technology. The dumps --prisons and waste-sites-- are "necessary" for capitalist reproduction but no one wants to live next to one. Can the waste be controlled and eliminated or will it find a way to seep out and hold the system hostage? At what price (and in what form) can it be stabilized and isolated, if at all? Will those who must absorb the shit continue to do so, or will they explode as in Love Canal and the New Mexico State Prison? The Reagan Administration's policies attempt to answer the Sphinx's riddles: who will leap off the cliff?
III. Reagan's Number: 666
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Budget cuts/tax cuts are the blades of a scissor: what are they trying to cut, divide, sever?
The edge of the budget cuts is to most directly cut the whole sector of the working class that has attempted to live outside of the traditional schema of reproduction --the full time Man-- without the traditional form of work-income relation --the "full time job". The black-lesbian-welfare-mother and the post-hippy-CETA-brother are to be killed as historical types.
The tax cuts are sharpened for the "good" full time, responsible workers in two-income units with highly monetarized reproduction systems. Their real income will increase while the income of the others will fall thus increasing the gap between them: the costs of "dropping out" are increased while the "dropped out" are squeezed back to a career, to a husband, to prison or the army.
These gaps are crucial, for capital has learned that though massive wagecollapse can elicit insurrectional responses so also can too high an average wage. The capitalist growth path is always poised on an instability and catastrophe. On the one side is the abyss of "price-wage" riots that have pervaded capitalist history from the days of the "Price Revolution" in the 1500's to Levittown in 1979; and on the other side are the rebel-lions of idleness, of violent disgust with discipline, of the ecstatic revulsion with work. For the class struggle always has two components: one looking back to "past standards" and the other to a post-capitalist universe. That is why these struggles put forth a peculiar combination of appeals to the most archaic, almost Neanderthal needs and to almost ineffable utopian desires.
It is absolutely crucial for these two extremes of the working class never to meet in order for this capitalist strategy to work. For what is crucial is not only that more and more disciplined white children are produced but also that the high-tech workers will not be able to escape their work and find in the struggles of the wage bottom a common possibility, a meeting of need and desire.
To see the attack the Reagan Administration directs against the highly articulated strands of demand and struggle of the last fifteen years, consider the matrix below. [NB actually above - Libcom note] It summarizes the elements of the Profit Restoration State: the reduction of the costs of reproducing the working class, the reduction of the entropy of the production cycle by the intensification of information and detection instrumentalities, the expulsion of entropically dense bio-social wastes; the creating of more efficient mechanisms for the transformation of the surplus produced in the low organic composition sector into the "high tech" industries.
With this matrix the Reagan Administration will attempt to transform the state of class relation from precarious to controllable.
It is important to refuse, however, the comfortable view of some that the Administration has two separable sides: the hard-core right-wingers (Moral Majority, KKK, Jesse Helms) and the "modernizing right" (corporation execs, CIA, Koch), because they are absolutely essential to each other--and they know it. One is the "tough cop" who with police and para-military powers of violence attempts to control the low organic composition workers while the "modernizing right" is the "nice guy" (the "reasonable" capitalist) who simply states that "everything is permitted...if you have the cash". One is the "irrational" fundamentalist preacher tapping his bible with a shotgun the other is the "cool" corporate climber who will listen to "reason" and wink when you go snort coke in the toilet. But are they so different, are they divisible?
Consider the way these forces attempt to manipulate the gay movement. On the one side the Moral Majority types are calling for capital punishment for faggots while the Reagan Administration is simply saying: "Go fuck in the closet, or if you have the money you can go to Morocco, we don't really care. But don't fool with the children and don't, we warn you, don't be so flagrant!"
So in fear of the bible pounding red necks the gay movement is supposed to be forced into a compromise with the more "reasonable" types. This predicament is not unique to gays. This, is the model for the political mechanics of the period, for it is important to remember that the carrot would be entirely unappealing to the horse if it were not yoked and continuously whipped on the ass: if it were free, the meadow grass would be more succulent than their dried up tuber.
Capital is neither more nor less "rational", it simply knows that it must simultaneously develop and repress, use violence and compromise, kill and fructify; indeed, it cannot develop without repressing, it cannot compromise without a violent threat, and it cannot kill unless it creates. Thus the two parts of the Administration cannot fundamentally divide,. So our political response cannot be dictated by any attempt to "divide" the "reasonable" from the "crazy" capitalists, for as an examination of this Reagan matrix shows, the long-term transformation of society it reveals demonstrates the apocalyptic tendencies of capital's equilibrium path: "partial" nuclear war, "reasonable" atomic power, sterilization for "the poor who can't afford babies anyway", intensified racial repression, queer bashing on a grand scale, etc. Are we to debate with this?
IV. From Social Democracy to the Detection State
And Abraham drew near and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are within?
That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
It is popular now to describe the Reagan Administration as the "end of social democracy", however this is inaccurate. At best it can be seen as an important moment in a process that had its beginning in the struggles of blacks, women and youth in the last part of the 60's to simultaneously extend the social contract beyond the fully waged worker and subvert it. They were going beyond the "democracy" on which social democracy was based.
For "democracy" in bourgeois society has always been defined in relation to property, i.e., capital. Roughly, the first period of capitalist democracy which ran from the rise of the system to the early part of the 19th century recognized the political person as one who "embodied" constant capital. The history of this period can be seen in terms of the slow widening of the notion of property from land to, eventually, money-capital. But a second form of capitalist democracy began to form when there was an expansion of "political rights" from constant to variable capital in the 19th century. The wage contract became the basic criterion for whether you were or were not a part of the state, whether you had "rights as well as duties" (to put it in the proper bourgeois cant phrase). The crucial question was whether your labor power was indeed a commodity, not only in a formal sense, but whether it was actually reproducible and reliable. As the complex history of blacks in the U.S. shows, this development is by no means one-directional. Thus black suffrage is directly determined by their wage relation and that part of black history is extremely volatile. Social democracy can be defined formally, then, as the state that incorporates the representation of variable capital--the reliable and responsible workers, the "loyal opposition" of the industrious working class.
The late 60's saw "marginal elements" (though the absolute majority of the population) attempting to force capital beyond the exchange' of "rights" for "duties"--work. Those who had no traditional, fixed relationship to the wage either because of age, sex or race demanded "rights" or "entitlements" independent of immediate productivity. This was most clearly seen not in the various efforts to extend the vote (the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 18 year old suffrage, etc.) but in the gradual transformation of counter-cyclical Keynesian mechanisms like food stamps, unemployment insurance, and welfare into a package of entitlements that seemed to point to a guarantee of survival independent of paid work. This struggle to be guaranteed without guaranteeing could be seen as a generalization of as well as a subversion of the "full employment" social contract.
The budget cuts simply state that the "working class solution" to the transcendence of social democracy is completely unacceptable. As Stockman said, "There are no entitlements." But what is "capital's solution"? Is it the end of state action in the economy, a return to "free market society", a devaluation of Keynes and a revaluation of Smith? Not exactly. For though Reagan promises to take the state out of our lives he certainly is not planning to take our lives out of the state.
Let us consider the tendency of the state in this period briefly in relation to immigration. The surge of legal and illegal immigration has been an important element in capital's response to the collapse of the birth rate in the U.S. and the increasing refusal of native-born people to do "shit" work, but on the other side it has been a way for many in the Hispanic and Asian working class to increase their relative wages. But for all its functionality, immigration is now looked upon with apprehension and a debate rages on it. But what is the problem? It is the problem of knowledge. The problem is not numbers per se but knowing who and where the numbers are.
The state is increasingly refusing to assist in mediating the relation between the new immigrants and the economic system. Thus, for example, the program set up for the refugees from Cuba, Vietnam and Haiti in 1980 is explicitly organized to discourage the development of any system of state social services for them. It is to be done through private or charitable organization. But this does not mean that the state disappears. It merely takes on a new role: the detector. For the job of the bureaucrats assigned to this program is not to intervene on behalf of these refugees but merely to chart their moves in their journey into the economy.
Indeed, the formal debate on immigration in general is on epistemological questions and not on social service ones. What worries capital is not whether these people are exploitable or not, for they clearly are. The problem is their "underground" status. Thus the solutions to the immigration crisis is not the increase or decrease of the immigrants' flow but rather center on "identity cards" and "amnesty" for illegal aliens. Both these methods are designed to bring the aliens to the surface, even though they would be costly both politically and financially. Why can't they continue the noumenal status of the illegal aliens? Because of the very imperatives coming from the new relation of the state to the economy. State intervention now is to be one of perturbations, i.e., marginal accelerations or decelerations. It plans to use market forces to come to desired state aims instead of literally attempting to carry out its policy in its own name. But this perturbational approach requires a lot more information about the market elements and players. This is the state's maxim for this period: the less you do, the more you need to know. This is especially true of-the labor market... and so the existence of perhaps ten million unregistered workers could completely thwart-the type of strategy that the Reagan state requires. Thus in going out of social democracy capital must go to a detection state.
The state need not decrease in size at all in the long run, but its functional composition will be different. So the police functions must be intensified not only in the sense of creating new means of violence production but also in the instrumentalities of detection. The social democratic state required too much presence, the state in the future will attempt to disappear behind a one-way mirror. For it now has an absolute need to register all movement: be it movements of people or money, constant or variable capital.
V. Back to Vomit?
And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.
As capital attempts to go beyond the social democratic state we are confronted with some crucial political choices. On the one side there is an inevitable urge to attempt to conserve the "gains" of the past century of struggle--the social wage; the elementary "rights" on the job; the minimal protection, on a legal level, of the autonomy of women, black and Hispanic people and gays -- but on the other side there is an equally compelling drive to use this period of transition and re-organization of the class relation to make a qualitative leap in the power of the working class against capital.
These two elements of defense and aggression are not contradictory however. They potentiate each other because the very attempt of capital to renege on the "social contract" hammered out over a century will have profoundly destablizing effects on all aspects of production and reproduction. For the mere defense of "outworn" or "established" demands re-proposes the crisis on a higher level of social tension since it meets a capitalist strategy that is attempting to take the initiative to overcome the limits of accumulation imposed by the struggle since the middle 60's. There is no mystery in the forms of defense against the planned and profound devaluation of the working class. As to their success? Who can tell now?
All we can say is that if this defense is not successful then much more discussion would be academic since the apocalyptic consequences of a new capitalist "stablization" are obvious. Although workers undoubtedly struggled in the death camps it did not make much sense to talk about a working class strategy in such a situation: "metaphysics", "suicide", "cynicism", and "courage" are more appropriate categories at such a level of working class division and defeat. (Although there were probably many Marxist theoreticians who could analyze the capitalist functionality and rationality of Auschwitz among the vapors.)
Given the progressive deterioration of the capitalist initiative, it is evident that to settle for the demands that have their roots in social democracy (however vigorously fought for) would merely be going "back to the vomit".
Such demands can only be effective in starting the process of a counter-attack simply because the very sectors of the class that were most central in destablizing and going beyond social democracy would still be there if the new Reagan initiative fails. There with a vengeance and an agenda. What will it be?
At this point, the editors of Midnight Notes address you, the reader, to a set of themes we hope will be crucial at the juncture we envision. These themes have their roots in the beginning of capitalism, in the initial confrontations of proletariat and capital. We print the following long excerpt from an unpublished work of a Midnight friend to stimulate our collective memories and anticipations.
"The formation of the proletariat is strictly related to the capitalist attempt to lengthen and radically transform the working day. In fact the transition to the new mode of production could not obtain without the introduction of a continuity and regularity in the expenditure of labor whose absence appears as one of the most typical features of the medieval organization of work.
Suffice to think of the great number of holidays that cancelled one third of the work year as well as the prevailingly seasonal character of work whose immediate consequence was that moments of great intensity of work were alternated with long periods of idleness and that the work day was not uniform but more or less long depending on the type of work to be performed. To the irregularity of work habits contributed also in a determining fashion the low development of the division of labor and the lack of any separation between production and reproduction. This meant that not only one performed many different types of work and easily switched from one work to another (from agriculture to artisanal to hunting etc.) but equally easily one alternated work and leisure in a spatial and temporal continuum.
Against these practices, the first task required of the nascent capitalist class was the regularization of the work process. To force the proletariat to work throughout the day and every day: this is the first enterprise that capital must face, an enterprise which will require a battle of at least two centuries before having some guarantee of success. For only a complete inversion of social relations and first of all a radical change in the personality-identity of the individual could lead in this direction. The first social 'given' capital had to revolutionize was the very attitude towards work that throughout the Middle Ages had been assumed as pure negativity, mortification of the flesh."
There were a variety of attacks on the proletariat designed to change this attitude towards work. Protestantism arises as the most characteristic religious expression of capital's need:
"With Protestantism, particularly in its radical wing, work is posited as the new religion. It is not just the most important thing, the very essence of life, the road towards salvation, but it is by itself religious practice, service of God.... this exaltation and sanctification of work does not remain an ideological fact, a question of principle but has an immediate practical translation into a number of processes whose common aim is the lengthening of the working day.
In pursuing this aim capital moves in two directions: on the one side it represses all those activities and attitudes that appear unproductive, on the other it develops new capacities beginning with the capacity to work. Repression and development go hand in hand, one is the condition of the other. This must be emphasized because too often one only sees the destructive tendencies of capital or, in an apologetic mode, capital is seen as "liberating" an already existing potential at the level of the productive forces. In both cases, one does not see that the destruction of pre-capitalist elements in the proletariat is functional to the development of new capacities, and, vice versa, that development is the other face of repression.
The development of the productive forces, beginning with labor power, which is the first and most essential productive force capital develops, is not a bringing to the surface of something that already exists, but it is a form of development that can obtain only when something else has already been destroyed. We can accept Marx's formulation--capital develops the productive forces by breaking the 'fetters' of the feudal mode of production--only if we recognize that to break these 'fetters' meant to break the resistance of the proletariat to a more intensive exploitation and to erase first of all those attitudes and faculties that supported this resistance.
The wave of legislation that from the middle of the sixteenth century began to regulate the work process and more generally the social relations of work was crucial to the 'liberation' of labor power. The initiative starts with the Protestant countries where the religious calendar is reorganized and numerous festivities are abolished. Also, the same day of rest equal for everybody is imposed and those activities that undermined work discipline are forbidden. The regimentation of the time of rest-and the relation between work and rest is a central aspect of the new organization of work.
The first phase of this process is characterized by the separation between production and reproduction and the systematic underdevelopment of the reproductive moment for the purpose of developing production. What follows from this separation is that only the time filled with work has value and that the time of work and the time of rest are increasingly regimented into opposite spaces. The very notion of rest and leisure is changed so that rest is viewed more as idleness than as individual consumption and reproduction. Consequently, rest is re-dimensioned and reduced. Finally, to the extent that work is now the leading concept, rest is subordinated to it in the sense that it must be rest for work, i.e., it must be expended productively to facilitate the reintegration and restoration of productive capacities."
"In play, capital privileges usefulness against pleasure: playing must serve to rest the spirit or exercise the body. Play must be congenial to the productive activities and contribute to restore and develop them or else. On the contrary, drunkenness and idleness become true crimes. The Puritan would lament that the proletarian considers Sunday a day of revelry and spent it shamelessly drinking and carousing at the alehouse, playing dice or making love.
A particularly strong attack is waged against the dances around the maypole and against the maypole itself, both because of its phallic implications and because increasingly it becomes the symbol of proletarian autonomy and resistance to the new work discipline. In fact, it was around the maypole that since the Middle Ages the games of May were celebrated which were true sexual festivals welcoming the coming of the spring.
The maypole was also the center of the famous 'morris dances' where one danced in circles, das a das (back to back) holding each other through ribbons descending from its top. Repeatedly in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries local authorities, particularly among the Puritans, forbid both the maypole and the May games which were accused of always producing a crop of 'bastards'.
But the deepest reason is that in the maypole and these spring celebrations some of the most visible manifestations of pre-capitalist sexuality are attacked and in their abolition crushed. (Not accidently, in England at least the campaign against the maypole is closely tied to the persecution of the witches)."
"The separation of production and reproduction imposes also the temporal and spatial separation of work and rest and the elimination of every element of sexuality from production work. Or better, sexuality is channelled into two forms of work: in the former it disappears as sexuality qua pleasure-power and is sublimated into labor power; in the latter it is conserved as sexuality but it is itself transformed into a productive process, in so far as it is functionalized to the reproduction of labor power. The leap operated by these two processes can be concretely measured if we think, e.g., to what becomes of the kitchen in capitalism which in the Middle Ages was proverbial for its sexual licence."
"The resistance of the proletariat to the imposition of wage discipline was very vigorous on many fronts. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the bosses continuously complain that the workers arrive late to work, take long breaks and leave as soon as possible. It is important to remember that wage work was considered a true form of slavery, so much so that the Levellers excluded wage workers from suffrage because they considered them "unfree". The proletarian hatred of wage labor is such that Winstanley, the leader of the Diggers, will declare that it doesn't make any difference whether you live under a foreign enemy or under your own brother if you work for a wage. His words are echoed by a character in a work by Spenser (Mother Hubbard's Tale) who asks: 'Why should a free person make oneself a slave?'
The refusal of work and the struggle for its reduction accompanies incessantly the history of the proletariat from its inception. Thus, in the utopian visions which flourish during the Civil War in England returns the promise that 'there will be no need to work.' 'Food grows everywhere,' writes Bishop Godwin in The Man in the Moon, 'clothes, houses, everything we wish can be obtained without work or so little that it is as if one played.' In his Utopia Thomas More already had proposed six hours of work a day, Campanella four, and Winstanley had proposed that people should work only until forty.
If the proletarian utopia of the time was the absence of work, the proletarian practice must not have been very different. In a satire written in 1639 we read: 'Monday is the brother of Sunday, Tuesday another one, Wednesday you must go to church to pay, Thursday is half holiday, Friday is too late to start spinning, Saturday is again half holiday.' A typical small entrepreneur of the time, John Houghton, complains in 1681 that the proletarians alternate moments and days of intense work with periods of idleness; moreover they want to decide their own work days and all of them worship Saint Monday."
"The capitalist response to this refusal of work was continuous wage cuts intended to incentivize the required work discipline. But still in the nineteenth century the proletarian 'disgust' towards daily work will represent an endemic, permanent crisis for capital. So much that for a long time it will be debated whether it is preferable to have a work force regularly employed and regularly waged or whether it is not more convenient to hire workers just for specific tasks. Only in the nineteenth century will it be definitely decided in favor of weekly waged labor. It is true however that still at this time in many areas of England Saint Monday was observed and also for French workers, 'Sunday is the day of the family and Monday that of friends.' Only women and children, it seems, went to work on Monday; but there was an atmosphere of holiday and they went home earlier."
This sketch of four hundred years of working class struggle clearly shows a continuity in the elements of a type of society that the proletariat has autonomously fought for and what capital fought against. It has a simple spatio-temporal character: the reduction of work-time, the increase of anti-work space and the re-appropriation of social wealth.
However, the utopian visions of the earliest proletarian revolts put our present reality to shame. Here, at the end of the twentieth century we have not even tested the four-hour day and "retirement" at forty, much less gone further. Even Mr. Lenin himself proposed a halving of the work day and a doubling of wages as the only sensible program for the U.S. working class in 1906. Such a program would be called utopian in sneers by most Leninists of today!
Indeed, capital is putting more work on the agenda, for if the Reagan matrix succeeds our work-day and work-life will quantitatively increase. Both the Left and the Right agree in principle but not in detail: the demand is for work. But it was exactly the anti-systemic demands for the dramatic reduction of work and the opening up of space for pleasure and autonomous desire that was the most volatile and destablizing force of the late 60's and early 70's whether expressed by blacks, women or youth movements. These demands have quite systematically been repressed in the crisis, but they will form the basis of the second stage of the working class response to Reagan state matrix.
Our problem at this point is not so much the mechanics of agitation and revolution. They have become common mass knowledge and revolutionary examples abound in this century. Thus even in the last three years there have been three successful revolutions in Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Iran which were widely covered in the media. Their results might have been questionable but the tactics of revolt are no mystery to any T.V. viewer. The tactics of agitation are even more widespread. I believe you can hire community organizers at the wage of dishwashers. If anything we are awash in expertise. What we lack is an agenda that would give new sense to the basic drive of class struggle, a vision of social life without work.
Our crucial need is the development of a project that would concretely answer the following questions:
--What is the elimination of work-time and work-space?
--What kind of society could be created on the basis of a dramatic reduction of work-time and work-space?
--What are the empirical possibilities, both technological and political, for the realization of such a society now?
To answer our need we are planning to hold a conference in the Spring of 1982 in the Boston area to discuss these questions and take some practical steps in making more public the debate, not about the importance of work which both the Right and Left seem obsessed with, but rather on the importance of the elimination of work. Anyone who would like to contribute to the shape and content of this get-together should contact us at our mailing address. We will announce further details about this conference in our next issue.
Finally, in preparation of the conference we invite any of our readers to enter a prize essay competition. Anyone who can answer the following question: Why do we continue to put up with work and exploitation? in an essay of 3000 words or less should enter the contest. The winner will receive $100 and the essay will be printed in the Fall issue of Midnight Notes.
To Our Vomit
CANARY IN A COOLING TOWER
being nailed to your perch
isn't what i call
Fire and Ice: Space Wars in Zurich
Midnight Notes interview with a member of the Zurich anti-work movement.
The following interview was made in April 1981. The interviewee is a man from Zurich who has been involved in the Swiss anti-work movement for some time before it became "a focus of international attention." He might not be typical since this movement has been known for its suspicion of language --its demonstrations are usually banner-less-- while he is quite articulate . But he's been there. This interview is largely self-contained and discusses the Zurich events from the Spring of 1980 to April 1981. However, for a little background we quote an excerpt from an article on the Zurich movement in a French journal Gueute Hebdomadaire (address: 27 rue J.P. Timbaud, 75011 Paris, France) printed in November 1980:
"Swiss social life rests on a very strict labor code where all the possibilities of conflict are absorbed before they can develop. Strikes are very rare and in many sectors they are judged unconstitutional. Absenteeism is severely attacked. Switzerland is the country in Europe which has the longest work week. Only one category of workers (the typesetters) have gained the 40 hour work week, and that after a struggle lasting three or four years. Also professional restrictions are extremely severe. In the last few years leftist lawyers and teachers have been attacked, whose crime was that they had participated in seminars organized by the extreme left or even the C.P. Such a system requires a very strict social control. Switzerland, though a neutral country, is an active member of the European police community. Half the public telephone booths in Geneva, for example, are tapped."
MIDNIGHT NOTES: Did you have a feeling in the spring of 1980 as to what was about to come down or was it a big surprise to you?
HERR MULLER: It was not a surprise, there were already a lot of struggles going on around housing and against traffic.
The traffic demos, what were they about?
There is a highway crossing a neighborhood where old leftists and new autonomous people live; it is a commuter highway and it has an underpass; there was a lot of pollution coming from it. The street was barricaded and a whole "game" was invented by the future, to-be movement and by the police. There was the old slogan: "For Life Against Concrete, Pollution, Cars." People were saying, "We have a right to live in this area and we are going to do whatever it takes to get it."
So it was a demand for space.
Yes, space is one of the most expensive commodities in Switzerland.
Give some examples of rents.
In the place where I used to live, an old type place, we paid $200 for a four room apartment. Now for a two and a half room apartment we pay $600. Half the space and twice the rent.
Is this very common?
Yes. There has been an explosion of rents in Zurich this last year.
Why did you leave your old place?
The owner changed and we got thrown out. They're now rebuilding these houses. They chop up the large apartments, make smaller ones and charge double.
Sounds like Boston. What relation does this have with the struggle around the community center?
It's not a community center. It's called "Autonomous Youth Center". The relationship? I'd say it's an organizational one: the same people who pulled the struggle around traffic and housing were among the organizers of the first struggle around the center, the cultural struggle. Because the whole thing was about culture, having a space for our culture, which was mainly rock, punk rock. People wanted a place where they could play that kind of music and just hang out together.
You see, they have closed down all the bars and other places where we used to hang out, one after the other. First you don't have a place to live and then you have the same problem with public space. It's getting expensive as well, concert tickets are now $10 and more.
So everybody was saying we need a place where we can do things and do them cheaply.
Yes, and we can do it ourselves. We can play our own music and listen to our music without having to pay.
Was the Autonomous Youth Center already there?
No, the whole thing began in the spring of 1980 after this prologue had been played in traffic. There had been a referendum in the city about credit to rebuild the opera house. They got $40,000,000. Then there was a little demonstration to protest this in front of the opera house one Friday evening. 200 people, those who were into other kinds of music, showed up.
At this point, the authorities made a mistake, they sent the police in riot gear; the demonstrators felt provoked and started throwing rocks. The police responded. There were a lot of people around in the neighborhood, like Greenwich Village, so when something started developing a crowd gathered and it just escalated.
Suddenly you had two thousand people that same night and the "game" started: if you could not attack the police, you fled and while fleeing you smashed shop windows. You acted your response against the windows. The next people who came by saw that the windows were smashed and they could take things out and so the looting followed.
The next day it made the news, "RIOT AND LOOTING IN ZURICH". That had not happened in Zurich for five hundred years; clearly something new was going on in the city. People kept gathering in the same place and there were more and more people on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Who are these people?
What do you want to know? Their sociological description, how they get their money?
It is a proletariat in the broad sense that they work for a wage; you don't have to worry about that. Old time Leninists should be satisfied. But what kind of proletariat is this? It's a mixed, socially diffused proletariat; they are not tied down to any job but they move from job to job. Sometimes they get into unemployment (which is hard to do in Switzerland), but most of these people have gone through this experience.
These are the kind of people who know all the possible ways of getting money, including money from the state. They are community people. It is easier to define them by how they reproduced themselves than by how they get their money. Some of them have their own business. Others work in printing shops and newspapers, but they are not stable jobs. A lot are apprentices, young workers who will never become foremen (small "bosses" over immigrant workers) as Swiss usually do. Then you have the second generation of Italian and Spanish workers. You have ages ranging from 14 to 45; you find everybody including a lot of people from the ideological industries. like TV, radio people, social workers, teachers... nurses.
We heard the movement had a good Red Cross team during the demos.
Yes, that made the right wingers freak out, they could not deal with doctors running around in T-shirts like "hippies". It's an over-qualified, unstable, diffused proletariat. At the same time you have people who in the 70's refused qualification, like the "punkies". They are all into drugs so you have the self-destructive crowd and the self-valuating crowd. Some of them have made themselves cheap, sabotaged their own career. And then you have all kinds of "minorities" like gays and lesbians.
Are there many women in the movement?
As many as men. But you had a new feeling towards women, much more like "buddies". You can do heavy construction work with women like building barricades. This "buddy" aspect was evident during the demonstrations, in the confrontations with the police. The excitement was not sexual in an erotic sense. Nobody spoke of love. That is out, love is definitely not a theme of the movement. Of course, this "buddy" relation does not resolve the "personal" problems between men and women.
What about the nude demos?
They were "sterile", not like a "love in". Nakedness did not have an erotic sense. Even the press does not see them as a kind of "fuck in", for they had nothing to do with sex. Rather they expressed the refusal of "militant", "violent" work. The first large nude demo came after a large day-time demo broke up and people went into a park for music and food until about ten or eleven at night. Then out of frustration they did it, they stripped naked. The police were completely surprised, for this subverted all the former models of militant behavior. It was a kind of damage against yourself, for nakedness in this kind of situation means, "We are not going to fight for what we want."
How about the gays?
They showed up once qua gay. There was one gay demo, Gay Pride Day, commemorating the Stonewall riot.
Tell us something about how the demos go.
Basically you have a rally (announced or not), march through the street and at a certain point you start...somebody (I never did) starts making a barricade, throwing things onto the street. You can always rely on somebody doing it and they could always rely on somebody joining them. The police has a theory about this. They say there are 300 guys who do it, 300 who cover them and 300 behind those who just stand around and watch what's going on. The police want to get all these three categories of people in jail. These are the three essential elements of their so-called "by-stander theory". In fact, those who make the barricades could do nothing if they were not covered by the movement. Everybody is a by-stander, but that's why the by-standers are there... to allow the barricades to be built. They're not real by-standers.
Is this going one everywhere in the city?
There are certain areas, especially the main street, Limmatquai, along the river, Limmat. It's a very popular neighborhood, because it's always full of people from the outskirts. As if you had a river going through the Village, you would have a lot of things going on around that river. You stop traffic, which was what the prologue was about. You take whatever you find because it's not a barricade you defend. It's not like the Commune, nothing serious, it's just to prevent the cars from moving.
Occasionally, the barricade was burnt to keep the fire between you and the police. Then the police intervenes. When they come, they disperse you, but then the whole routine of window smashing and looting starts again.
The geography of the city must have helped out, with the alleys and small streets.
Yes, at first it was very important, but later the police changed tactics. At first they came with 200 or 300 cops and made just one mass. They made something like a counter demonstration, they had one front line while you were much more into guerrilla movement. You could split up whereas they stuck together. But later on they split up too into little groups of 5-10 together and they were chasing you.
They were not afraid that they would get knocked back?
No, they were never seriously attacked. Occasionally there were some rocks thrown at them. Once they threw one into the river. But there was not direct physical assault on the cops. The ones that were attacked were the shops.
On that level it was a very disciplined and controlled crowd. It sounds like Poland where it seems they made a mass decision not to directly confront the police as in 1970.
You see in Switzerland you could always be more or less sure that the police would not kill you. That's not the case in Poland where they got massacred in 1970. So you cannot compare the two situations. You can play games with the Swiss cops. It was like a ballet and it would not have been possible without the police. They had to play their part.
But if they catch you they'd beat you up?
Yes, they are rough and they've become more and more rough. It's not that funny. A couple of people lost their eyes: rubber bullets. It's the only police in Europe that uses them. In West Germany they're still discussing it and for sure the German police is not renowned for its kindness. I think it has something to do with the lack of personnel in the Swiss police. They don't really have a riot police to do the dirty work. They have to stand at a distance and be mechanized. They would not have enough policemen for beating up demonstrators in a mass.
The demos at the street level are a weekly or bi-weekly affair. Then you have a more "actionist" level, like those little groups, who independently of a demo taking place, move around doing something on their own. Sometimes you'd read about it in the paper: "Several dozen windows smashed in the downtown area". This of course without any immediate connection with a demonstration. Maybe it's a reaction to the frustration after they closed down the youth center.
You also have attacks on construction firms that are connected with the housing problem. There have been fire-bombings of depots where machines and materials are kept. Fire is always being used. That's why the slogan of a film that just came out is "Zurich is Burning". This, the most secret level of the movement, causes millions of dollars of damage. They have no mandate, they do it on their own, you don't know who's doing it. But they leave leaflets on the place saying, "This is because you raised the rents."
So is there a connection between these types of struggles and the movement?
There is with the hardcore, hardliner type. Lots of people in the movement reject it, others like it. But it has not officially been disavowed by the movement. There has never been a decision that this is wrong. On the other side you have the Social Democrats who pose as our friends. But they move on the institutional level and just use the movement as their strength in the party power game. They tell the other parties, "We want our share because we represent the movement." That's like the Walesa game: trying to represent a dangerous force within the institutions. The Social Democrats have not been given a mandate by the movement, but unlike the hardliners, they have been disavowed.
Is this movement all about the Youth Center?
No. People didn't even know that there was such a building in the first place. There are two buildings in question actually. One is a former ITT factory, the "Red Factory", that has been recycled. It was empty and movement people wanted to struggle for that building but it was a little outside of town. The city was not ready to give it. Meanwhile, they found out by accident that there was a building very close to the main railroad station which is in the center of the city. They said we want that and the other one. Then the whole struggle concentrated on the building in the city center. It had been a Maintenance Department depot where they kept snow plows and the like. The city did not even expect that anybody would like it. If you look at it it's really nothing. A 19th century building, useless. They found out they wanted that building and there was a lot of struggle around it. The city gave them the building and they actually started using it very well.
When did they get it?
This was in June 1980. Right after the first riots. It was really quick because the city council thought that the whole thing would be over with this, that there would be just some alcoholics and drug addicts hanging out in that place suffocating any kind of activity. It almost happened but not quite. Their problem was that the center really started functioning, centralizing all kinds of other struggles around housing. It became a meeting point and that was very important. People got a taste of it. It's not just the problem of space, but empty space you can use in your way, unoccupied territory.
Was the center used to organize squatting?
Yes. Near the center there was one house squatted by alcoholics and drug addicts, as well as three or four others in other parts of the city. But new squattings were planned for the Fall. A lot of organization was going on around getting cheap housing. One of the major initiatives had to do with an old city housing project (called Rebhugel) built in 1919. It was two blocks long. One-fourth was still inhabited but the rest were empty apartments just waiting to be renovated.
You were involved in this squatting... how did it work?
We did not have any theory about whether we would get it or not, we just decided to move in. One morning; at 10 o'clock exactly, we were about 100 people and we moved in after using crowbars to open the doors. We had some furniture and other living stuffs. Just the basics, a bed and mattress. We moved in and it was really nice.
How about lights and water?
We had people who knew about it, within two or three hours everything was done. Usually it would take days to do it legally. Within four hours we felt at home and sae felt that nobody could ever throw us out. But after five hours, lots of police arrived, equipped with tear gas and everything.
When did they find out you moved in?
They knew from the start. There was a whole legal process of accusation and warrant that was done. It took five hours to mobilize the police. We fled, we did not defend it. We even had to leave the furniture. The problem was that we did not have any tactics no plan about what we would do if the police came. We were just telling the police that we were ready to move in, that we were going to do it, but we were not going to fight with them. The fight was the next day, on the territory we could choose in the city.
There was a demonstration on housing in the center of the city and it was one of the most violent. The point is not to accept the terrain where you cannot do it. It's like: we want those houses but we didn't have to defend those houses because we couldn't. But we could defend those houses in a place where the authorities were much more vulnerable.
How did you get along with the people who already lived in the project?
At first the people were really hostile, but in two hours they liked us. A guy who was in the same house where we were was furious, he started throwing our furniture out of the window. "Get out! Get out!" But by the afternoon we were already discussing how we could fix this and that. His wife had already found a lot of girl friends among the women. They had been very lonely but they only found out because we were there. They found out what they had missed, within three hours that problem was solved.
After the demo the next day, were you able to go back?
No, we could not. They put a stinking substance into all the apartments, you could not use them. They sabotaged the use of them.
What about the people that were living there?
They were pissed off. It stinks like fish. It was chemical warfare. You could not use those apartments, there was no point. It would have been just symbolical. Now, just recently, some of the squatters did get some other apartments. The city is starting to give some housing, some apartments which they refused in the beginning.
How does the movement get together, how does it make decisions? Are there parties, unions, any other type of organization?
Some are in parties and unions, but the whole organizational mechanics lies in the general assemblies. They meet on Wednesday or Thursday at the "People's House", an old social democratic conventional hall. There are between 500 and 2000 people, usually there is no schedule, just a lot of people talking, microphones, everybody saying what they're feeling, a lot of people attacking each other. Women attacking men, hardliners attacking "softies", some saying, "We've had enough of this window smashing, it doesn't pay" and the hard-liners saying, "You would not be here you softies if we hadn't started this way, for the soft line had been around for decades."
Decisions are always made by vote like "Next Saturday we're going to make that demonstration, to accept this kind of proposal." There are two or three rules which are always respected: there is never a delegation, never a committee in charge of the whole thing, there is never any kind of negotiation on the demands. The demands are: the unconditional re-opening of the Youth Center and the unconditional release and amnesty for all who are accused; then there is the release of certain kinds of prisoners, especially one prisoner named Walter Stum, who's very popular.
Who is he?
He was a kind of burglar, he declared himself an organizer for prison struggles... during the riots there was a prison strike. He's a symbolic figure for all kinds of common prisoners, not just political. His release is one of the demands. There is no negotiation on them. No compromise possible.
Is this because of the nature of the demands of because there is nobody to negotiate with?
No, there have been a lot of people negotiating in the name of the movement but they have always been fucked up later by the movement. They would negotiate something but later nobody would respect it. Some of the most clever said, "Yes, let them do it, and if they get the center back we just will not respect the conditions under which they got it back." We take whatever we can get. It's the same as how they treat the social democrats. If they are able to give us something we accept, we are not sectarians.
So there are no traditional parties in the movement?
No, there are individuals...you see in the first two or three general assemblies the Trotskyites and other political groups showed up explaining to the movement that they should unite with the factory workers and fight capital...there was only one big whistle and they never showed up again.
Because first of all there were factory workers in the movement and the last thing they would identify with would be guys like this. Political groups did not get any hold on the movement. They were doing a lot of things for the movement but the movement was never grateful. The movement just used them.
Political groups were used as hostages between the movement and the state, but that was because the movement had its own strength at different levels: the street level, the fire-bomb level and the cultural level. In between the individual and the movement however, there are informal crowds, the "areas", the "tribes" and what are sometimes called the "pies". They are designated by the street or neighborhood in which they live. A demo would start with these "pies", so there would be a "community" base to the movement.
What about the music, sex and drugs of the movement?
The whole thing can be done under the chapter, "How does this diffused (sometimes qualified, sometimes refusing qualification) proletariat reproduce itself? How do they live? How do they get a positive balance every evening?" This is culture. This is music how you get into time by rhythm. The whole cultural problem starts with the breakdown of the family. It's a feeling of loneliness; if you are really alone you have to invent your own life, your own reproduction, what you're doing. There is nobody to take care of you and if they take care of you, you can not use them. This was due to the "breakdown of the family".
In the 1960's lots of German and Swiss families split up and in the 70's even the families of the immigrants have begun to break up. And then you have whole spaces where you cannot get your reproduction because they are "occupied". You need new spaces to reproduce yourself, invent your own life. This was mainly music: punk rock and new wave; and clothing. People started refusing "regular" clothing, they got into "punk" clothes and not just punk but also "new elegance", the californized dandies. So you have two ways in which you deal with your reproduction, oscillating between creativity and self-destruction.
What kinds of self-destruction?
Punk is outspokenly into self-destruction and so are the junkies. Heroin was very important. There were a lot of deaths in Zurich, double or triple the old rate. It's horrible, suicidal. Heroin is not mobilizing in itself. But all these deaths scared a lot of people and it became a spur to action. Suicide was always at the limits of the situation. It was played out by a woman who burned herself up in the street. She was a junkie but when she came into the movement she got off junk. But during a demonstration she was beaten and jailed by the cops. When she got out she was really fucked up... and then a while later this self-immolation. It was not directly related to the movement but everyone took it "personally". As far as drugs are concerned, the movement itself is into hash and marijuana and the punkies, of course, are into alcohol.
You mentioned some people scarring themselves.
That's the whole punk culture. A culture of pain, a new culture of pain. Self-destructive but also aggressive. Like the smashing of windows becomes part of your reproduction. It was not a political action in the sense that you do it to get something. You live by doing this. It's a lifestyle. That's why it could last a year. If it had been a means people would have done it three or four times and if there was no result, or you got the center, that's it. Instead it did not stop with the winning of the center, there were still riots. That was one of the arguments of the city, "You see, it doesn't pay to be weak. They only understand force."
MN: How did the punks relate to the rest of the movement?
HM: You have different cultures coming together. Punk culture, the new elegance culture (the "chiceria" as they call it). But then there's the old '68 intellectual ugly guys who are still around. They're neglected but not because they want to be in pain but because they are body-unconscious. Then you have the hippie-country-side-"new peasant" type, long hair and soft clothes, woollen pullovers, earth shoes.
It's like a marriage between Bambi and De Sade.
Yes, you have a culture that goes from the Marquis De Sade to Bambi. You have some recycled types from the anti-nuclear movement and others too tricky to classify. An important element in the movement was the presence of many mentally or physically handicapped people. In fact, the whole movement started with a "Festival for the Handicapped". As everybody felt handicapped, everybody went there. The handicapped were just marginalized in that festival and they said, "For once we got something of our own and we are on the side!" It was a huge success because everybody felt they were handicapped.
In the demos the presence of many handicapped was crucial. People began to lose their fear and not just the fear of the police. Seeing cripples coming to the demos on wheelchairs made them realise that life keeps going on even if you lose an arm or an eye. That it was not true that you were finished if you were hurt and that gave us much more courage.
The theme is alienation pure and simple.
Yes, it's a movement that comes from alienation directly. Abstract, coming from heaven somehow. Everybody felt handicapped, and that's true, everybody is handicapped. The Left had never done that, saying, "You are all cripples, we are all cripples, you are the crazies." The idea of the noble proletariat had been destroyed. People felt that for the first time you could show what you were lacking, how ugly you were. It is a movement of ugliness. A movement of the ugly people...of vulnerability and suicide.
So this is a movement that makes cheese and does heroin...it's amazing that people coming from such different places can stick together.
All these people who during the 70's had been separated and kept quarrelling with each other have been unified by the police. They were attacked together and both in the same way. So they found out that there is another front, completely different. “The Concrete" as they say or "The Iceberg"— that's the city, money, capital. It's just another name for capital, "The Ice": solidified, coagulated work, dead work. It's a quite adequate Marxist terminology. They found out that both the death culture and the life culture are opposed to the "Ice Age" of capital. They found out that all the conflicts they had among themselves were much less important than what they opposed. Capital had never been forced to show itself, to show that it existed. Never had it become visible. The only way it could become visible was through the police. You could feel it.
So the police are the "Polar Bears"?
Yes. You could not be in Zurich finally and not feel that there was oppression, the state, capital. You were lost before; every-body was lonely and depressed, everybody felt handicapped. Then suddenly you felt that they were really there, that they existed, you could feel the attack, the ice, the coldness. That was the point of no return. Certainly the police would not kill you. But they would not let you live either. They would not give you the space where you could live. Yet they would not kill you, they would keep you alive, but frozen.
Not everyone in Switzerland is in the movement obviously, how do the "non-movement" types, the "ordinary people" relate to it?
Not so few people have been involved. On the whole there have been on the streets about 150,000 this year in different demos. There has been a lot of overlapping, so I would say there have been about 50,000 people involved out of a population of about 1,000,000 in the Zurich metropolitan area. So you always have a neighbor who has been there. In the average high school class there would be at least one student who was there. Everywhere, in all businesses, you would find somebody who was there. Nobody has been left untouched.
For example, during a demo on the Bahnhofstrasse (like Fifth Ave. in NY City) you would see the police coming, flee to the side streets and find a guy in a grey suit and tie with an attaché case. He would open the attaché case, take out a rock, throw it, close it and go on. You would find such people. Another time you would be hiding in the hallway of a house and could not see whether the police were coming, a black guy would pass (there are black businessmen in Zurich) and without looking at you would say, "They're behind the next corner." So there are many accomplices.
Now, you have little unemployment and high wages, granted there's not enough housing to go around but basically Switzerland is a social democratic paradise in the capitalist world. Why is everybody so unhappy?
The wage, how much you get doesn't change the situation. Marx was right when he said that the point is that you're alienated. Work remains a problem even if you are well paid. This is no relative problem...the problem of being alienated and having enough pay is as serious as dying from hunger in India. You have people who die, kill themselves, from this kind of situation, the heroin deaths. You cannot say these problems are not serious. If you have death, that's the most serious thing you can imagine anywhere.
So winning the right to a full plate is not enough?
Most people say, "It's a nice concentration camp." There's no unemployment in a concentration camp. That's how Switzerland is like. It's a problem to get on unemployment because they immediately find you a job. They force you to take a job. That's the other side. I had lots of friends who wanted to go on unemployment for a change, but they could not. They would get them a job.
Are you saying that in a case like Switzerland the real demand is not for more wages, but space, resources, time...
This space demand is, of course, an indirect wage demand; if you take the wage as what you get for your work. That could as well be in the form of space. If you want to, from a purely Marxist point of view, you can subsume these kinds of struggles under the wage struggle. This is true as we know, there's no such thing as a struggle outside of the wage struggle. The problem is that if you put it in that abstract way you don't understand anything that is going on. That doesn't tell you anything because it's always true. You can say the wage struggle goes from South Africa to Alaska...what does it mean? It means that all the rules of the game are still valid.
For example, there have been wage struggles in the sense that many parts of the more traditional working class like the rail road workers and the printing workers took advantage of the situation and demanded higher wages and they got them more or less.
How has the movement affected these other sectors?
For the first time in a while there is a frontline going through the whole society, and you can relate to that front. More and more, all social movements relate to this front, like the railroad workers making jokes about "Icebergs". Everywhere you find that this new language is taking over. The language is a threat, because people in any sector can say: "We use the language but we mean the facts. You can still deal with us in the old ways if you want, but if you don't, we now have found out there's a front we can go to."
Capital's problem is that it's not only Zurich, it's going on throughout Northern Europe. Like the German metalworkers being on strike, it's different. It becomes a threat. They say, "There has been a proof, a general proof that everything can get out of hand." That you can say of Poland also. Even in a communist country things can get out of hand.
Even in Switzerland.
Yes. If there was one country in which you thought nothing could get out of hand it was Switzerland. In Poland you might expect it because they had a long history of this kind of struggle, but Switzerland was completely unexpected. That's why it's worth talking about. It was a complete surprise.
Now it has expanded to Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia...
It has not expanded from Zurich, but Zurich gave a lot of courage to all those guys: "If they can do it in Zurich we can do much more here!" That's really the mood. "They are not going to teach us a lesson!" It is the same struggle in Berlin around housing and in Amsterdam where you had the police moving with tanks against the demonstrators. It was much rougher in Amsterdam. It is a wage struggle but it isn't immediately about money. It's based on the commodities. But what has been used is the language, it's European now: "Iceberg", "Anti-concrete", "For Life Against Concrete", there is no talking all the old political language. By refusing it you can bypass all kinds of anti-communist propaganda.
The bourgeois newspapers were deluded, they would say, "This is not political; it's a cultural movement so it's not dangerous." Only lately have they begun to say that this whole thing is being organized by an international network of terrorists, but they don't really believe it. It's only crazy guys like Strauss in Germany or some right-wing city councillors in Zurich who think that, because obviously it's not true. It's impossible.
Why is the situation so different in Southern Europe?
That's because the whole situation of reproduction is completely different. In Southern Europe you still have a family background. You have old, archaic back-up systems. If capital fucks up you can go back to "feudalism", not feudalism in the classical sense, but you have the family, the Mafia, the cousins in the countryside. You can be poor but you can survive. You can go back to a non-money economy. That's not possible in Northern Europe any more. Either you invent your own reproduction or you're completely lost.
There's no back-up system. You're alone. The feeling of loneliness is very important. Here you have the ice and there is you, the: Eskimo and the Ice with Icebears threatening you. That's why all this "Ice" stuff. You can't use that language in Italy, it's just too warm and not only in a geographical sense but in a human, family sense. Capital has not been very efficient in Southern Europe; the quality of life there is too high, even in poor countries. They have certain standards. In Northern Europe there is complete discipline, they can do whatever they want with you. Like Woody Allen, he can take and take and shit as much. He's completely elastic. He is the ideal of one whose needs can always be redefined. He's never at an end, he can always take more shit. Whereas an Italian or a Greek will take a certain quantity and then he cannot any more. He will explode.
The women have helped bring on the "destruction of the family" themselves?
Yes, there is female employment. Women wanted to get out of the house. My mother worked; I grew up with a key around my neck. These kids are now on the streets, more or less, for the women work more and more. That's what the right-wingers say all the time, of course; it really starts with the family. This housing struggle is also an attack on the family because it is not family housing that young people want but community housing. We want to invent new types of communal life-styles. It was done in the 60's but now there is a new wave going back to it.
Are there many mothers and children in the movement, is that a big issue?
Yes. There are many mothers and there are always children around. They are accepted as being part of the whole thing. Just buddies. Nine-year old punkies.
This is not a union movement nor a political movement as classically defined, how would you describe it?
It's a union founded on culture. You do not identify yourself by your job, you do not even organize yourself on you job. But you organize yourself around your reproduction because the job is just the place where the "fuel" comes from. Anyway, the job is also changing all the time so I am not a "worker", I'm a punk or a reggae guy or a "chicaria" guy or a junkie. There are lots of new identities you can find.
On that level you organize very efficiently because you recognize the members of the same organization by their clothing which you cannot do in a union. A metalworker is hard to identify off the job. At the same time, this kind of organization also allows complete anonymity. You can be anonymous and have an identity at the same time.
Can you talk about what you call "Mullering", the "dysinformation struggle", this conscious attempt to fuck up capital's lines of communication.
That's ideological sabotage by not accepting the language or the expected way of behaviour. The Muller business was very important. A man and a woman from the movement had been invited to be on TV to defend the point of view of the movement in a roundtable discussion. Instead of doing that they defended the point of view of the "silent majority", the right-winger, presumably the average Swiss.
(It is a fiction, though there are some like those old working class guys who went through the crisis of the 30's. Those are the only hardcore, right-wing Swiss state supporters. They are not "right wing" in an official sense, they can also be social democrats. It's not right wing as a particular ideology but just as totally for law-and-order and the state. They are the ones who defend law-and-order against the movement.)
There was a film done of one of these guys watching the Mullers and as they were saying that the state should put the movement in concentration camps, shoot them, put them to work, guys like him were saying "Yes! Yes!" When it turned out that they were movement people the indignation was very big. That happened several times on TV. TV got fucked up. On that show a hardcore social democratic woman usually for law-and-order had to defend the point of view of the movement against the Mullering. This Mullering is a constant element of the whole movement.
Also on the language level. For example, you have demonstrations of 10,000 people shouting "WORK! WORK! WORK!" to the bystanders. But then you have this Czechoslovakian reporter of Rude Pravo (the Party paper) who wrote an article on the Zurich riots saying that there was a demonstration of 10,000 unemployed people demanding work! It was dysinformation beyond the Iron Curtain. They could not tell their people that there were actually 10,000 people shouting against work in the West, because the Czechoslovakians want to get to the West. They want to be able to "really" work and get some money. The whole myth of the West would have been destroyed in their eyes.
Another form of dysinformation is making sprayed messages on the wall; for example, the Marlboro slogan "Freedom and Adventure" was sprayed all over the city, "Marlboro: Freedom and Adventure". Everybody understood what it meant: we want freedom and adventure against the police, against the state, against the work. Whenever you saw a real Marlboro advertisement you'd remember...so you could use official advertising by copying it. It's an old joke, like Andy Warhol's soup cans. You use official slogans to get your message around.
So people took to re-doing street signs, renaming streets, putting small stickers all over the city --stamp size-- now the streets are full of signs. Of course, you have this circled A which stands for "autonomy" or "anarchy". It used to be "anarchy" but now most people understand it as standing for "Autonomous Youth Center".
What about the critique that you people are anarchistic, not really organized to deal with the state, not ready to control production, etc.
Actually we have always been very efficient in terms of organization, but the best thing organization can produce is surprise. That's why you organize, to be in a place before the others are there. Surprise was one of our strengths all the time. So you cannot say that there was no organization: the sense of surprise and getting people at the right moment to surprise the others.
The Leninist conception of the movement is that it is a river that can be turned here and there by the smart organizers and eventually be dammed up to run a power plant and generate work...
Yes...but here the movement is a lifestyle. It is already what is after the movement. Whatever it can invent is the horizon.
What you're saying is that a major motive force behind this movement is that right now unless you do something like this in Switzerland you would go nuts...unless you have people going out opening up some space you'd have a few million people berserk. But can it go on...can the state and capital tolerate it?
I'm quite sure it will go on because there are a lot of untapped resources, there are a lot of people who are ready to get involved but have not yet found their way. There's a lot of sympathy around this movement. People are attracted by this kind of culture: language and literature, theater and music grew this whole year. There's a lot of temptation around this movement. The only thing that capital can do to deal with this is to try to institutionalize it...open all this space, like have a Fool's Day every week or a Carnival every two months.
There already have been things like that. Carnival always existed in Zurich--there was a period of three or four days in the year where you could do whatever you wanted, you had the streets. You could mask yourself, you could act, you were anonymous, you were not responsible for what you were doing. Capital could think about institutionalizing it, saying, "Let's give them something like in Poland." This is the line in Berlin, the German government feels very much this way. "Let's give them 200 or 300 houses. It's only one-tenth of the population that is into this life style, we can probably live with it."
In Zurich they would say we cannot live with 10% of that, because our proletariat, much more than in West Berlin, is fragile. When the Swiss start freaking out they become useless. Where manufacturing is still central you can always use crazy workers doing shit work, it doesn't matter how crazy you are when you dig a hole. But you cannot really use crazy accountants and crazy computer programmers because they are going to fuck up millions of dollars in one "breakdown". So Swiss capital cannot say that craziness can be institutionalized and you can live with it. It would always be a temptation for this kind of person, that's way capital needs some ideological stability, some major way of functioning. That is why all this dysinformation tactics is so important. It is like a thought poison...the whole movement is disintegrating coherent behavior. Irrationalism is used as a weapon against capital.
So "dysinformation" is a way of spreading the movement?
That's one of the most important, most contagious things...the language. Because the work of most people in Zurich is language, mostly figures. If you fuck up language you fuck up all work processes. If it continued like this within a few years capital would collapse. "Dysinformation" is very disintegrating, very dangerous. They could only shut down the whole place. Capital would have to withdraw from Zurich.
In "No Future Notes", Midnight Notes #2, we found that alternativism can be easily integrated into the system.
Yes, I'm familiar with your argument but it only works if you can make a selection within the "alternativist area". Capital in Switzerland was not able to divide between pure alternativists and the "destructive" people. They could not make the distinction between alternativists and pure anti-capitalists. This whole scheme did not work, though they tried to separate between the "cheese people" and the "window smashing people".
There was a long article in a Swiss newspaper about young people in the Alps who made cheese. All the "moral majority" types were saying: "Those guys in the streets should take the example of the good, young people who are making cheese and upholding the Swiss traditions in the Alps. For one-fifth of the Swiss Alps are run by alternativists. It is one of the most traditional parts of Swiss culture.
And the "cheese people" wrote back a letter saying, "You old asshole, there's complete solidarity between us and those who smash windows in Zurich. We would do the same thing in the city. What else can you do but destroy it and what else can you do on the Alps but make cheese?"
The "Moral Majority" was completely destroyed. Actually I met a friend of mine who came down from the Alps for a holiday to go to a demo. There was an even more dramatic incident. Some people who were arrested by the police had to be freed because they had to take care of their cows. They said, "You cannot keep up us be-cause the cows cannot wait for the trial. You cannot keep us in jail, we have to go make Swiss cheese!"
The mixture of alternativism and this kind of "destructive" approach is still explosive. It becomes harmless only if you can put the alternativists exclusively to work and make a clear cut distinction between them and the rest: A lot of people in Zurich now say the situation is like that before the bourgeois revolution. The bourgeoisie already had the means of production in their hands but not the state, the nobility was still in charge. So, the alter-nativists are saying that they are getting their economic basis together at a low level. They say: "We can depend on ourselves, we can live without capital." That's one of their strengths. The alternativists which during the 70's looked like they were integrated turn out to be one of the strengths of the movement because they don't have to be afraid of "capital withdrawing" and being thrown back to a no-man's-land. If capital withdraws, everyone rejoices. A lot of people now say that's exactly what they want.
But alternativism seems to be a return to labor intensive work...
That's not true. This new type of agriculture is not going back, it is very refined. Reproduction is always in the foreground. It's probably more efficient to use a lower technological level but stay in better mental health. It's more expensive to mend people than to mend machines.
But do we have to choose between going crazy and scratching the dirt?
No. The highest quality of life is not dependent anymore upon the level of goods produced by capital. If you have friends around that have studied this and that, having these people is more valuable than getting one more TV. Capitalism has nothing to offer. Labor power is now so expensive, we are so expensive somehow that using ourselves is a higher luxury than using a machine. That's why it is a struggle around space and time.
But time is not as central now because it has been won a little bit with the spreading of part-time work which began to take root some years before this thing started. The cultural movement started a year or two before with music, "Stilleto" and other underground journals. Then you needed the space.
But there is a high technological level in the movement. The police band was continually tapped on the radio. You'd go to a demonstration in the afternoon and then you'd go home and have a good dinner. Whenever the police would say, "OK, now we're going in", we'd join the demonstration. You'd use all forms of media.
Like there would be groups that would jam the sound of the TV announcer and put in a different sound track; you had the regular picture but there was another voice. There are five or six groups in Zurich doing this, as well as "pirate" radio stations: Radio Banana, Radio Wildcat, Radio Iceberg, but they can only broadcast for 15 minutes at a time because the police would find their location, so they go from one transmitter to another.
What about your slogans?
At first they were metaphorical like "Free Greenland" but now it is more and more jokes like "Legalize strawberry ice cream." It's propaganda, it's dysinformation.
It's not clear why this thing should end.
True, people are really relaxed. There are lots of people saying, "Let's end it," but those are the same who show up in the next demonstration. It has become like a drug.
Is there a possibility that the movement can be fragmented?
Fragmentation will not necessarily weaken the movement. In fact, it started fragmented. For example, when the women decided to have meetings of their own it was never a sign of weakness. The movement became stronger out of it.
One day the women said, "We cannot stand this kind of male, macho talk." There's a certain part of the movement that are Red Army Faction supporters, ideologically not really. It's the old Leninist behavior, the small strategists, they are never very efficient, but they create a macho-type of atmosphere. Nobody takes them seriously, but at a certain moment the women said they could not stand them any more. They met once or twice alone. But the women's movement was always there. They put out their own newspaper, it was called WOMEN'S FASHIONS, (as if it was a NY TIMES fashion magazine) but it was completely punkie.
Could the Swiss government follow what seems to be the "new soft line" in Germany?
Well, it's mostly in West Berlin where they are trying to be more flexible and accept that there is a "new type" around. They have become "pluralists". After all there are Bavarians, Blacks, Chinese, so there will be alternativists. They will be sorted out somehow. They figure that this is not against the system, just a new product of the system, a new way of life with advantages and disadvantages. The only city in which they can do it is West Berlin because it is an isolated, "special case". West Berlin is the welfare city anyway. They would say, "They're just crazy people." But the movement is still growing like a cancer and they try to circle it--not to cut it out but to stabilize it. They say, "We are going to live with cancer but make it stable, we may have lung cancer but we don't want heart cancer and brain cancer as well."
I talk about "cancer" because if there is a physiological model for the growth of this movement this is what it looks like. The Leninist metaphor of political methodology is the heart attack, a sudden collapse -- the whole attention is on the heart and you can neglect the other organs. But nowadays that model does not work any more because capital has many hearts and many brains.
In the 60's U.S. capital had hegemony, that's not true any more. Today capital is core decentralized. Europe can get fucked up and the U.S. can go on. (Poland poses the same problem for the communist countries.) So you must have another type of disease like cancer: there is not one organ but a cancer for each organ.
So they don't seem to know what to do.
Yes, that's why they're always saying, "You can get whatever you want, but just talk to us with responsible delegations, And be like us. The you will have it." That’s the point of the whole thing, for that's what the work process is all about, being responsible. It's not our demands that are impossible but the way we've made them.
What about the crisis?
In the last few years Northern Europe has overcome the "crisis" while the Southern part has not. Northern Europe got rid of inflation and had a new boom. In 1979-80 the pressure on lots of people was released.
Unemployment eased up a little bit, or you had learnt to cope with it. It's like they put the patient under a heavy dose of chemotherapy and they thought they cured the problem, but the minute they stopped it came back. Not only that but many people are immune now. "What," they say, "you're threatening us with a crisis? But we've gone through the crisis and we know what that is." It's true, young people were badly hit in 1975, many were ruined. It was a shock. But things have eased up and now it would be difficult for the government to play the same game again.
Note: As of May 1981 the movement won back the Autonomous Youth Center and Walter Stum escaped from prison.
Spatial deconcentration in D.C. - Yulanda Ward
1981 article about a US Government housing policy - conceived in the aftermath of the 1960s ghetto riots - arguing that the policy was aimed at removing concentrations of potentially rebellious blacks and other poor people from the inner city and disperse them in small groups to the suburbs. Serious issues have been raised about some of the facts of this article, which are discussed here, but we reproduce it for reference.
Published in 'Midnight Notes', Vol. II, #2, July 1981, MA, USA
Original article first published by the Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund, Washington, 1981(?).
Spatial Deconcentration in D.C.
[Introduction By Midnight Notes]
We begin with a murder - that of Yulanda Ward in Washington, D.C. at 2 A.M., November 2, 1980. She was shot to death in what now appears as an assassination disguised as a street robbery. She was not robbed but her head was pushed over the edge of a car and shot; her three companions were robbed but not otherwise harmed. The weapon of murder appears to have been a .357 Magnum, not exactly a street-crime weapon. According to the Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund and other groups, her murder has been followed by either thorough police incompetence or a systematic cover-up and non-investigation. Moreover, the police have attempted to stop the independent investigation of her murder, even though "grapevine" inquiries report that she was murdered by "out of town" hired killers.
Why be concerned with this one murder? Who was Yulanda Ward? She was a 22 year old black community activist involved with the Washington, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, the Black United Front and other community groups, most notably the Citywide Housing Coalition. It is this last activity that could have led to her death, for she was a key activist in uncovering a U.S. government plan labelled "spatial deconcentration."
We reprint the following article on spatial deconcentration for two reasons. First, its information is valuable while its analysis begins to uncover many important political points about the organization of space under capitalism. Second, if Yulanda Ward was assassinated, we wish to alert others about it and urge them to assist the Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund in investigating the reasons for and perpetraters of the murder. In this way we hope that our increased vigilance will help stop any violent state repression of the type suspected in this case.
This article focusses on Washington, D.C. but the spatial deconcentration program is nationwide. The precise patterns and plans may vary from place to place, the essential operation is constant: to remove the treat posed to concentrated capital by concentrated masses of urban poor.
Yulanda Ward was murdered in D.C. In other cities local organizers for the Grassroots Unity Conference, of which Yulanda was a member and which has been combatting spatial deconcentration, have been attacked physically and verbally - burglaries, false arrests, threatening phone calls, verbal attacks by government officials. Nonetheless, and necessarily, the struggle continues.
* * * *
The Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund
Housing activists in Washington have long battled with indifferent city officials, individual and organized, and the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade as we sought to halt the displacement of masses of Blacks and other poor or working class minorities from the inner cities to the suburbs. Since 1972 campaigns have centered around rent control, condominium and hotel conversions, land speculators, and government bureaucracy. We clearly understood the process of gentrification (replacing poor inner city residents with middle and upper class "gentry"), and perceived the underlying economic basis on which the process rested with land speculators vigorously exploiting inner city neighborhoods. The displacement of Blacks and other minorities from the inner city was thought to be a product of the capitalist housing market, which provides housing only for those who can afford it. It was not until 1979 that we discovered and began to research a Federal government program called "spatial deconcentration", the hidden agenda behind the phenomenon of displacement. We discovered that displacement had an economic base to be sure, but more importantly, it was a means of social control--a means to break up large concentrations of Blacks and other inner city minorities from their communities. We have witnessed the forced evacuation of more than 50,000 poor inner city residents from the city each year and their subsequent replacement by an affluent class. We understood the role of thegovernment and its officials as it aided this process by creating laws that benefitted landlords and speculators while impoverishing tenants, but it wasn't until Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) documents began to surface using the words "housing mobility" and "fair housing" that we began to understand the magnitude of the masterplan to rid the city of its inner city poor and working classes. To fully understand this program we had to examine its history, the atmosphere out of which it developed, and its objectives. After this, we had concrete answers for why 50,000 poor people a year are being driven into Prince Georges, Montgomery, Prince William, and other suburban jurisdictions increasingly further away from the inner city, while central city neighborhoods are allowed to decay until speculators and middle class whites move in to take them over.
The riots that rocked American cities in the 1960's provoked lengthy govermental studies to investigate the riots and to make recommendations on what could be done to prevent civil disturbances by oppressed minorities. President Lyndon Johnson appointed a special commission, the National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission) in 1968, composed of police and army specialists, FBI and CIA agents, and civilian consultants who worked at "thinktank" institutions like the Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, and the Urban Institute. The commissions, clearly connected with the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA and the FBI, felt that large concentrations of Blacks in the inner cities represented a threat to the security of the United States and had to be removed from the cities immediately. Thus, the Kerner Commission's recommendation was that low income housing projects and the Blacks that lived in them, should be relocated from inner city neighborhoods to sites outside the central city. This would break up the concentrations of Blacks within the central city and thus disrupt their potential to erupt into violence in response to their economic conditions. The commission recommended that Blacks be systematically placed in outlying suburban counties and dispersed, so that the counties themselves remained white dominated, but the Blacks would be isolated and broken up, neutralizing their violent potential. The death this same year of Martin Luther King and the subsequent riots hastened the government's determination to control Black people in the innter city. The Federal government acted on the Commission's recommendations and began, in 1969, a program called "spatial deconcentration" which to date, has received a Federal investment of over 5 billion dollars.
The enactment of the program required the coodination and cooperation of many government officials and capitalists, and due to the large sums of money being offered by the government, received widespread development and support. Metropolitan areas in America have witnessed how banks and insurance companies have redlined central city neighborhoods while real estate speculators have milked what profits they could from these communities, further hastening the deterioration as thousands of housing units were demolished, abandoned, or taken off the market for any number of reasons. As the artificially created energy crisis worsened, the inner city became an attractive option to the middle class that fled to the suburbs in the 50's and 60's. Redevelopers and banks began redevelopment or "urban renewal" projects which have caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of inner city residents of Washington and other urban cities over the past ten years. Due to a housing shortage as artificially created as the energy crisis)the victims of urban renewal are forced to relocate in the suburbs, thereby eliminating their political presence within the central city.
The workings of the spatial deconcentration program are simple. First, the Blacks have to be driven out of a neighborhood and placed in suburban jurisdictions that are forced to take them, or co-opted with bribes of large Federal grants. In Washington D.C., in order to drive people out of a particular inner city neighborhood, the Federal government, along with the D.C. City Council and the Mayor, eliminated the housing in neighborhoods by giving landlords incentives to abandon their buildings, or remove rental units from the market by specially designed rent control and conversion laws. We witness this practice in action by the continuous loopholes found in all of our rent control legislation that allow landlords to abandon their buildings, convert them to condominiums, or generally remove them from the market. Second, the government closes down all of the public housing it has sponsored since the 1930's, thus forcing the displacement of the poor people living in them. For low or fixed income homeowners in the community, property taxes are escalated and housing services are decreased, thus also impoverishing this group of people. Once the housing is eliminated, then other services that support the community are cut back - the public transportation is rerouted or a subway is built that totally bypasses the community. Available schools for the children are closed down in the name of budget cuts; hospitals are relocated to 'improve health delivery systems'; jobs are taken away as businesses are offered inducements to relocate in other areas. The entire community is destabilized to force the people of that community to want to move as their lifestyle deteriorates. Yet, poor people can't just pick up and move just because a neighborhood has gone down. Moving takes money, and this is where the government plays its most visible role.
In 1974 Congress enacted the Housing and Community Development Act, which revamped the Revenue Sharing and Urban Renewal programs. One section of the Act specifies that one of its main purposes is "spatial deconcentration" of impacted neighborhoods in the inner cities. The next year, the Federal subsidy program, Section 8, was enacted by Congress. The creator of the Section 8 program was a civilian member of the Kerner Commission called Anthony Downs who also developed the entire theory of spatial deconcentration for social control in his 1973 book entitled Opening Up the Suburbs. Section 8 was specifically aimed at the poorest of the poor and was a rent subsidy program that allows tenants to pay a maximum of 25% of their monthly income for rent with the government picking up the tab for the rest. Of course, like most subsidies, the real estate interests are guaranteed profits while the tenants have to wait on long waiting lists to register for the privilege of guaranteeing these profits for landlords.
So when poor people are forced into a position of having to move, they are granted Section 8 certificates which appear to ease the burden of not having a place to stay. However, the catch to the Section 8 program is that by using it, you no longer have a choice in where you can live. The new "housing mobility" created through Federal subsidies actually eliminated freedom of housing choice because at the same time HUD is giving Section 8 certificates to the suburbs, they claim there is not enough money available to keep people in D.C. They will give Section 8 certificates to families in D.C. but allow them to use them only in specifically selected suburban counties, not allowing the people to stay in D.C. to be close to the jobs, the Metro, the culture or the human services. This forces them out to the suburbs where there is no way to join together to struggle. Of course, the people become even more impoverished as welfare assistance programs, like AFDC, provide even less income than allotted in D.C. This entire process paves the way for the upper classes to replace poor people in inner city communities, under the guise of increasing the tax base of the city to provide more services to the poor residents of the city. The whole program of physically moving the poor and working class population out of D.C. which is actually spatial deconcentration is disguised as a "Fair Housing Program" called Areawide Housing Opportunities Program (AHOP). Simply put, you disperse the concentrations of Black and poor people in D.C. where they could erupt into a dangerous force to challenge the ruling class of the city and form a political base to threaten indifferent and sold-out officials. The program creates small pockets of poor people, isolated in the suburbs, available to work when the economy needs them, but separated and alienated, like the South African Blacks who are forced to live in Bantustans that surround rich white settler cities.
The spatial deconcentration program has played a major role in the transformation of Washington, D.C. from a riot-torn, abandoned inner city to a fast growing executives' paradise. Since Washington's primary industry has always been the Federal government, now more so than ever, a large executive class is being drawn into Washington by attractive real estate, the energy crisis, and the cooperation of Federal and city officials. Meanwhile, unemployment for the poor and working class escalates; the few of them who receive training and jobs are limited to clerical or blue collar jobs with little or no upward mobility. Fewer and fewer jobs are available to the poor in the inner city, and to counter the effects of the program, the city government must create job programs (designed to fail) in order to pacify the remaining population. In addition, we have a city which is experiencing record-breaking commercial construction (office buildings, the Civic Center, etc.) yet has a critical shortage in that basic human necessity, shelter. This condition was created by the fact that Washington was one of the original cities targeted for implementing the spatial deconcentration program in 1969. The program has been operating here for eleven years and is the concrete basis for the advanced stage of displacement we are experiencing.
The implementation of the spatial deconcentration program for the Washington area (AHOP) required the authority and financing of the Federal government, the participation of private industry, and the cooperation of local governing bodies. The application of the program to Washington was undertaken by the Washington Council of Governments (WashCog) which is the interjurisdictional body for the metropolitan area, composed of elected officials from Washington, Virginia and Maryland and, again, consultants from thinktanks like the Brookings Institute and the Urban Institute. WashCog began administration of the program by enlisting the support of the District officials to create the inner city conditions that would force people to move. These officials ensured that neighborhoods that were already devastated by the riots were left to decay and support services were cut. Next, WashCog had to persuade suburban officials to accept the flow of Blacks who would be forced into their communities. Most of the persuasion was accomplished through Federal bribes in the form of Community Development monies. The impetus for the persuasion come with the Fair Housing Laws passed by Congress. They ensured that under the mask of "integration" white suburban neighborhoods would have to accept poor Blacks from the inner city. Suburban communities were also granted other bonuses as they received more public transportation (the Metro), increased social services (from the Federal payments) and were assured that there would always be white dominance in the suburbs since the Blacks would be dispersed over large areas. Prince Georges' county was the first area country to buy into the program. We now see the county government moving to halt the flood of Blacks into the county, fearing Black dominance.
The next phase of the program requires the persuading of the poor people in the inner city that life is better in the suburbs. The Section 8 certificates now come into play, as housing counselors, usually springing from government-sponsored community groups, urge people to relocate wherever their Section 8 certificate placed them, which is always in the suburbs. Apparent community groups, like Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association, support the objectives of the program by assisting tenants in obtaining Section 8 certificates, and omitting to warn them of their loss off housing choice. In fact, MWPHA sponsored a HUD workshop entitled "Increasing Housing Opportunities in the Suburbs" in May 1980. The hidden punch line to the workshop was that to increase housing opportunities in the suburbs, you must first decrease them in the city, which is the essence of spatial deconcentration. The government has made increasingly larger grants available to train community housing organizers, so that they may learn to properly administer Section 8 programs. Many of the grassroots housing groups in Washington are dependent on Section 8 contracts for their survival, and will refuse to recognize and discontinue the role they play in the program.
The monetary benefittors of the spatial deconcentration program are the real estate interests. Land values in the inner city skyrocketed, while suburban developers made tremendous profits from developing the communities which will house the Blacks being driven out. Owners of buildings who have Section 8 tenants are guaranteed profits that will be paid by the Federal government, and usually can obtain loans for renovation from the government at interest rates 5-8% lower than the regular market. For example, a large, sprawling apartment complex in Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland recently accepted a large number of Section 8 tenants from Washington D.C. In return, the owners of the property were granted large loans to renovate the property. The owners only have to allow Section 8 tenants to stay in the building for five years. After that, they can convert to condominium, luxury apartments, or whatever they want, because they've tripled the value of the property with the renovations paid for by the government However, after the five years are up, the poor tenants who moved into the building will have to move again. They will not ultimately benefit from the renovations, and furthermore, will be forced even further away from the inner city.
An investigation is proceeding into Yulanda Ward's death. Assistance, inquiries and contributions to the investigation should be addressed to:
The Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 21005
Washington, D.C. 20009
The two featured articles, Fire and Ice and Spatial Deconcentration, both deal with the question of space in capitalist society. Like all social categories, it has two sides. In this afterword we wish to briefly discuss some of the implications of the space struggle previously described.
Spatial Deconcentration reveals the method capital increasingly relies on to overcome,' the "crisis of social democracy" in the U.S.: planning through the market. One of the age-old secrets of capitalist magic is the knowledge that in any relatively diffuse market of competing strangers a few billion dollars can direct the market "forces" to attain planned ends without the institution of an overt monopoly.
This trick is the essence of all stock manipulations, the control of large corporations by minority stockholders etc. Equal and randomly opposing forces cancel each other out while a marginal but relatively more organized force can ultimately determine the situation.
The rapidly changing housing patterns in dozens of U.S. cities reveals the effectiveness of this type of state planning. In the last decade the production and reproduction space of this country has been completely transformed with almost no open, concrete governmental action: no highways dividing ghettos from the rest of town, no housing projects, no bulldozers to sit down in front of. This method of planning through the market is not so "precise" as the detailed state plan of the U.S.S.R. but it has the asset of appearing not to be a plan at all. Thus the state, has the advantage of not offering itself as a target of resistance in an area where its police powers are vulnerable: where people live.
Surely capital does not have "it all planned" in some conspiratorial and fool-proof pattern. Those are the dreams of total defeat. On the contrary, capitalist planning has many defects:
1) plans presume control of the future but the class struggle is not pre-determinable;
2) planners may have conflicting interests and may try to impose contradictory plans;
3) temporal pressure may cause the plans to be technically inadequate;
4) "exogenous" natural events may disrupt plans.
But the primary and essential failure of planning is the one remaining "anarchy of production": the unplanned desires of working class struggle.
Class struggle, however, is not only the principal disruption of capitalist planning, it is its ultimate cause as well. Planning is needed as capital attempts to continually reorganize the production/reproduction process in ever more "roundabout" spatial and temporal arrangements to escape and incorporate working class resistance to work. The future will not be like the past --this capital knows-- and so the future must be controlled because the present has an essential element of indeterminacy. Thus, the need to plan inner city housing patterns escalated as urban blacks rejected the existing social and geographical arrangement by literally burning it down and threatening to burn much more --capital's "downtown".
We have, in previous issues of Midnight Notes, discussed capital's creation and use of time. The capitalist arrangement of space is also crucially important. Capital, especially through its ability to monetarize itself, can now move at light speed to a more "hospitable" climate; but it is always interested in the minutiae of work-life patterns in any environment it decides to land on to maximize the productivity of spatial relations.
The working class, on the other side, is continually attempting to subvert the capitalist planning of spatial relations and creating anti-work spaces (sometimes even in the midst of the factory). Such are the conflicting tendencies of the space war continually erupting in capitalist society.
The differing types of state planning of U.S. and European capital have roots in their radically different relations to space. U.S. capital has internal room to move, European capital does not. This simple fact has deep consequences. The ability to expropriate huge areas at relatively little "cost" made it possible to maintain a relatively "anarchic" planning of production. Indeed, it was essential that capital be able to use this space in order to escape class confrontation.
On the other side, the very "emptiness" of North American space, due to the lack of pre-capitalist structures that could easily be turned into fixed capital, required an almost obsessional study and planning of social relations, reproduction and other aspects of the psychological organization of human behavior.
"The Land Question" has always been at the center of the class struggle in the U.S. (as the American Indian and parts of the black movement have reminded us recently). For land is not only the repository of potential wealth but it allows for motion, it makes it possible for capital to elaborate a strategy of advance, flanking and retreat. In England, France, Germany and other, northern European countries the tendency of the working class in the last century has been toward a fixity in space.
With the exception of Hitler's dream of "spacifying" Europe, the class "deal" which helps ensure for capital a more stable workforce demands in return a less mobile capital. As a result, the institution of social democracy has an articulation and weight it never has had in the U.S.
In Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities, the blacks since the great southern land expropriations of the 30's and 40's, have held the inner city terrain as "its own" (not in the sense of "ownership" but in the sense of "occupation"). The population density was high and the material wealth in the space was low, nonetheless, this space provided terrain for organization of power--bars, corners, churches, stoops, lots, streets, kitchens. A common politics and struggle could emerge out of this commonality of terrain. At first, this massification in a specific space was clearly functional to the place blacks were to occupy in the division of labor in the post-WW II economy, but then this concentration reached critical levels and became dangerous. As the black struggle turned from demonstrations to riots to armed struggle in a space adjacent to high concentrations of capital something had to give, "spatial deconcentration" was clearly called for.
The Zurich struggle is the reverse. Here a new interest, a new cultural/reproductive sector developed but has had no space for itself. For the struggle in Zurich is not a "housing struggle" at all but a struggle for a space empty of capital. The problem is not an absolute lack of housing but the lack (or better, the refusal to allow) a type of housing that could generate an anti-work space. The power of this movement and its threat arises from the location of its desired anti-work space: at the center of the monetary center of world capital, not in the Alps but near the computer nodes and telephone systems that form the intricate circuits so essential to the light speed of capitalist circulation. Though there is no gold in the streets of Zurich, it lies buried in tunnels a few feet beneath the rioters.
U.S. capital was faced in the 1960's with a similar problematic that Swiss capital must confront now. Not only with respect to the black ghetto adjacent to the Federal governmental center, but with respect to the white youth "demonstration culture" whose tactics were quite similar to the contemporary Swiss "icebreakers". Capital, thus, had to destroy both the black struggle and the "counter-cultural" anti-war rebellion.
Washington, D.C. was the perfect city to plan this campaign because it was born as a city to thwart revolution. The wide boulevards of the downtown area were designed to prevent and crush a proletarian revolt in the early nineteenth century Napoleonic city planning style. It was a huge construction of "defensible space" built always with the idea of cavalry maneuvers. As the "home" of the state it demands meticulous planning and police "housework" particularly in any period of intense struggle. The whole place is bugged and crawling with agents from every repressive department of the government. (This was graphically revealed to the movement during the Chicago 8 trial in 1969. Far more evidence came from wiretaps in D.C. than from anywhere else even though D.C. was not the "home base" of any of the defendants and the "scene of the crime" was 1000 miles away!)
After the M.L. King riots in 1968 the state deliberately let the ghetto stay burnt down at some cost to its international "image". This was the first step in its slowly evolving "deconcentration" policy towards the blacks.
During that period mass demonstrations of largely white youth against the Vietnam war continually filled the city. For example, there were mass "trashings" in November of"69 and. huge demonstrations after the massacres at Kent State and Jackson State. But what really disturbed the government were the Mayday demonstrations of 1971. They were organized with the express purpose of paralyzing and "shutting the city down" by blocking commuter traffic on the highways going into the city. These demos hit a nerve and the veil of "civil liberties" tore. The state responded with literal concentration camps where thousands of demonstrators were kept "illegally". This was also the year of Attica and the violent liquidation of many black militants.
This physical repression paved the way for the "oil crisis" and the "politics of scarcity". In D.C. a housing "shortage" developed that appeared to give objective necessity to the increase of rents. The "free market" began to displace the remnants of the youth movement most easily, for after all they were more mobile than blacks. Some "heads" straightened up and became entrepreneurs with shops and condo developments but most simply moved on or altered their life style (from "communal" to "family" to "single"). The blacks and their struggle remained.
Ironically, capital echoed the black struggle to "escape the ghetto" but in its own key: "Go, but go when and where we say." Even the tactic of arson, so potently used in the black urban riots was turned against them by real estate operators who used fire to drive black tenants and squatters from the now "valuable property". In response, but also continuous with the previous struggles for spatial autonomy, many blacks are now defending the "ghetto". For a ghetto can be a source of strength if it is not a place that keeps you in but one that keeps your enemy out.
III. Race space: high & low
The displacement and spatial deconcentration of blacks is being accomplished through the money form. As Mayor Koch of N.Y.C. says, "Everyone should live where they can afford to live." But what determines affordability? Surely there exists a hierarchy of wages, and inasmuch as blacks and other "minorities" (immigrant or native) are unable to assume the full range of positions in this hierarchy but are forced overwhelmingly to occupy the bottom of the wage ladder, then they have a qualitatively different relationship to this hierarchy. This wage hierarchy gets mapped point for point into the layout of a city, while changes in the hierarchy lead immediately to spatial changes.
In the late 60's and early 70's blacks sought to open up the full range of the wage ladder and thus eliminate the particular qualitative relation they had to it. The state responded with "anti-discrimination laws" and "affirmative action programs" and for a brief period real gains were made. Study of wage distribution in that period would show an increasing homogenation of wages as well as their average increase. But the crisis of the 70's largely erased these gains with one important new twist. Wages within the working class as a whole have become increasingly dispersed, but this is true among blacks as well. This has showed up in the significant expansion of a black "middle class" of corporate and governmental bureaucrats and well-waged workers who were to provide "leadership" to an ever larger and increasingly poor black working class.
The Miami riots of 1980 revealed the bankruptcy of this "leadership" since the "community leaders" were largely ignored by the rioters. But these riots also revealed the increasing subtlety and power of this ability to use wage hierarchy to organize space in a way that would limit and repress struggle. Throughout the 70's the black ghetto in Miami was increasingly isolated from the "downtown" and "hotel" strip by buffer zones of Cuban immigrants and poorer whites. Thus this riot was not a "commodity riot" like many of the 60's but was bottled up and became a "people riot". While the Miami riot did not explode into a black versus white versus Hispanic race war, the potential for one has been exacerbated through the capitalist strategy of crisis in general and its mediation in spatial composition.
Space, then, is not only the geographic organization of capital and the working class--communities, ethnic neighborhoods; plant locations; transportation networks, etc.--but also the reflection of the hierarchical relations within the working class as well. Further, it is deployed in a quasi-military manner for the class struggle is a war and the mere physical arrangement of the "armies" is crucial. Thus, an important aspect of the spatial deconcentration policy is that the removal of blacks from the urban center will lead to their disaggregation. They will be spread out in the white suburbs or isolated in micro-ghettos in white worker enclaves at the edges of the city proper. This disaggregation will make them increasingly vulnerable to KKK-style terror and intimidation.
As long as blacks, Hispanics and the "new immigrants" are kept at the bottom of the wage hierarchy there will be little choice. Macro-ghetto, mini-ghetto or "integration"? None of these "choices" is a solution so long as blacks and other people of color do not have the power to define their own desires and needs and have the space to realize them. This lack of choice has its historical base in slavery and Jim Crow for the blacks, but the existence of the wage hierarchy that lies behind it is no historical accident.
Though a racial and sexual identification of specific types of work with given "races" and sexes aids in capitalist control it is not absolutely necessary. Surely one can imagine a capitalist society where blacks are on the top and whites on the bottom. But a capitalist society without a wage hierarchy is impossible for capital must organize the division of labors and skills and must recognize the different quantities of capital invested or, better, incarnated in persons. The hierarchy of wages arises from this simple principle of capitalist “justice”.
Capital finds the qualitative dimension of systematically infusing different amounts of value in different workers based on the workers' permanent bodily characteristics to be an enormously useful tool of control over the working class as a whole by complexifying and intensifying the reproduction of the hierarchy.
The international flows of capital, the control of immigration, the social stereotyping that identifies work with self, all indicate the deep value capital places on an ethnic, racial and sexual hierarchy. The mechanism through which this hierarchy is produced is simplicity itself. If certain "job slots" are reserved only for a specific type of person (incorporating a given type of capital) then less competition exists for those "slots". If black workers are systematically excluded from these better paying jobs then whites do not have to compete with blacks for those jobs, meaning that any particular white has a better chance of "rising" on the wage ladder. The most visible example of this mechanism is in South Africa; the operational principle is no different though many times more subtle and diffuse in the U.S.
The drive of blacks to shatter the racial hierarchy has met a good deal of white resistance (as well as some white support). But aside from the open racists and anti-racists, there are many whites who claim simultaneously to support equality of individuals and reject any demands for reparations in any form. Their line goes something like this: "Slavery and Jim Crow were wrong, but they don't exist any more and neither I nor my ancestors were here when they did." This has been a mass sentiment in the crisis, a "reverse discrimination" equality that is not racism per se but rather a profound capitulation to capitalist double-think.
For if a white man refuses the "guilt" of historical oppression he must not then claim the rewards gained from that oppression as the products of his own, individual qualities. For example, if a white student has attained a piece of knowledge that is saleable as a commodity, that knowledge is not a quality of the student but a product of the accumulated wealth generated by the class struggles of the past. Though the student might not be responsible for exploitation in the past, neither is he "guilty" of creating the knowledge, tools, and experience that arose from the exploitation.
The capitalist system, however, encourages each individual to believe these attributes are due to his or her own efforts, and that one is rewarded (paid) solely for these attributes. In a period when the most powerful form of productive force is the accumulated knowledge of past generations stretching back perhaps a million years, we are seeing a revival of "I made it to the top on my own merits" thinking!
Thus when white workers refuse to support or actively resist the demand of black workers for higher wages they accept the racism that is an essential part of the capitalist hierarchy of labor powers. Clearly, then, many white workers do have concrete reasons to support the perpetuation of blacks as an "underclass". The price they pay for their racism is very high and obvious, for it allows capital to undercut their wage struggle by continually threatening them with the use of black, lower paid labor. So why does racism continue? People are not stupid and it doesn't take a genius to see the "costs" as well as the "benefits" of racism. Do the "benefits" outweigh the "costs" for white workers? No. If computed in a hypothetical, economic calculus, anti-racism is certainly a better maximizing strategy. So why don't whites follow their "reason"?
The answer to this lies in a deeper place: every worker knows that a serious class unity would so undermine the exploitative relations that capital must act violently to preserve itself. Such a unity would have the most serious of life and death consequences and it is fear of these consequences that keeps many from acting. To destroy the hierarchy of labor powers is to literally step out of the system of "costs and benefits" and open up entirely new possibilities. Many refuse to take the risk that can't be measured. Thus, though racism and sexism as well is the basis for keeping all wages lower --for the hierarchy starts at the bottom with the unwaged-- it continues. On the other side, class unity is the primary weapon the working class can wield against capital and so any revolutionary action must address the materiality of the labor hierarchy.
Italian Folk Song
I'm a terrorist
You're a terrorist;
He's a terrorist
She's a terrorist
Everyone's a terrorist
Please, please put me in jail
Won't you please put me in jail
My friends are all in jail
The most interesting people are all in jail
The state says I did it all
It says that I pissed on the wall
It says that I kidnapped a shoe
It even claims that I've killed you
Cause I'm a terrorist
Such a terrorist
I can't afford staying free
Inflation is just killing me
I can't pay my rent, don't you see
And now Fiat's gonna fire me
Carabinieri, put me away
I can't wait another day
You better do just what I say
Else I'll blow up the Duomo today
-Officer, arrest me!
-Why? What have you done?
-I've done everything.
-Have you raped you mother?
-Several times and then I killed Moro!
-Do you have any evidence?
-Who needs evidence? This is Italy!
Please, please put me in jail
It's just not fair to leave me free
The intellectuals are all allowed in jail
The state's discriminating against me
Red Brigadists, you'd better watch
Cause now I'm a terrorist too
I'm a terrorist just like you
Move over Prima Linea, make some room for me
Now the state says I can be a terrorist too
I can be a terrorist just like you
Call me a brigadisti
Call me a fascisti
I'll be anything you want
I'll be a terrorist just for you
Because Police State baby
I love you
How I love you
It's the latest thing, it's really a fad
It all started in Paris with Pierre Cardin
But now it's spreading fast
And looks like it's gonna last
Come on everyone, give us a sexy terrorist look
Yeah, I'm a terrorist
I'm such a terrorist because
I pick my nose
I smoke marijuana
I missed a day of work
I wrote a book
I say dirty words
I like oral sex
I went on strike
I ran a red light
Cause I'm a terrorist
I'm such a terrorist
I'm homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, asexual
I ride the bus without a ticket
I laugh at policemen
I'm ugly, I smell funny
I masturbate, I meditate
I steal candy from babies
I make pipi in my pants
Cause I'm a terrorist
Everything you say, everything you think
Every time you dream, every song you sing
Yeah, everything you do is terrorist
Terrorists of the world unite.
You have nothing to lose but your labels!
Now we're terrorists
Everything that moves is terrorist
The pope's a terrorist
My grandmother is a terrorist
This song is terribly terrorist
as are certain species of plants, oranges,
ashtrays, fountain pens, vacuum cleaners,
tooth brushes, diaphragms, spermacide,
Midnight Notes #05 (1982) – Computer State Notes
5th issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes.
Reagan politics was the paradoxical synthesis of "the spokesman for a scientific and technological revolution that a few years ago would have smacked of science fiction with the revivalists of religious tendencies and moral conservatism that one would have thought was buried once and for all with 'our' Puritan Founding Fathers." This paradox is resolved in "Mormons in Space," where it is shown that this synthesis is characteristic when capital is in deep crisis and goes "back to basics." But what was our analysis of the capitalist limits and proletarian possibilities of the new technology? It is in "Prologue to the Use of Machines."
- Do I Contradict Myself?
- Mormons In Space
- Prologue To The Use of Machines
- Strange Loops - Reagan in Zurich
- Conversation With A Demon: The Education of Pedro Abono
- Credit to the Parties in Brixton: Malcolm X Day in Attica
- Quien Salvara El Salvador? - Who Will Save the Saviour?
Libcom note - occasional words and phrases in the scanned PDF are illegible because of overprinting and this is also the case with the textual versions here. Missing words are marked with [????] or similar. Anyone with access to a better (colour?) scan or original copy is welcome to contact us to help us with corrections.
Editorial from Midnight Notes issue 5
tools: This issue was put together with 'real' typewriter time literally "begged, borrowed or stolen" and with layout materials and methods that were current in the Reformation. It was laid-out right across the street from M.I.T., about a half a mile from Harvard and next door from the numerous software and bio-engineering firms of Cambridge. I.e., it was produced while the microprocessors, mini-computers and mainframes slept right around us. It is a materialization of our present (and collective) defeat, so treat it with charity.
orthography: According to the theorem of "Prolog to the Use of Machines", capital's reluctance to increase the width of the channel of communicative capacity and its desire to speed-up the rate of transmission have forced it to try to radically reduce the entropy of language (the diversity of script, multiple spellings, variable capitalization, etc.) and make communication less surprising, more predictable and less 'personal'. So we see our 'mistakes" as slips of rebellion, little refusals to standardize and Capitalize the Embodiment of our Language.
Hope you do, too.
credits: Asin (Carl Harp), who drew the 'strange loop" on page 24, died in Walla Walla prison last year. Like many others, he was "found hung" in his cell.
PRIZE ESSAY CONTEST
The prize essay contest announced in Space Notes on the topic: "Why do we continue to eat capital's shit?" continues. We have yet to receive a satisfactory answer; however, the old contest prize, $100, is now $108 to keep up with inflation.
Carnival in Bosstown
In the town where Cotton Mather's bones lay in peace, in the original home of the American Boss, Midnight Notes is having a carnival. Come for a gathering of our bodily powers, the passing of loosened words and whispers. Bring masks, paints, plays and music. The bosses' bones will turn. See you there.
Dates: April 17 and 18 Place: 125 Harvard St. Cambridge, Ma. Write Midnight Notes for maps and directions and help in finding sleeping space.
Do I contradict myself?
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Since the early nineteenth century with the famous Luddite riots, the working class movement has been debating whether mechanization is liberating or exploitative. This debate is very much alive in the movement today, especially in Europe since 1977. On the one side, the Autonomia-refusal-of-work tendency sees in technological development the hope for the final liberation of humanity for work; on the other side are alternativists of all sorts who, while not necessarily seeing the machine as an evil, are much more interested in understanding and reorganizing our social relations, everyday life and forms of creativity.
From the point of view of the former, one of capital's greatest crimes today is in holding back the development of productive forces, of literally destroying a potentially available, high level of productivity because it is not profitable. (As the history of capitalism has shown, again and again, the increase of social wealth can be directly contradictory to the accumulation of value.)
For the latter, instead, capital kills the Soul so to speak, for though, and even because, it may provide a high level of technological development, "scientific wonders" and/or remarkable "material" (or what usually passes as material) wellbeing, it creates a world of "dead Souls": Alienation, Loss of Animal Spirits, Desire to Die, desensitization.
Are these mutually exclusive trends? Are we forced to choose between them?
For capitalist development, of course, there is no contradiction between the paths of increasing mechanization and continuing to profit from archaic forms of production by lengthening the work day (killing the Soul and/or the Body). They are but two complementary paths of appropriating surplus time. Mechanization decreases the necessary work time and so increases the ratio of surplus to necessary work, while lengthening the work day simply increases surplus labor tout court. In fact, in order to accumulate the capital necessary to introduce mechanization the work day must be increased somewhere. But this "somewhere" need not be in the same place.
In the "First Great Industrial Revolution" (or better counter-revolution), during which our Luddite ancestors broke into history, the surplus labor time was taken directly out of those workers whose work was mechanized. Not only did the Manchester operatives work with machines but they worked longer and more intensively than previous generations of non-mechanized textile workers. This need not always be the case. Thus the introduction of Atomic Power Plants and Computerized Factories need not, and will not, be "financed" out of the hides of atomic physicists and programmers (though maybe they should!) They are undoubtedly being capitalized by the increased surplus value transferred to these highly mechanized sectors from the spheres of "shit work" being done in the kitchens, restaurants, basements, sweatshops around the world.
Capital has its technocratic and "romantic" sides but their antithesis is bogus: they merely provide models for complementary forms of accumulation. The trick of the capitalist (the so-called "entrepreneurial spirit") is simply to find the right mixture.
But if capital is not forced to choose between the Machine and the Hand, the Soul and the Body why should we?
Capital is flexible, it has a Standard with which to determine its best model of production on the basis of the surplus work it generates. It is neither technocratic nor anti-technocratic, neither liberal nor fascist, not addicted to whisky nor cocaine. This is its historical power: to remain true to itself while shifting with the tides of class force.
What has grown in the last five years, through all the misery of the crisis, all the state terror, all our despair, has been the increasing sophistication and richness with which our standard is being developed and applied. Our standard is quite simple: the refusal of work and its reduction to a minimum. But the application of this standard is far from simple: the European movement (quite self-consciously) and the American movement (where practice is light years ahead of theory as usual) have taken a few steps beyond Marx's description of the immediate post-Luddite period.
"It took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which they are used."
In the century since Marx, we have seen that the simple formula "Execute the capitalists, Operate the machines" is inadequate for two reasons. First, capital has literally "booby trapped" many machines in such a way that their only form of operation is capitalistic: the nuclear industry and the stock-piled nuclear bombs are fine examples. Not only can they not be used now except capitalistically, but there is no obvious way of getting rid of them non-capitalistically.
Second, "previous invisible sectors" of the working class have pointed out that forms of mechanical production that appear to reduce work merely shift work onto less powerful class sectors. Elements of the women's movement have been crucial to this realization, for the typically more "powerful and advanced" technological class sectors are male and thus they rarely take into account the fact that every form of production requires an enormous amount of reproductive work, usually female. What can appear as reduction of work through mechanization may lead to so much trauma, tension and breakdown in the immediate workers and environment that the work of reproducing those workers and environment increases tremendously. Capital's form has so melded with the instruments of production that the preferred tool of Revolutionary Surgery must become the Laser.
The growth of analytic power has gone through the tributary of struggles marked by Italy in 1977, the anti-nuke and energy price revolts of 1978-79 in the U.S. and Europe, the Space Wars in Zurich of 1980, and the anti-police, anti-military riots in England, Holland and Germany in 1981. These nodes of conflict forced the movement into confrontation with itself as well as with capital; they forced us to sharpen up our standard. Each of these moments brought into the struggle against capital new social strata, new mixtures and social possibilities, but always presented us with contradictory impulses with respect to technology.
On the one side, elements of the movement argued for "pushing" the system to intensify its technological development in order to further reduce the necessary labor time in production and thus increase the potential social wealth (free time). On the other side, there has been a demand for new social forms to fulfil our desires now, to experience in all its richness, the social being and relationships appropriate to a working class on the way out of the capitalist era. Is this a looming contradiction between the new "forces" and "relations" of social production? Is the Revolutionary Body- and Soul at odds? No, not with any finality, because they are interwoven expressions of the refusal of work.
However, in the concrete struggle, tensions exist. Take the Zurich movement of the last two years. Though Zurich is a monetary center supreme, where the "dominance of formal over real society" was apparently total, packets of alternativists, punks and high-tech personnel melted and exploded in its center. In a city where "the work of most people is language, mostly figures" the movement used the crudest (physical blockage, appropriation and escape) to the most refined (ironic sabotage of TV, telephonic and computational trans-mission) methods to undermine this language-work.
But a capitalist "pull out" from Zurich in response to the struggle would put the alliance of work refusers to the test. For though the alternativists might welcome the chance to introduce a' new "human-centered" form of production/reproduction, large sections of the working class will, if given a choice, stick with capital and the state with "its" technology unless the technological wealth of the last half millennium can be reintegrated into the new social mode.
These are the contradiction and questions that Midnight Notes receives and transmits to the movement. Thus "Strange Victories" and "No Future Notes" (vol. 1, n.1,2) argued that the class composition of the anti-nuke movement in the U.S. inevitably limited the demands and depth of action against capital's crisis Plan. No "strange loop" was being fashioned by the movement in order to "tangle" the class hierarchies because it remained and remains to this day a movement essentially of the "upper" workers. Thus, the main proposal of the movement, "the solar transition", is invariably offered up with an austerity rhetoric telling us that we are "overconsuming" and, in Tom Hayden's words, discovering that "people have a basic need for real work."
It might be very well for Mr. Hayden and his friends who spend their time talking about work but have managed to get away pretty nicely from doing it. But this simply will not do for the blacks, Hispanics, women, immigrants, assembly line workers, miners and youth of this country. They have worked too much already and have consumed too little of life!
At least Reagan offers wealth and less work for a few "lucky ones", Hayden envisions "socially useful" drudgery for all: his vision is a vision of work without end, not of the end of work. But this is by no means an isolated mistake, rather this pro-work, pro-austerity line is an underlying unity between elements of the anti-nuke movement and proponents of labor intensive capitalist development. This resulted in the inability to shape a "strange loop" between the white riot of Levittown, the black riot of Miami and the anti-nuke demos of 1979-80. The social vacuum thus created added a huge force to the Reagan initiative.
On the eve of the Reagan election in "Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse" (MN, vol.2, n. 1) we tried to decode the crisis plan of capital by deducting out all the apocalyptic rhetoric about "Nature's limits" to see the refusal of work as the driving force of the Crisis. In doing so, we revealed capitalist science as both a tool of planning to overcome the refusal of work and a continuing reflection of capitalist crises.
Then in "Space Notes" (MN vol.2, n.2) we brought the movement of the 'dyssatisfied' in Zurich and Northern Europe into focus. They form one of the first decisive struggles of this period because they operate outside the job and emphasize the question of 'life style': how and where living is to be done, the wages and working conditions of life. Through their informational guerrilla they have shown that capital's attempt to mimic all social relations as relations between money can be defeated and continually exposed.
In this issue we continue the exploration of capital's use of science and technology in its plan to overcome the crisis by the redefinition of work and the consequent attempt to create a new kind of worker and state. In "Prolog to the Use of Machines" we precisely define the transition the crisis embodies, a transition from work defined by repetitive heat engines to work defined by logical machines.
But to work capitalistically with such a new system of machines a completely new form of worker must be created. "Mormons in Space" seeks to show that such a worker must be patterned after the most archaic form of the capitalist individual: the puritan of the period of primitive accumulation.
An interview with a government bureaucrat in "A Demon Speaks" reveals the form of the state necessitated by the transition to the new mode of work and the problems and contradictions it results in.
"Strange Loops: Reagan in Zurich" sketches a scenario of struggle that is based on the recent Northern European confrontations which bring together a composition of workers formed by the transition of the crisis.
In our article on Attica 1981, one decade after the massacre, we are reminded that the price of our failure is not a 'coming apocalypse' but a present and continuing misery, yet even in the jailed depths of this misery is the deepest breath of struggle.
And finally, after all our, at times, abstruse analyses and arguments, we end in "Who Will Save the Savior?" with a reminder:
GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS
The Grand Alignment
Mormons In Space
Midnight Notes on space travel, Christian Evangelists and automation
If one tried to define the Zeitgeist breathing through the New Right today one would be confronted with a seemingly undecipherable puzzle. On the one side these are the spokesmen for a scientific and technological revolution that a few years ago would have smacked of science fiction: gene-splicing, DNA computers, time-compression techniques, space colonies.
At the same time the circles of the New Right have witnessed a revival of religious tendencies and moral conservatism that one would have thought was buried once and for all with "our" Puritan Founding Fathers. Falwell's Moral Majority is the most vocal of this return to the values of Calvin and Cotton Mather, but by far not the only one. Wherever you turn, God-fearing-Satan-minded groups, determined to reshape the country on the model of the Puritan colonies, are sprawling like mushrooms: Christian Voice, Pro-Family Forum, National Prayer Campaign, Eagle Forum, Right to Life Commission, Fund to Restore an Educated Electorate, Institute for Christian Economics.
Seen in its general contours, then, the body of the New Right seems stretching in two opposite directions, attempting at once a bold leap into the past and an equally bold leap into the future. The puzzle increases when we realise that these are not separate sects, but in more than one way they involve the same people and the same money. Despite a few petty squabbles and a few pathetic contortions to keep up the "pluralism" facade, the hand that sends the shuttle into orbit or recombines mice and rabbits is the same that is fretfully pushing for gays to be sent to the stake and is drawing a big cross not just through the 20th, but the 19th and 18th centuries too.
To what extent the Moral Majority and Co. and the science futurologists are one soul, one mission, is best seen, if not in the lives of their individual spokesmen (though the image of the 'electronic minister' and of a President who in the same breath blesses God and calls for stepped up nerve gas production and the neutron bomb are good evidence of this marriage), then in the harmony of intent they display when confronted with the 'key issues' of the time. When it comes to economic and political matters, all shreds of difference drop off and both souls of the New Right pull money and resources towards their common goals. Free-Market, laissez-faire economics (for business, of course), the militarization of the country (what is called "building a strong military defense"), bolstering "internal security", i.e., giving the FBI and CIA free rein to police our daily life, cutting all social spending except that devoted to building prisons and ensuring that thousands will fill them; in a word, asserting U.S. capital's ownership of the world and setting "America" to work at the minimum wage (or below) are goals for which all the New Right would swear on the Bible.
A clue to understanding the double soul of the New Right is to realise that its mixture of reactionary social policies and scientific boldness is not a novelty in the history of capitalism. If we look at the beginning of capital --the 16th and 17th century to which the Moral Majority would so happily return-- we see a similar situation in the countries of the "take off".
At the very time when Galileo was pointing his telescope to the moon, and Francis Bacon was laying the foundations of scientific rationality, women and gays by the thousands were burnt on the stake throughout Europe, with the universal blessing of the modernizing (sic) European intelligentsia. A sudden craze? An inexplicable fall into barbarism? In reality, the witch hunt was part and parcel of that attempt at "human perfectibility" that is commonly acknowledged as the dream of the fathers of modern rationalism.
For the thrust of the emerging capitalist class towards the domination and exploitation of nature would have remained a dead letter without the concomitant creation of a new type of individual whose behavior would be as regular, predictable and controllable as that of the newly discovered natural laws. To achieve this purpose one had to destroy that magical conception of the world that, e.g., made the Indians in the overseas colonies believe that it was a sacrilege to mine the earth, or in the heart of Europe assured the proletariat that people could fly, be in two places at the same time, divine the future and (most important) that on some 'unlucky days' all enterprise had to be carefully avoided.
The witch hunt, moreover, ensured the control over the main source of labor, the woman's body, by criminalizing abortion and all forms of contraception as a crime against the state. Finally, the witch hunt was functional to the reorganization of family life, i.e., the restructuring of reproduction that accompanied the reorganization of work on a capitalistic basis.
On the stake died the adulteress, the woman of 'ill repute', the lesbian, the woman who lived alone, or lacked 'maternal spirit' or had illegitimate children. On the stake ended many beggars, who had impudently launched their curses against the refusal of some "ale and bread". For in the 'transition' to capitalism it was primarily the woman, especially the woman in rebellion, (destined to depend on a man for her survival) who became pauperised. The fathers of modern rationalism approved; some even complained that the state did not go far enough.
Notoriously, Bodin insisted that the witches should not be 'mercifully' strangled before being given to the flames. That today we find a similar situation prevailing in the U.S.A. is an indication of the depth of capital's crisis. Always, in its beginning as, we would hope, in its end, when uncertain of its foundations, capital goes down to basics.
At present this means attempting a bold technological leap which on one side (at the developing pole of production) concentrates capital and automates work to an unprecedented degree and, on the other, consigns millions of workers to either wagelessness (unemployment) or to employment in intensive-labor types of jobs, paid at minimum rates, on the model of the much acclaimed 'free enterprise zones'. This involves, however, a reorganization of the process whereby labor is reproduced --a project in which women are expected to play a most crucial role.
The institutionalization of repression and self-discipline along the line of the Moral Majority and the New Christian Right is today required for both ends of the working class spectrum: For those who are destined to temporary, part-time subsistence level of wages (accompanied by long hours of work or a perennial quest for jobs) as well as for those who are elected to a "meaningful wage" working with the most sophisticated equipment capital's technologists are now able to produce. That the holy trinity of God/Work/Family is always crucial in times of repression is a well tested truth capital has never forgotten.
What could be more productive than a life of isolation, where the only relations we have with each other are relations of reciprocal discipline: Daddy controlling Mommy, Mommy teaching the children that life is hard and survival problematic, neighbors getting together to keep the neighborhood 'clean', sociality shrinking to those occasions that help us find or keep a job??? And if life is pain there is always God, in whose name you can even justify nuclear war against the infidels who, like the rebellious Sodomites, deserve to be wiped out from the face of the earth (even if a few of the righteous get wiped out too). And you can even justify a nuclear war that will wipe out yourself too, for after all what is the big deal about life, if you have already accepted to bargain cancer for a wage, renounce all your desires and postpone your fulfilment to another world?
Let us not be mistaken. Haig needs Jerry Falwell, as does Stockman. From Wall Street to the Army-, all capital's utopias are predicated on an infinitesimal micropolitics at the level of the body, curbing our animal spirits and redefining the meaning of that famous Pursuit of Happiness that (so far at least) has been the biggest of all constitutional lies. And Jerry Falwell is even more needed for the development of the high tech (computer, information, energy, genetic) worker who, unlike those at the lower echelons of the working class, cannot be run by the stick (in case God failed), for the damage he can do (should he slip in his duty) is infinitely greater because the machines he works with are infinitely more costly. What the launching of high tech industry needs mostly today is a technological leap in the human machine --a big evolutionary step creating a new type of worker to match capital's investment needs.
What are the faculties required by the new being our futurologists advocate? A look at the debate on space colonies is revealing in this respect. All agree, first of all, that the main impediment today to the development of human colonies in space is bio-social rather than technological, i.e., you may be able to glue the space shuttle's tiles together but glueing the right space worker-technician is a project that even the present genetic breakthroughs are far from having solved. An individual is needed who can:
--endure social isolation and sensory deprivation for long periods of time without breaking down,
--perform 'perfectly' in an extremely hostile/ alien and artificial environment and under enormous stress,
--achieve a superb control of his bodily functions (consider: it takes an hour to shit in space!) and psychological reactions (anger, hate,inde-cisiveness)=our all-too-human frailties which can be disastrous in the fragile, vulnerable world of life in space,
--demonstrates total obedience, conformity and receptivity to commands for there can be little tolerance for social deviations and disagreements when the most minute act of sabotage can have catastrophic consequences to the very costly, complex and powerful equipment entrusted in their hands.
Indeed, not only will the space technician have a quasi-religious relation to his machine but he himself must become more and more machine-like, achieving a perfect symbiosis with his computer which, in the long nights of space, is often his only and always his most reliable guide, his companion, his buddy, his friend.
The space worker, then, must be a highly ascetic type, pure in body and soul, perfect in his performance, obedient like a well wound clock and extremely fetishistic in his mental modes. Where is this gem most likely bred? In a fundamentalist type religious sect. To put it in the words of biologist Garrett Harding:
What group would be most suitable to this most recent Brave New World (the space colony)? Probably a religious group. There must be unity of thought and the acceptance of discipline. But the colonists couldn't be a bunch of Unitarians or Quakers, for these people regard the individual conscience as the best guide to action. Space colonies' existence would require something more like the Hutterites or the Mormons for its inhabitants... integration could not be risked on this delicate vessel, for fear of sabotage and terrorism. Only 'purification' would do.
Not surprisingly, a few days after landing, the space shuttle astronauts were greeted by Elder Neal Maxwell at the Mormon Tabernacle. "We honor tonight men who have seen God in all his majesty and power," he said and the 6000 member congregation responded, "Amen."
But --we hear the objection-- if these religious dinosaurs are the best allies of science fiction capitalism, why do they feud among each other, as it has recently happened in the creationism versus evolution legal debate? Isn't this a sign that even today there is a war between science and religion?? Not quite. The creationists do not necessarily -object to Darwinism as a theory- after all, a biblical day can be millions or billions of years long; neither do they object to the technology of gene splicing, for the Book saith:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
The real problem with evolutionary theory is strictly one of social control, particularly in its application to children, the future generation of workers, who notoriously dislike discipline, have "little understanding" and are thus prone to draw the "wrong" conclusions from the realisation that we come from the apes.
As Rev. Curtis Thom says:
I wonder if the fact that in classrooms now kids are being taught that everything evolved from a natural order, if that has some effect on the students' minds, that "Well, I'm not responsible to a creator?" If students understand that there may be a creation with a creator it could possibly make a child think that "If I did come from a creator, then perhaps I am responsible to that creator and before I violate somebody's rights, I'd better remember that I am responsible to somebody."
Similarly, when the head of the Creation Science Legal Fund was questioned in California as to his objections to evolution he replied that it reduces a child's respect for his elders because they were 'closer to the apes"!
"Evolution spawns a disrespect for authority, for moral values and for God himself," claims the author of a fundamentalist physical science text book, affiliated with Bob Jones University. "It destroys man by convincing him he is a mere accident of nature, a clever animal at best."
We may smile at the directness and naivete of these statements. Yet, they reflect an unadulterated acknowledgement of what are the foundations of capital's rule. A worldly scepticism may be tolerable --even advisable-- in a well trained adult. But when it comes to children, nothing can be as effective as the fear of God, Hell and Damnation to give them a proper and life-long mold. The future workers, whether they will deal with computers or a broom, must be formed in the cradles and breaking their will in the good, old time puritan fashion is a sine qua non condition of awakening their moral instincts.
Instilling fear of God's wrath --the main concern of the creationists-- is only the first step. To make the message clear, physical terror is conveniently added. Not all fundamentalists have gone as far as that minister in the Southwest who teaches catechism with the help of an electric chair, convinced that an electric shock administered every time God's' name is pronounced is the best means to imprint its memory in the child. "Doing away with the 'permissivism' in child rearing," it is called, which is but a ferocious determination to breakdown the child. (This is a constant, obsessive theme of the New Christian Right.)
The reintroduction of corporal punishment in the school and its complete legitimisation in the family is openly demanded, e.g., by the Family Protection Act which even proposes to cut all funds from any agency asserting the right of the child to defend him or herself from the violence of their parents and authorities. Thus recently, in Pennsylvania, when a child brutalised by his parents was placed by a center in a foster home, the local Moral Majority chapter went to court claiming that whipping was approved by the Bible, provided the child does not die.
The fight between creationism and evolutionism, then, is just an internal capitalist squabble as to what are the most adequate means of control. Until our social biologists and genetic engineers –the heros of today's scientific breakthrough-have found the means to create a perfect robot, the whip will do, particularly in an age still infected with the anarchic ideologies of the 60s, when a lot of bad germs have already been implanted in children and parents alike.
Moreover, the asceticism, self-control, the flight from the earth and the body which is the substance of puritan teaching, is the best soil in which capital's scientific and economic plans can flourish. Indeed, today, more consciously than ever, in its attempt to relocate itself on safer shores, capital is embracing the dream of all religion: the overcoming of all physical boundaries, the reduction of the individual human being to an angel-like creature, all soul and will.
In the creation of the electronic/ space worker, the priest of scientific exploration-exploitation of the universe, capital is fighting once again its historic battle against matter, attempting to break at once both the boundaries of the earth and the boundaries of "human nature" which, in its present form, present irreducible limits that must be overcome. The thrust to the organization of industries in space and the dematerialization of the body go together. For the former cannot be accomplished without the remolding of a whole nexus of needs, wishes, desires, that are the product of billions of years of material evolution on the planet and which up to now have been the material conditions of bio-social reproduction -- the blues, the greens, the nipple, the balls, the hair of the anus, the texture of oranges, beef, carrots, the wind and sea smell, the day light, the need for physical contact, SEX!!! The dangers of sexuality are emblematic of the obstacles capital encounters in the attempt to create a totally self-controlled being, capable of spending nights and nights alone, talking just to his computer, with his mind focused on nothing but the screen.
Can you afford to be horny or lonely in space? Can you afford to be jealous or have a marital breakdown?? What's the right attitude in this respect is indicated by a report on the South Pole Station in Antarctica that ostensibly was set up to study meteorological, astronomical and geographical conditions at the pole, but in reality is a big center for human experimentation: the study of human beings in conditions approaching that of space (isolation for many months, lack of a sensuous contact, etc.) This report states: As for sexual relations... all candidates were warned of the 'dangers' of sexual liaisons under the supercharged conditions here.
Celibacy was the best course...men think of nothing but sex for the first few weeks, then it is submerged until nearly the end of the winter. One worker reported, 'You just basically put it out of your mind. You are working all the time; there is no privacy.' Celibacy, abstinence: it is the last step in a long process whereby increasingly capital has decreased the sensuous-sexual content of our lives and encounters with people, substituting the mental image to the physical touch.
Centuries of capitalist discipline have gone a long way toward producing individuals who shrink from others for fear of touch. (See the way we live our social spaces: buses, trains, each passenger closed in its own space, its own body, keeping well defined, though invisible, boundaries; each person its own castle.) This physical as well as emotional isolation from each other is the essence of capitalist cooperation. But it as well as the dematerialization of all forms of our life finds their culmination in the inhabitant of the future space colony whose success depends on his ability to become a pure, totally purified, angel --who does not fuck, does not require the sensuous stimulations which are our daily nourishment on earth, but can live by solely feeding on its self-sufficient, self-centered will power.
Food as well goes out the window. Not even hamburgers and french fries any longer, but dehydrated food, recycled urine and (why not?) feces. Given the importance of oxygen and the closed nature of the space pod, the control of biological growth is essential to prevent diseases; thus, waste must be recycled: eat your awn shit and drink your own piss. For what is important is the "analytic diet" which is to provide the standardized chemical ingredients that the standard body needs in sufficient quantities and rates. The form this diet takes is not essential with the proviso that it must be completely antiseptic in order not to infect the surfaces of the space pod.
Here is a description of space food since the Mercury project days:
It's always been freeze-dried food which you add water to reconstitute, or what are called thermal-stablized foods, almost exactly the same thing you would get in canned peaches or pears, the type of food which don't need to add water to, or in the case of Sky Lab we also had about 10-15% of frozen foods, including filet mignon, and lobster and roast pork and vanilla ice cream for that matter.
So describes the happy astronaut: not far different from "earth" food. What is sinister about this menu is that much of our earth food is already approaching this "ideal" and "heavenly" food. It is clear that the vanguard in popularizing and developing this analytic diet on earth are the fundamentalists and Mormons themselves who, in preparation for the day of the Apocalypse, have already organized large mail order houses stocked with dehydrated food, thermal-stabilized food, canned foods as well as reserve gas tanks and arms (to defend your fundamentalist hole against commiee-faggot-lesbian-black-demons overlooked in the day of Judgement by the omniscience of the Lord). Their life-problematic is the same as that of the space worker, as they are preparing to survive for an indefinite period, surrounded by a hostile, likely radioactive, environment as well as remnants of enemy tribes.
For example, each Mormon or Latter-Day Saint, as they like to call themselves, is ordained to have a years’ supply of food on hand in readiness for the Apocalypse. Nuclear war and Apocalypse, flight to space and flight underground, urine drinking in earth as it is in Heaven: here Falwell and Weinberger have a lot to tell each other, much information to share, many clues to exchange...much reciprocal advice and enlightenment.
Not only are food and sex, but even the aggressive instinct, so to speak, is being dematerialized. No more hot hatred of a visible, dangerous enemy taking you by the throat or pointing his rifle at you. You must learn to kill a faceless enemy, a figure, a spot on a video screen plotted by your faithful computer. The training for this type of work comes from the contemporary video games ---U.S./Japan style-- which combine the abstractness of the opponent with the presence of your own self, undergoing attack, in the game. This, in fact, we are told, is the secret of their hypnotic power. Increasing the abstractness of the enemy body, reducing the person you destroy to a blip on a video machine: this is an essential element of death production which is likely to be the central product of space industrialization. Indeed, electronic war can become so abstract that unless your image is put into the video screen you're likely to forget that you can be destroyed yourself. The abstractness of the object of aggression is the essence of the lesson that is being taught to fundamentalist youth, who from an early age are told that all 'deviants' are the same --perfectly interchangeable-- as equal expressions of the abstract powers of evil.
From this point of view, all questions of "who", "what", "where" and "when" become irrelevant: a good practice for a politics of repression, and an excellent one for a policy of massive nuclear destruction, which requires building a type of. being who can accept the destruction of millions of bodies as an unpleasant, perhaps, but nevertheless necessary goal to cleanse the earth from all social deviation and struggle --a pollution much worse in the eyes of the fundamentalist than strontium 90.
To achieve this, a strategy of systematic isolation is necessary: breaking all bonds between ourselves and others and distancing ourselves even from our own body. (See the sexless space suit which creates a virtual bulk against all contact with other bodies and your own as well: you won't even be able to masterbate in space!!) Isolation is the name of the game and the electronic-TV preacher is the true hero of this game. The old bible-belt evangelists put their hands on the sinners. True, it was in an assembly line fashion: here a cancer, there some blindness. But it still had some contact; even in large revival meetings one could see the body of the healer and the bodies of their fellow creatures, feel their heat. (Hence the potential for trouble.)
The electronic church completely dematerializes the healer, who becomes a cool image duplicated on thousands of screens or a 'personal' comment in a letter written by a computer. One's main 'feedback' with the preacher is the monetary one: you send your money and he begins to pray for you. If you fall back on the payments, the prayers begin to lose their fervor until they end with the 'final notice'.
With the electronic preacher, social relations become so abstract that they are virtually substituted by an image. Interestingly enough, the followers of Falwell and Co. are mostly "southern" folks over 50 (there are about 10 million of them) for whom the radio-TV sermon serves the same function as the home computer for the high tech family: reproducing for you, in a purified-disembodied form, the relations/experiences of which you have been deprived in day-to-day life. They substitute dangerous, because unpredictable, human encounters with a gadget-produced sociality that can be turned off and shut down at will. It goes directly to the soul without passing through the body; clean, efficient, infinitely available at all hours of day and night. (In fact it can be recorded and replayed whenever you want--time too, not only space, is won!!!)
The Jerry Falwells of the land are for the poor, white, old folks what the Atari cassette and Apple mini-computer are for the moneyed youngster: the final training in a fetishism that is to lead to a longed-for symbiosis with the machine. Take Frank and Deirdre Patrick, an old couple living in a Bosstown suburb, who spend 30% of their income to support electronic ministers. Why? They cannot get out. Living in such a suburb there is no way you can move without a car, and the churches don't supply transportation much anymore --the state certainly won't.
So, what the hell do you do? At least you get some contact. "What a racket!" we say. Its base, however, shows an essential tendency of capitalist development, that is presently reaching its peak. This is the tendency to break the limits of matter and dematerialize life in all its forms, beginning with social life, increasingly reduced to a machine-produced package of images that substitute, duplicate and cover up the (much more dangerous) real thing. TV games, TV sex, TV preachers, TV shopping, TV thinking, TV living and dying...
Living with the machine, becoming like a machine: a desexualized angel, moving in the interstices of the engine, perfectly integrating work-space and life space as in the astronauts' pod, infinitely weightless because purified of the force of gravity, of all human desires/temptations --the ancient refusal of work finally negated. Capital's old dream of "human perfectibility" that loomed so prominent in the 16th and 17th century utopias, from Bacon to Descartes, seems ready at hand. Not only can we now answer the famous Puritan question, "What do the angels do in heaven?" but we even know how they feel. Here it's Wally Shirra talking:
Feeling weightless...I don't know, it's so many things together. A feeling of pride, of healthy solitude, of dignified freedom from everything that's dirty, sticky. You feel exquisitely comfortable, that's the word for it, exquisitely...You feel comfortable and you feel you have so much energy, such an urge to do things, such an ability to do things. And you work well, yes, you think well, you move well, without sweat, without difficulty, as if the biblical curse In the sweat of thy face and in sorrow no longer exists. As if you've been born again.
How petty life on earth seems from such heights... Said the nurse of some of the first astronauts:
Don't pay any attention to people who tell you they have such a wild look because of tension, of exhaustion, or joy at having made it. It's got nothing to do with these things. It's rage at having to come back to Earth. As if up there they're not only freed from weight, from the force of gravity, but from desires, affections, passions, ambitions, from the body.
No wonder capital is so careless with our earthly home, so eager to destroy it --the big bang of nuclear explosion-- destroying in one second millions of tons of matter --the perfect embodiment of the victory of the spirit over the earth-matter --as creative as the first act of God! Big Bang Big Phallus reduced to its pure, power-hungry essence, fucking this rotting Earth in its god-like aspiration to be free from all constraints. Faust in an angel/astronaut/space-worker face, a superman who does not need anybody, neither his own nor an other's, to have his will, not just on earth but in the universe as well.
So far however, few have reached this degree of perfection. If the human colonies project and industrialization in space must take off (by the mid-90s GM has calculated), the number of 'elects' must be drastically increased alternativist astronaut Russ Schweikart says…
I think that's the kind of gut reason that people react against the space program – the feeling that here is a pristine environment and we can’t take the present fallible character up there. We’ve got to perfect ourselves before we enter this new domain…
Here Calvin’s question becomes pregnant again. Many are called but who are the chosen? An essential ingredient of election is clearly a purified body. This is where, in assistance to the work the will, genetic engineering becomes all-important. For if a mouse can become a rabbit, so to speak, then it is certainly possible to create biological strains in humanity that literally would not shit.
Although the biological aspects of space colonies are usually discussed in terms of agriculture and husbandry, the question of human biology (especially the genetic material) is first on the agenda. One of the “commercial uses” of space colonies is the fast development of genetic strains:
…zero-g environment will assist in producing forms of genetic strains faster for use in the fields of agriculture, fermentation and animal husbandry. Once such agricultural or animal strains have been developed in orbit, the subjects may be transported to Earth for subsequent propagation.
Genetic engineers are not alone in their efforts. For decades now, under the guise of medical experimentation, a wide range of scientists have been working on methods of body control. From the [Themic?] Project, developed under the Eisenhower administration (and revived during the Vietnam war) that studied the body under ‘stressful conditions’ [note?] sensory deprivation, high acceleration, to the more recent research in the 1970s on the center of aggressivity and sexuality in the [????] (which presumably allowed you to bombard the brain with laser beams to produce the appropriate response, while avoiding the massive destruction of the tissue caused by lobotomy which makes one unfit for work) to the CIA experiments with hallucinogenic drugs: body-control, mind-control over the body has been a long ongoing obsession of capital’s planners.
Today, devices that were reserved in the past for the happy few are being popularised, consistent with the increasing need for a larger pool of the derivative new beings. Thus, you can now have home computers who say “hello” to you when you wake up in the morning, work with you from nine to five, entertain you at night with video games--easy playmates who won't quarrel...won't bother you.
"Good morning, this is Breslin," says the computer giving the daily wake-up call over the intercom. Following this message, it gives the time, forecasts the weather, mentions the day's appointments and turns on the radio for the news. Breslin also starts perking the morning coffee, monitors the burglar alarm, keeps track of checking accounts, opens the garage door, controls the heating, cooling and lighting systems, addresses Christmas cards and plays an electronic "Happy Birthday" when appropriate.
This certainly beats the old TV and even the love play between oneself and the car. Home computers are responsive to their owners, you can do things together – it is the ideal tool for an efficient, clean untroublesome emotional reproduction, capable at the same time of computational depths that easily rival the intellectual requirements of our usual social relations – particularly when these social relations have been already so mechanised and alienated by overwork, stress and all the other amenities of our present life. Reproduction, then, becomes extremely simplified and at the same time we gain, presumably, a useful if not indispensable training for our passage to the new world.
Along the same lines is the current vogue for ‘sensory deprivation tanks’ that are being sold already to thousands of people and advertised as the ultimate tool for home relaxation.
Here too, the pauperisation of our social relations and their transformation into work is a necessary condition for appreciating the joys of hearing nothing, seeing nothing and nobody – forgetting the world and yourself with it.
No wonder then, that capital’s planners and scientists today claim they are on the verge of breaking a new frontier, whose effects on peoples’ minds will be of the same magnitude as Marco Polo and Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World. The model, in fact, of the colonisation in space and the concomitant new worlds of the mind is the colonisation of the world by European capitalism in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Interest in this new frontier will be largely American, we are assured. It will fulfil “our” need to escape an overpopulated world, Earth, with its sad spectacle of warring tribes, dwindling resources and insufficient realisation that American interests reign supreme, for clearly nothing but God’s will is manifested in it.
The Catholic Church [presented?] and followed the armies of the conquistadors, joining the cross to the sword in their [co????] genocide of the Indian populations of [????] America. This time, as no infidels waiting to be converted seem to be living in space (so far), the work of our fundamentalist Christians is much simplified.
All they have to do, is to be seen and prepare the technocratic angels who will enter the new sacred realm and [assist?] [?????] making sure that no disturbing element can climb in the space craft.
Following a well established NASA tradition, one can be sure that blond, white and male will be the winning recipe. Most important, no conflicting values will be allowed on board. As Garrett Hardin points out:
A space colony is a precision instrument, far more delicate in its construction and far more vulnerable to sabotage than is our massive earth. How can such a fragile craft withstand the buffeting of warring tribes? ...People of great originality and independence of spirit would be intolerable in the spaceship community, particularly if they belonged to different tribes...to survive it would have to have only one tribe in it.
This means Totalitarianism. In fact, all discussion about the social structure of space work ends with the agreement that the political form of the future space station will be a "rationalistic dictatorship". In the words of Gerald O'Neill, the enthusiastic promoter of the space colony concept:
If you look at the situation of sailing ships when they were out for months or years at a time...it's been found that a dictatorship is what works ....It's a survival mechanism essentially because it reduces conflict. There's nothing that produces conflict more than an ill-defined situation of authority.
A society of angels, ruled by God, and motivated by purely spiritual-religious-patriotic concerns. The adventure of space colonization will not be a "New America" in the sense of being the dumping ground of castaways, misfits and slaves. The need for total identification with the work-project, total obedience, total self-discipline and self-control, is so high that, according to NASA, even the old forms of reward should be immediately ruled out:
High monetary incentive should not be used for space colonization recruiting because it attracts the wrong people. Furthermore, it would be unhealthy for the community as well as for the individuals concerned to make efforts to retain 'misfits' in the extra-terrestrial community. It would be healthier to return them to Earth, even though this might seem more expensive.
Work without a wage. It is the essential capitalist utopia where the work and repression becomes its own reward and all the refusers are cast out into the cold stellar night. We have finally reached their limit.
Rev. Falwell came to L.A. in Nov. 1981. The Convention Center was hired and 3000 people were expected. With their usual care, using a computerized mailing, the Moral Majority succeeded in keeping Falwell's arrival an open secret, though thousands knew he was coming they were the 'right ones'! Electronic preachers never want to meet the devils in the flesh. But here the Leak occurred. An employee of the Center leaked the news to the gay community only three days before the dinner.
How could an effective action be raised against him quickly? Luckily there was a Charlie Murphy concert on the night of the leak, Falwell's visit was announced at the concert and at midnight a group got together with only two principles: anyone making a suggestion should be prepared to carry it out; though each task group ran according to consensus, the action decisions of the task groups were binding on the larger group. They agreed the demo should look good to the media AND be fun for the demonstrators: The people coming to the demo were asked to bring large pink triangles and just a few banners like "BEWARE OF PROPHETS".
So there was a carefully prepared backdrop behind the two spokespeople, a man and a woman in gold headbands. The demonstrators were there for the fun, to sing a lot of new songs, dance and play with a beauty of bodies and faces to show the passing Falwell diners there was an attractive alternative not out to eat them. By the way, though the dinners were free and Falwell invested $40,000, he got back $200,000. The profits are going to his latest project: a huge "Tomb for the Unborn". Some of the demonstrators also went to dinner and now are on his mailing list: Falwell Beware, the Channel Widens.
Ironically, in their struggle to subvert the absolutism of the scientific educators, the creationists took up a kind of "methodological anarchism" and claimed for "creation science" a relativistic status, i.e., as a theory among others with pluses and minuses (as every theory has!).
As the professional scientists huffed and puffed about Arkansas Act 590 of- 1981, the 'equal treatment' act, they failed to take up a possibility the Act offered, viz., an opportunity to question the absolute value of science itself. When S.J. Gould so self-righteously inveighed: "scientific creationism was a 'ruse' to purvey religion (and a narrow sectarian concept of religion at that) in science classrooms," he might have wondered whether the method of teaching science "in the classroom" now is as absolutist as the "sectarian" form he so openly despises!
A curriculum including a number of theories (why stop with the creation story) might very well have brought to the fore the question: what makes the present theory so right? What about alternatives? Judge Overton, who ruled against the creationists, was more worried about the consequences of the loss of authority of both science and religion if mixed, for then the kids could see the authoritarianism of both. That would be letting too much of the stage machinery show at too tender an age.
Prologue to the Use of Machines
Midnight Notes on automation and the refusal of work
This is a voyage in the manifold of work, in search for an escape from it. This manifold is now irresistibly expanding. Is it bound to absorb everything having to do with human life? Or is it going to find a limit to its expansion and become a closed, controlled universe in the larger manifold of all human activities?
This article represents also the clash between the authors’ minds irreparably crippled by a modern scientific education and their direct experience of antagonistic social movements, which seem to move beyond any logic shared by scientific theories. Here we refer especially to the 1977 movement in Italy, one of the first modern organised expressions of the "refusal of work". At that time thousands of people started thinking of how a society can be built outside the rule of work. Many responses were clearly naive. The movement was repressed. But the reasons behind it are more alive than ever. Many, like us, schizoid products of a prodigious outburst of creativity and of its failure, compelled into the narrow patterns of the society of work, still keep thinking of the 'dream'; aware that it is a dream only as far as the present reality is a nightmare.
We decided that our schizoid attitude, a source of uneasiness for us, has to be taken as a challenge: we must explore the limits of science and discover its relation to a world without work... This is a beginning.
Work: The Thermal Machine
First of all, what is work? We need a precise definition. Here is not the place to examine critically the various definitions of work used today, from the common sense one to the most sophisticated concepts. The new one we introduce has a rigorous basis and far reaching consequences, as we will see. To illustrate our point, let us go back to that important historical period in which human work started being replaced by machines on a new and seemingly unlimited basis: the passage from manufacture to industry allowed by the invention of the thermal machines. The introduction of machines into the working process brought for the first time an objective definition of what is work. After the introduction of machines work was not related anymore to the workers' physical effort, but only to the results produced by it. Physical effort has been irrelevant since them.
Indeed, the worker, as soon as the result of his/her work can be compared with the obtainable by means of a machine, is paid according to the result of his/her work, not according to the amount of physical effort implied in it.
WORK IS WORK AS FAR AS IT CAN BE COMPARED WITH THE WORK OF A MACHINE. Work is measured by the work of machines. This definition or representation of human work by means of machines is the first abstraction of human work. It is significant that the historical emergence of this abstraction was contemporary to the emergence of the definition of work in physics:
Work = Force X Displacement,
which is exactly the definition of a thermal machine's work. Let us consider a few consequences of this definition of work which from now on we also will call "the formal representation of human work by means of machines."
1. This definition of work defines consequently the social area of work as the area of those human activities that are comparable with or representable by machines -- therefore somehow these activities are the mechanized or mechanizable ones.
2. All other activities were excluded, they were not work. Housework for the most part, play, thinking, calculating, etc., were excluded from the manifold of work.
3. Thermal machines and machine-tools, on which the first abstraction of human work was based, are characterized by their cyclic activity: the same movements repeated cyclically. This established the main feature of work: repetitive-ness.
4. This definition of work gave a sanction in the work process itself to the law according to which the amount of produced value is proportional to the average time socially necessary to produce it. The relevant point is that now --i.e., after the formal representation became operative-- this law does not appear as a result of a complicated social interaction (the average time), but becomes embodied in the machines themselves: the produced value is proportional to the time a machine takes to produce it.
As we said before, the formal representation of working activity (by means of machines) excluded for a long time many activities which are now considered work. In particular it excluded any computing activity, data analyzing and processing and so on.
The fact that such activities are not considered work is due to a generalization of the formal representation, which has to be considered effective starting from the Great Depression or World War II.
To understand this new step in the abstraction of human work, let us observe that, once working activity is defined as that measurable by the machines' activity, it is implied that it will undergo the same generalizations as the activity of machines will. Nowadays machines are able to replace not only the part of human activity that consists of mechanically repeated movements, but also the part called computation and data processing. It is a superior activity, not reducible to mere repetitiveness. As this is the main topic of this article, we will treat it in detail.
Work The Logical Machine
We can give a description of the logical machine as simple as it is fruitful. The idea is Turing's and it was presented in this form by Davis in 1958. The machine is made of:
1) a tape divided into squares of the same size, which can run from left to right;
2) a device which can perform four elementary operations on this tape, one for each unit time:
a) it can write '1' on a square if it is blank, i.e., if it is =0.
b) it can erase '1' from a square, write '0',
c) it can shift the tape by one place to the right,
d) it can shift the tape by one place to the left.
Each operation is controlled by an instruction. Therefore a logical (Turing) machine can be identified with the set of instructions which define it.
To make it work we only need to insert a tape with as many 1's as the input integer or integers and then read how many 1's there are when the machine stops. This is the output. As one sees, it is not a very complicated mechanism, but we can show that this very simple machine can do whatever an electronic computer can, and vice versa. Therefore this supplies us with a good description of what numerically controlled systems and electronic computers are. This is not all. We can build a Turing machine that generates all possible Turing machines (or at least the set of instructions that define them), one after another. That is, for any given integer it gives us as an output a set of instructions constituting a Turing machine. And the machines obtained in this way exhaust all possible Turing machines in a list which, unfortunately, is infinite.
Anyhow, we have a representation of all possible Turing machines that today's science and technology can supply.
So much for mathematics.
With the logical machine we reach a new level in the generalization of the concept of work. Therefore we can give the following definition of computational work or, simply, work. We call 'computational work' the work that can be done either by a system which includes a thermal machine plus a machine tool, or by one or more such systems controlled by a logical machine, or by a logical machine itself.
Now remember that we are interested in two different kinds of questions. The first is about how far machines can replace human work; in other words, about the machines' limits. The second is: why is not computational human work completely replaced by machines?
Let us call a 'function" any sequence of operations, either abstract or concrete. The relevant problem here is to decide whether a given function can be worked out by a machine or not. In other words, whether such a function is computable or not.
We can find immediately an example of a non-computable function: the problem of deciding whether any function is computable or not is not computable. In other words, there exists no machine capable of deciding whether there exists a machine which can replace any given human activity in general! (For a proof of this result see the footnotes.)
This is an example of the limits inherent to the present machines. About the limits of machines much has been written since Godel's Theorem, both in connection with logic and with effective computability.
Very roughly speaking, the common background of these discussions is that any mechanical system (including the Turing machine in its mathematical form or the logical rules of deduction of any axiomatic system) cannot control completely any language powerful enough as to "speak about itself", any language in which you can construct "strange loops". Indeed the structure of indecidability proofs goes back, even if in a very sophisticated way, to an old logical problem, the so-called semantic or 'Liar' paradox. For example, if I say, "I am lying" am I saying the truth or a falsehood? Deciding which is not easy. Indeed, if I lie then I tell the truth, and therefore I do not lie. If I tell the truth then I do not lie, and so I do lie. This looks like a word game and it appears to be unimportant for everyday life...but it is extremely important for logical machines (as well as all forms of struggles).
The point is that using a language capable of 'speaking about itself' means being able to reflect upon one's own state which is the pre-requisite to modifying it. Therefore, what is called innovation, for example, seems to be so far a characteristic pertaining not to machines but exclusively to humans.
This has not to be construed as a self-celebrating assertion. It means that we are not reducible to machines qua workers, but it also means that work is not exhausted by computational work. Not only that. We had better add that in the division of work, hierarchy represents also a classification of work according to its non-computational computational content: the more one goes down in the hierarchical scale, the closer s/he gets to pure computational work, while decision, innovation and certain forms of reproduction has rather to be looked for in the upper levels of Hierarchy. The organization of work is characterized by the division between computation and non-computational content.
In 'our' economic system, the rule determining the process of substitution of computational work by machines is simple and rigorous: a worker is replaced by a machine when the cost per unit product for the work is greater than for the machine. The variables coming into play as far as the cost per unit product is concerned are:
1) cost of the machine (engineering and manufacturing cost);
2) energy cost for operating the machine;
3) cost of labor.
It is easy to see that the present trend consists in increasing (1) and (2) and decreasing (3). To this, the high cost of money should be added. The present economic trend does not suggest that capital is going to utilize the substitution process unless it is forced to do so.
Now we have a clear framework of the relation between human work and machines. Before we proceed in our analysis, which is far more ambitious, let us consider a few consequences of what we have been saying. The connections here are far less rigorous than the exact theorems quoted before. Nonetheless, we think they are suggestive. The term "formal representation of human work by means of machines" does not mean simply the abstraction ensuing from the fact that human work is measured by comparing it to machines.
It also has another important implication: society is not formalized on the basis of the overall activity of each individual, but according to the formal representation of his/her activity, or, in other words, to the computational work part of his/her activity.
For the latter determines salary, working hours, social status, it formally separates classes, it cuts off dropouts. In other words, it determines the 'official' or formal society. It does not matter what one does outside his/her working place, outside his/ her working time. What matters is his/her being at the right time in the work place to perform the operation required from him/her. And the more this operation is performed in a machine style, the better. This is what he/she is paid for.
From these examples we see that the formal society is, roughly speaking, the area where money circulates. No wonder. Indeed, the characteristic of all machines (not only the thermal ones), viz., the rigorous Law of Value= the Value of the Product is proportional to the working time of the machine, extends now to all activities encompassed by the formal representation. Maybe it is worth reminding that this law is the basis of money.
So--we say it again--the only activity one is paid for is that measurable by machine's work: what one is paid for is the result of one's working activity in the standard form determined by the work of machines, that is the result of the repetitive and/or computational activity. What is not comparable in any way, with this kind of activity, is incommensurable with respect to machines' activity, is not measurable in terms of money (reproduction in part, innovation, play, etc.)
One might object at this point that, after all, also decision-making officials, managers, scientists, etc., have a salary not completely unlike any other salary; that there are 'welfare' and 'unemployment' salaries; that also for some aspects of reproductive work a wage is provided. But these activities are treated according to the formal representation of work anyway, to get some evaluation however incomplete, e.g., the conditions the state applies to AFDC income to measure 'mother-work'. This pervasive feeling of incompleteness corresponds to the common sense realization that the formal representation is an incomplete grid in order to assess the activity of a person. Being compared to some machine allows sometimes a very rough assessment, though at times it appears as a distorting mirror for reality. Nonetheless it forms the basis of the formal society.
All these seem to be quite conspicuous exceptions to the previous scheme. But they are not. We reverse the argument. The fact that jobs like decision-making, inventing, 'doing nothing', re-producing, etc., are treated according to the formal representation of work, is a striking example of its ubiquitous pervasiveness.
The point is that in our society there is no other rule than the formal representation (or Law of Value, if we prefer), and money represents, warrants and enforces it simultaneously. Despite its apparent incompleteness, the formal society (that is, the social embodiment of the formal representation) pretends to exhaust the whole society, its variety, in particular wealth, through money. So, as for the above mentioned exceptions, the formal society has no choice but to treat them according to the general rule lest the entire construction crumble, but also because there is no other available criterion.
We may wonder how this pretence can work. To understand this point, we resort to a figure of speech taken from applied mathematics: approximation. Approximation is an operative device used when a rigorous approach is either too hard or impossible. It is interesting to notice that nobody has ever deemed it worthwhile to study the nature of approximation. Approximation is almost miraculous, it reaches everywhere. With the help of computers we can approximate, or simulate, any function from the simplest estimates in scientific research to the very complex evolution of economic parameters.
Now let us take approximation, or simulation, as a category and apply it to our scheme: the formal society (the machine-based society) manages to approximate, or simulate, the real society up to the point of being confused with it. The fact that the formal representation of work can approximate the real society creates the illusion that it is complete, that it is the essence of society, that it is the just and true representation of society; and, even deeper, it creates the idea that a representation of society is possible and necessary.
Looking at the scenario just drawn, we could also argue in the opposite way with a strange result. There exists a skeleton-society formed by all existing machines, which we call the system of machines: and we could say, correctly, that it simulates the real society only as far as society agrees to stick to the formal representation of the working activity, or as far as society agrees to stick to machines' behavior, or in short, agrees to simulate it. Our work, inasmuch as it is repetitive or computational activity, is a simulation of machines' work. It is a simulation in the sense that it is unnecessary, it is already out of date, and thus we simulate a society where this work is necessary. The circus of history, if any, is here.
So far we have given little consideration to that crazy variable: the human being. As a matter of fact, the whole story could be regarded as an attempt to define the human by means of machines, or to find a "rationality" in humans. But human activity is far more complex than simply mimicking machines, even when they are computers. As we have anticipated, the formal representation excludes many activities which are essential for human life such as play, love, fancy; and for the reproduction of the machines' system, such as the reproduction of the labor farce.
This results in a myriad of small deviations from the norms of formal society: a social fermentation fluctuating around the point of minimal desires represented by the official society. These phenomena have hardly been studied, the most usual attitude being to call them abnormal or irrational. This is not the place to analyze the enormous complexity of these phenomena. We want to point out that maybe the most important of them concerns the attitude toward work. It is more than a simple fluctuation, it is by now a hardly ignorable concretion which has reached the status of a social law: the refusal of work. The system of machines is incomplete both in the sense that the machinery is kept anachronistically underdeveloped and in the sense that the formal representation of society by means of today's machines is far from being a complete representation of human activity. The refusal of work pushes toward the completion of the machines' system and, necessarily, the elimination of the formal representation.
All the social noise produced by the refusal of work and similar and related fluctuations affects the orderly deployment of the formal representation. In particular, the Law of Value, which is a rigorous law when applied immediately to the working process, has to come to compromises and is apparently only an average law when applied to the entire society. The fact that it holds as a rigorous law in the working process and as an average law in general, is a direct consequence of the incompleteness of the machines' system. This in turn dictates the necessity of a ruling apparatus (state, corporations, police, ad nauseam) whose function is to enforce the validity of the law. Here we find a strong, fascinating suggestion that the ruling apparatus is an image of the incompleteness of the machines' system.
The Wealth of Nations
After this long parenthesis, let us go back to our main subject. We saw that the present economic trend is not to utilize spontaneously the process of substitution of human work by machines. In order to see the possibilities of the substitution process beyond the 'objective' compatibilities imposed by profit, we have to proceed further with our analysis of the machines' system.
We have seen that no machine exists that can govern the innovation process, and that the non-computational human activity has the function of governing the language of innovation; that is, a language powerful enough to think of itself and which the machines cannot control.
We can say that, as far as goods production is concerned, the main activity, as the computational work is replaced by machines, is to build an information channel --the language-- governing and codifying computational work. Indeed, we saw that logical machines, even though very powerful, are reducible to a few fundamental operations. The substitution process is therefore the effort to reduce work (when it is computational work, of course) to combination as complicated as one likes of those elementary operations --i.e., the four basic operations of the Turing machine.
Let us analyze this point in greater detail. To this end we resort to information theory. In such a theory, the typical scheme is the following: An example is the telegraph: the source is the message we want to transmit, the codification consists in translating it into dots and dashes and then into electronic pulses, the channel is a wire, the decodification transforms the electronic pulses into dots and dashes and finally into alphabetic letters for the reciever.
If we consider a source emitting signals chosen from a finite alphabet, a1, a2,...,aK, with the probability that each letter will be emitted, p(a1), p(a2),...,p(aK), we can define the amount of information contained in a letter, a1, of the alphabet by -log,p(a1). The meaning of this definition is the following: -log2p(a1) is a function that increases as p(a1) decreases, so that a very frequently used letter (with a large probability) contains little information, while the occurrence of letter with a small probability (and so infrequently used) implies more information. Thus in any English message the letters 'e', 'a', or 't' which occur frequently would have a small informational quantity while the letters 'z', 'q' or 'x' would have a large information content.
The measure that is used to give the average amount of information that a source emits is called its entropy and is defined as: -
There is an important connection between entropy and the homogeneity of a system. Let us consider the simplest example. Suppose the source is someone who tosses a coin and wants to let another know the result. How much information does he need? That depends on the coin. If the coin is perfectly balanced (probability of heads=probability of tails=k), the amount of information, or entropy, is maximal, while if the coin is 'weighted' (for example, the probability of heads=.9 and the probability of heads=.1) then the source needs less information to communicate the result.
The basic idea is that the more the system is inhomogenous the more it is predictable (and so has less entropy) and therefore it needs less information to be codified or decodified into a language.
We need another important concept from information theory: channel capacity. Channel capacity is the amount of information that can be transmitted per unit time. One of the fundamental theorems in information tells us that, for us to be able to decodify a message, the rate of transmission (amount of information transmitted per unit time), must not be greater than the ratio of the channel capacity to the entropy of the source.
Let us consider this condition. If the entropy of the source is large and the channel capacity is small then the rate of transmission possible is going to be very small. If, on the other hand, the channel capacity is large and the entropy of the source is small the possible rate of transmission can be quite large.
Now let us notice that the substitution process is a process of codification/decodification by the non-computational work. We have seen that the substitution process means the decomposition (codification) of work into simple operations (the four operations of the Turing machine) and the recombination (codification) of these operations into complex machines. The channel that allows this transformation is a complex social mechanism. At its core is non-computational work.
It seems inevitable that the channel capacity increases as a consequence of human work being replaced by machines. Indeed, the more the substitution process goes on, the more 'complex' are the areas of human activities that are candidates for being replaced by machines. That has two consequences. The first is that the 'number of messages per unit time' to be sent through the channel increases, so that the channel capacity must increase proportionally. The second is that these more complex areas are more homogenous, or less inhomogenous. Inhomogeneity is here synonymous with structure: an activity is more inhomogeneous the more it is organized in the sense of the machines' system, or the more it has mechanical structure. In reverse the point can be made in this way: an activity is homogeneous if it lacks a rigid mechanical structure, is fluid and complex. Putting it in terms of an equation:
Complexity = Lack of Structure = Homogeneity = unpredictability.
As a consequence of the increasing homogeneity of the more complex activities being mechanized the entropy of the source increases. This is a second factor that requires a higher channel capacity.
We have shown that the operation of the substitution process requires the widening of the social channel capacity. There is macroscopic evidence of this. Let us define 'primary information sector' as the part of the economy that concerns computers, telephones, media, telecommunications, and 'secondary information sector' as instruction and management. Then in the U.S., the wage bill for the workers of the information sector is larger than the corresponding bills for agriculture, industry and services together. Almost half of the GNP concerns the production and distribution of information goods and services.
If we agree that the channel capacity must be proportional to the information sector, we have rough but clear evidence that the continuous introduction of machinery in the past years has been accompanied by an increasing channel capacity of the system.
Now let us try a few extrapolations based on the scheme we have just presented. Our ultimate aim is to state that channel capacity is a more abstract form of wealth than money, which is the present officially recognized and undisputed representative of wealth.
First of all we must clarify that there exists no parallelism between money and channel capacity. They pertain to two different conceptual stages. Money should rather be compared with information. Is there any equivalence between information and money?
We can reduce information to money in the sense that information can be bought and sold. But this is an improper equivalence. Indeed, transferring money to someone else implies losing its value, but this is not true anymore for information. We can say that the circulation of money does not increase wealth, whereas the circulation of information does.
There exists the possibility for information to represent money. Most money exchanges among banks are via computers without moving real currency. Therefore an informational channel can represent a channel for the circulation of money. But it is much more difficult for a money flow to represent an information channel.
One way in which money represents information is given by the oscillations in the exchange rates of the various national currencies with respect to one another, which has become lately the so-called 'monetary chaos'. From this the economic operator can decodify information and make decisions. However, this is an information channel only in a very particular way, because only the big owners of money (in the form of fixed or financial capital) can have access to it. Money does not undergo any transubstantiation, it does not lose its very material characteristic of being owned, of representing 'property', of being a tool for controlling labor.
To maintain these characteristics of money today, the ruling apparatus is ready to diminish the circulation of money (mostly by means of high interest rates) to stifle the rates of growth of the world's economies and to impose forcibly the monetary order up to the use of war.
Why is this so? We think we have already answered this question when we remarked that the ruling apparatus is a mirror image of the incompleteness of the machines' system. Society pushes toward its completion, rendering the ruling apparatus a more and more obsolete structure. We do not mean to underestimate the complexity of the power system of our society, but it is clear that its consolidated material interests are reason enough to explain its reluctance to get out of history. Its present reaction is a typical attempt to go back in the history of social evolution. The crucial move is to narrow the channel capacity of the social system to the point that the only information channel is the circulation of money. Capital displays a good deal of clear-sightedness in this move, which corresponds to the (correct!) perception that a widening information channel is the worst enemy for the ruling apparatus.
But we have seen that the channel capacity is already enormously developed, so this move is only an expedient to perpetuate the system of power, eventually bound to be defeated. But this does not mean that it lacks effectiveness in sabotaging the social wealth. On the contrary, the damage the ruling apparatus is doing is incalculable.From the opposite point of view, labor has a reason to exist only as long as, on the one hand, its computational work cannot be replaced by machines, and, on the other hand, there does not exist a channel powerful enough to render effective the transformation of non-computational work into wealth. For channel capacity represents wealth and the circulation of wealth in its most abstract form.
Since channel capacity is not reducible to a commodity, the process of wealth reappropriation must assume new forms. It cannot be conceived of any more as the possession of the means of production. Channel capacity can be used not owned. Owning it means stopping the circulation of information, thereby destroying wealth. The ruling apparatus is strangling the channel capacity with its present policy. Winning means freeing the channel. Widening the channel capacity is a complicated social task and we do not mean to dispose of it in a simplistic way. But it is clear with the naked eye that socializing the channel, namely increasing the number and variety of users, implies by itself increasing the channel capacity. Therefore, freeing the channel means not only getting rid of all the obstacles that obstruct the social access to it, but also inventing socializable techniques of atomized condification/decodification (direct and in real time) of the social system.
Work: The Thermal Machine
the themal machines:
In a strict sense, by a thermal machine we mean any device transforming heat into work. The steam engine was the first industrialized way of transforming naturally stored energy into work. However here we are not interested in the process of transforming energy into work, but in the fact that a thermal machine is characterized by a cyclic activity. For historical reasons we call "thermal machine" any device with the same characteristics, for example an electric engine, a machine-tool to which a thermal or electrical machine is applied, etc. So thermal machine is a term to express a general idea in the same sense as, later on. we will call 'Turing machine' any computing device. We emphasize again that in this article the particular way of transforming energy into work is irrelevant.
the law...the average time socially necessary to produce it:
There is indeed a contradiction between the "machine measure of work" and the "value measure of work".
The first measure is the ultimate 'shop floor' measure that can be used to evaluate present worker performance. It is the precisely defined ideal that can be used by all sorts of bosses to discipline workers with the inevitable threat (an extremely ambiguous one at that) of replacing the worker with a machine. What is called Taylorism is exactly this specification of the machine ideal turned into a "science". The worker is to be mechanized as much as possible (both in a thermal and logical sense) under the threat of being replaced by the machine he is to mimic: John Henry squeezed between the steam hammer and the foreman until his heart bursts.
But the machine measure of work is by no means identical to the value measure of work. One of the main differences is temporal. The machine measure can be applied to past and present work, but a value evaluation of present work is necessarily post factum (indeed, many times taking years).The value measure of work requires that the present product (the crystalization of abstract labor) go through a whole social cycle involving innumerable factors extraneous to the immediate conditions of production. Thus quite literally the capitalist "Does not know what he hath done"! Similarly the worker does not really know what quantity of his activity has been turned into work at the moment of exhuding it. This is ultimately a consequence of the social nature of capital which can have cruel consequences on both the working class as a whole (sometimes 'struggle' can produce values) and individual capitalists (after so much "effort" they go bankrupt and it was all "for nothing".)
But though capital can exist post factum, capitalists cannot. They must have a measure that is immediately applicable, "objective" and "effective". Thus the eternal attraction of the machine: a worker sans the refusal of work. But there's the rub: the lack of refusal of work is barbed with the machine's inability to produce value. Thus the ideal system of machines can only be partially realized, necessarily, for if the ideal were realized totally capital would disappear, no value nor surplus value would be produced.
Inversely, the working class is beguiled by the same ambiguity of the machine. On the one side, the machine is the measurer and counter of the drudgery of work (either potentially or actually) and in effect the intensifier and lengthener of the working day; but on the other side, it has within it the Utopia of Zerowork. Hence with and alongside the Luddites we have Bill Sykes' observation:
"Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveller has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife, must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery, as it is knowing in anatomy? And in addition a willing help at the festive board? If you abolish the knife--you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism."
The tension within working class movements toward machines (thermal and/or logical) has its roots in the very logic of the struggle against capital, in the end it cannot be resolved until capital itself is destroyed, and an evaluation of pre-capitalistic and hence pre-mechanistic knowledge can begin.
Work: The Logical Machine
there exists no machine...which can replace a given human activity:
A function relates any given number with a number. For example, the square function associates 2 with 4, 3 with 9, 4 with 16, 5 with 25, 6 with 36 and so on. A Turing machine computes functions by simply applying a 'clerical procedure' on an input number and systematically processing it until an output result is computed. It computes a function if for any given input number it computes an output number that is identical to the number the function associates with the input number. The 'clerical procedure' a Turing machine uses is literally the program of the machine and it is built out of the four elementary operations listed.
Now we can ask the question: can any function be computed by some Turing machine? In other words, are all possible functions computable?
In order to answer this question think of the set of all Turing machines. Though there are an infinite number of them, they can be put in a fixed, linear order because the programs (i.e., the rules that fix the clerical procedures they go through) define these machines, and these program can be put in a lexicographic order the way a librarian orders books by their titles. So we can literally list all possible Turing machines: Z1 , Z2, Z3, ……… Z132…..; this list is clearly infinite and for each whole number there is a distinct Turing machine. For example, Z254 is the Turing machine that is in the 254th place in the list.
[Figure 2 - a chart illustrating the above -p20 in the original PDF]
Now we are in a position to draw up a table where on the left side going top down is the list of all Turing machines in order while across the top of the table is simply the list of whole numbers from 1 to infinity. The entries in the table are the output numbers that the Turing machine of that row computes when the whole number on top of the column is the input number. Thus in the table in front of us which we are using for illustration the entry on the second row second column is 21 because the second Turing machine on the master list computes as an output number 21 when the input number is 2. Now a little care is necessary! Let us define the following function on the basis of this table, for any number n the function T will give the following result:
T(n) = n
if and only if the nth Turing machine when given as its input number n does not have as its output result the number n;
otherwise let T(n) = 0
Just to get the feel for this function we see that it has only to do with the diagonal of the table (and that's why it is sometimes called a 'diagonal proof') and that its first five values are T(1)=1, T(2)=2, T(3)=0, T(4)=4, T(5)=0 and so on.
This is a perfectly correct function, it associates numbers with numbers in a perfectly determinate way. But is it computable? If it is then there is a Turing machine that generates it. If that is the case, this Turing machine must be found in the list of all Turing machines, so let us call it Zr. If Zr exists it can be found on the left hand side of the table and the results of its computations can be found there also.
But now let us consider the r-th entry on the r-th row of the table. What is it to be? By our definition of the function T, the function that Zr is to compute, we have the following two choices: either T(r)=r or T(r)=0. If, however, T(r)=r then the entry found in the r-th place of the r-th row of the table cannot be r 11 definition (now is the time to look back at the definition of T!) but this leads to a contradiction!
For if Zr computes T then the r-th place of the r-th must be r. So let us consider the other alternative: T(r)=0, but if that is the case then the r-th place in the r-th row will have r in it! But that would make it impossible for Zr to compute T!
So we can conclude that there is no Turing Machine that computes T, and so we have a function that is not computable. Now the reader might think that the above proof is just a trick. But infect this proof is exactly analogous to a famous mathematical proof of the late-19th century (the original 'diagonal proof') that demonstrated that the infinity of points on a line or in space is or an order higher (indeed infinitely higher) than the whole numbers (1,2,3,...). I.e., the continuum is a radically different thing than the discrete arithmetic of whole numbers can capture (a rigorous expression of Bergson's intuition). But the remarkable thing is the ability to approximate the infinite richness of the continuum with the relative and infinite paucity of the whole numbers. For those who will see a significance here in terms of the relation of capital to the wealth produced by living activity, we wish them well and hope the effort has been worth it!
This theorem was proven at the beginning of the Great Depression of the 30s and it, along with Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle", forms one of the crucial limits of capitalist science. It can be stated quite simply: there is no formal system that can prove every truth of arithmetic. The reasons for this result are much more subtle, but roughly one could say that any system that could even begin to attempt to prove every arithmetic truth would be powerful enough to "reflect" its own mechanism of proof within itself and so would generate paradoxes like the Liar, i.e., it would create the space for a "strange loop".
it creates the idea that...is possible and necessary:
In a similar vein see Marx on fetishism, especially Capital, vol. I, chap. 1, sec. 4.
only and average law...entire society:
The average we refer to is not the same as the sort of arithmetic average that can be inferred from the marxian statement of the law of value: an average referring to different conditions of production in different factories and industrial branches. This kind of average of course exists, but we ask the reader to abstract from it. What we want to stress here is the inevitable compromise which is a consequence of the formal representation trying to exhaust the whole society. So the average refers to the formal representation trying to cover all the non-computational activity which is being developed in our society and which is in fact not representable by machines' work. In a sense we are dealing here with a political average, even though this is too poor a word to express the complexity of what is understood.
The Wealth of Nations
The source's entropy...the average source's information:
Take two sources, the first transmitting alphabetical letters in a completely random way and the second using the same symbols to transmit English sentences. In the second case the letter 'e' is more frequent than any other letter. So the information contained in a transmitted letter 'e' is less than the amount of information transmitted through another letter, say 'q'. Further, the entropy is higher for the first source than for the second. In fact one can show that the entropy is maximum when the frequency of the different symbols is the same. This explains once again the fact that high homogeneity is related to high entropy, while the existence of structure (the presence of some kind of coherence) implies low entropy.
The basic idea...decodified into a language:
Any behavior that is full of surprises is highly entropic. "Intelligent" and "emotional" behavior have this in common and so they are, in this terminology, "homogeneous" because they are very unpredictable and continually escaping any attempt to formalize and structure them.
the circulation of money... information does:
Circulation of money conserves ownership in the transfer process, whereas circulation of information multiplies it. It goes without saying that in so doing it negates ownership.
Strange Loops: Reagan in Zurich
Strange Loops was written by friends in Europe during the summer of 1981. It represents a different perspective on the U.S. at this time--an optimistic picture in a number of ways.
"Let's put America back to work!" With this 'promising' slogan Meese, Baker and Reagan won the presidential election. What do they mean by "back"? They mean a return to that 'golden' period before 1963, before the crisis of work and profits, when America still worked; that is, when U.S. capital could still register a profit growth each year. With Reagan and the 80s, then, we seem to fall back to the 50s, the time before the 'original sin'. Is Reagan the beginning of a new epoch for American capital? A brief look at his program tells us, "No way!" As spectacular as his election and early congressional victories may have seemed, these were merely superficial events.
The 'roll-back' of Keynesian policies had already started with Ford and Carter: welfare payments did not keep up with inflation; the energy price spiral effectively reduced real wages; defense expenditures had begun to rise; public services in the cities were destroyed. In short, the mechanism of surplus value transfer described in The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse (Midnight Notes, vol. 2, n. 1) had been clearly revealed in the Ford-Carter period. However, the Carter set-up was not credible, neither was his performance as a leading man: he was too cool, too business-like, too colorless. With Reagan capital has finally found the right man for its initiative --a 'real man' of the 50s and a professional, though second-rate, actor. He is the appropriate form for the content of this period.
The political show has now finally become tuned to capitalist 'every day life'. And, in these apocalyptic times, the show is not peripheral. The 'real' politicians and their mediating class organizations are disintegrating, their political space is being dismantled by reality, the Tip O'Neils are finally having their heart attacks. In place of the old political show there is an attempt to directly manage a 'lifestyle'. In this respect Reagan is important. He embodies a way of living, the 50s daytime TV shows, a psychic principle. While Reagan needs the White House to stage his "Father Knows Best" show, Carter, the administrator, could have operated from any corporate suite.
What is the new 'culture' that Reagan embodies? It is the culture of a strange-time-loop, the deduction of the 60s and the shameless return to the 50s. Loathing the failed self-liberation which left one in a vacuum, refusing self-responsibility, into masochistic pleasure of self-discipline, joy in self-destruction, desire of death: these elements, openly or covertly, are part of it. Reagan, who is something of a national Marquis do Sade wished for by his subjects/victims, presents himself as a return to wholesomeness, to simple things and 'hard work'. The image is used in a morbid way by the adepts of the 'strange loop'.
The fashions of the 50s return as painful irony, as new wave, as punks; crew-cuts, narrow ties, high heels, pointed shoes; plastic, convulsion, faded looks. The 'new elegance' is un-healthy, ricketic, buttoned-up, harsh, coded, spastic, near death. Is this a joke on Reagan's new look in the White House or is this its necessary complement? In any case it is the refusal of 'laid back', of the hippy Geist; it is a refusal of health and efficient reproduction; refusal of functional discipline through an absurd self-discipline. We are Devo. This strange loop brings back to America the work ethos, praise of discipline, and the rhetoric of the 50s; but it does not bring America back to work and productivity.
Reagan is the rhetoric of hard work in the White House, but does he work hard? Work ethics, yes; work, no. Reagan, as a proletarian who got rich, symbolizes to all his luckless comrades, "Work no more." Reagan is a lazy rotten president. He gets up late, delegates all toilsome work, likes all social occasions, likes to chat with all the famous guest from all over the world
He’s amusing himself in the White House. Champagne flows. The smoking jacket is always in honor as well as the festive bands in military uniform. He presents a cheap movie dream from the 50s. Reagan embodies anything but hard work… Never has the work ethic and discipline been so will ironized. But what is Reagan doing to pacify capital which is suspiciously observing this show?
Reagan speaks to U.S. capital’s soul point for point. Like the old country doctor he diagnoses ‘tax anxiety syndrome’ and prescribes tax cut and concessions. A simple political task. But to engineer a “New Beginning” requires more finesse, even more instinct for cheap effects. Thus the new flavour of ‘freedom and adventure’ of capital is personified by ex-General Haig. While the true adventure of capital lies in the sum of the small acts of refusal and daily breakdown, of decomposition and wear-and tear, these adventures are invisible, almost inconceivable, and are inappropriate for dramatization; not the material for dreams and nightmares. Again the 50s help. They present the clear, understandable, age-old hereditary enemy: the Soviet Union and World Communist Terrorism. Haig takes them out of the closet. This enemy has a face: bull-like Brezhnev, fat bureaucrats, brutal Soviet Generals, tanks in Afghanistan.
Reagan’s rendezvous with the 50s becomes concrete. He co-stars with people he can understand, who experienced the same time: Depression, Hot and Cold War; youthful friends as it were. Brezhnev is a risen proletarian like Reagan. They have the same expensive tastes and would have fun together if they met socially.
Enter Haig with his deranged look, with his “I’m in control here”. He seems capable of risking the Third World War for pure ambition. By contrast, Regan appears strong, calm and capable of holding back such a madman. Their problems is that at the moment the Soviet Union does not even appear that aggressive. The Afghan war was only a clearing of the back yard. And then, beside Haig and a few Cold Warriors, nobody believes in a World Communist Revolution any more, least of all Brezhnev.
Here too Haig is helpful. He warns that the USSR is behind world terrorism. All those movements are directly controlled by Moscow he accuses. From the ETA to the Red Brigades and all the different liberation struggles from South Africa to El Salvador. Poor Russians! Just as well could the Russians have maintained the opposite: where did Quadaffi get his weapons?
The text book of this political science fiction is Claire Sterling’s “The Terror Network”, the summary of international terrorism. Still, somehow, here too Haig is believable in this terror-paranoia because in 1979 in Brussels he was the target of an attempted assassination.
Yet capital is clear that Haig’s spectacle of terror and atomic dance of death is not an acceptable risk. The real risk is neither tax [outa?] nor adventuristic foreign policy (though they produce thousands of mutilated corpses) Capitals crucial problem is that there is no leap in sight, just a continuation of Carter’s path: the dismantling of the assembly line, the movement of industry to the South and West, the further shake up of the working class.
Nor does the increasing expenditure for arms open up new vistas, it is a middle industry now: battleships taken from mothball, tanks and B-1 bombers are not technologically exciting New Frontiers. To solve the problem requires taking the Real Risk: an enormous provocation of the working class.
The massive cults of welfare rolls, the sabotage of public services, the promotion of private schools the shutdown of public hospitals, the end of CETA, the reinforcement of the police with paramilitary fascist citizens corps in the neighbourhoods. In part these measures attack the material survival of certain ‘marginal groups’ directly, this is specifically the case with cuts in food stamps, welfare, meals programs and medicade. Reagan appears determined to press these attacks to the point where those affected have to make a choice: either explode or rot. Reagan challenges them to create disturbances and is ready to put them down militarily.
The old game of the 60s Revolt-Reform-Money, can no longer be played. There is no integrating social spending, no army of social workers and programs of ghetto reconstruction. The incident of Miami (still under Carter) pointed to this new line. The blacks cannot get a cent from their unrest. The ‘struggle’ does not ‘pay’ any longer. Reagan’s risk does not lie simply in the danger of the explosions of the ‘classical’ ghettoes. The victims of the cuts are not only the racial minorities. Whites also feel directly concerned. The reactions of the white neighbourhoods were prompt and violent. For example there were street, highway and tunnel blockades in Bosstown. In Yonkers laid off fireman set houses on fire themselves and did not put them out. ‘Marginal’ parts of the working class like part time workers and jobless academics (who previously found refuge in government sponsored social programs) now have material reasons to defend themselves. Many 60s types could return more furious ever to the streets soon.
A further risk to capital is the possibility of a definitive collapse of the influential, mediating reformist organisation such as the churches among the blacks. The hard sweep destroys their space for playing games, and by the same token, capital loses a negotiating partner.
Consider the following scenario, the layers are forced to invent new autonomous organisations of struggle. Here Haig’s absurd spectacle of Terror shows itself to be Real. In the cities, a radicalisation can arise which will tear down the previous barriers against armed action. After the first wave of demos are stuck down, a second can arise which would not be so easy to control militarily. It is towards this possibility that the terrorists propaganda is obviously aimed.
Capital seeks to make certain in advance that no autonomous armed resistance can arise from indigenous populations. Should it arise, the conspiracy theory of World Communism would then be used to discredit armed resistance. Certainly Haig would have no trouble in showing international ‘wire pullers’ at work if armed opposition should arise. The ‘White Paper’ has already been written and the FBI and CIA has an arrest list waiting in its desk drawer. The terrorist of 1982 has already been made. Naturally centralized terrorism is a trap which working class struggle must avoid, but it is not so easy a matter. The State has the ability to dictate the conditions and it is interested in forcing the struggle to take its most controllable form. However, such armed action has only a propagandistic connection with the actual capillary and autonomous class resistance. Terrorism is, for the state, armed resistance made intelligible to itself. The U.S. state, however, risks getting a much more inconceivable resistance.
The retreat of the state from reproduction, the writing off of entire neighborhoods, the withdrawal of public services and the furthering of private business initiative (in the form of "free enterprise zones") can actually have a reverse effect: the resurgence of self-help organizations. The closing of public schools does not have to drive parents into religious of private schools, there are also alternative school projects that have been functioning for years already. As marginal as they may be, the manifold alternative and autonomous projects in various parts of the U.S. have collected experiences which in such a situation can be played out anew. The retreat into self-help by itself naturally brings yet more weakness and unpaid housework for everybody. But without practical self-help every battle of resistance against the lasting intervention of the state by military means is hopeless. Reagan's risk, therefore, lies in the fact that self-help can combine with radical forms of struggle, which under the pressure of too little money and more repression can cause a very, very dangerous and explosive mixture to arise.
This mixture has already shown itself very successful in the recent youth revolts in Central and Northern Europe. Here too the condition was the breakdown of the mediating organizations and had an alternative self-help background. It is just this brutal attack of Reagan's that can save the alternativist movement of America from a long rotting away period (and its irresistible development back into small business). U.S. capital thus stands before an actual risk, an uncertain future on which its entrepreneurial instinct can blow itself out. Even if entire groups should decline Reagan's invitation and prefer to idle away in laziness, to decay or kill themselves or allow themselves to die, that would be a defeat of capitalism.
Determined resignation and suicide can also be a weapon. A combination of resignation and explosive resistance can actually overload the most developed capitalist instincts for the future. The class would be complete Opaque.
The new U.S. model attempts through strengthening the role of monetary command to avoid the two extremes: resignation and explosion. Instead of the State Embodied, money itself will exercise control also in the reproduction sector. The goal is not the destruction of the reproduction sector, of course, but a more efficient and disciplined reorganization. The dirty sorting machines of all kinds and the Maxwell's demons that have become dizzy shall be purified and refreshed. That is especially clear in the school, where because of the competition of the private and religious, Catholic and fundamentalist schools, the financial control over students and teachers will be strengthened and the selection under the command of the dollar will be more direct and harder.
Under the pressure of fundamentalist and racist groups there will be a willingness to institute a 'voucher' program for schooling that would end local financing of public schools and the public schools themselves. A "free market" control over education, the same holds true in relationship to the destruction of the public hospitals and sanitation workers.
But if Money is to Command, inflation is a loss of the form of command. It is logical that a depreciating dollar can't be a reliable means of control. It continually compromises its own function, which can be achieved through the mis-use of credit cards and small loans and 'floats'. Time means gain for every debtor. Money is flowing with the stream of entropy instead of against it. The battle against inflation is therefore not a monetary problem, which even Friedman secretly realizes, but a problem of the reintroduction of work discipline and the real command function of Money. Breaking the budget itself does not create inflation, it is how it is broken that is important. For example, when the state is forced to introduce dollars into the reproduction sector it softens command. The social softening of individual risk makes workers generally fresh, lazy, shunning away from responsibility. It is not the dollar amount of the budget deficit that heats inflation but the "misuse" of the money for Safety instead of Command.
Thus it is more than logical to do what Reagan is doing: cut back on social expenses and increase military outlays (which certainly don't work to soften anything). Reagan is, as has been said, a provocation to class resistance, a kind of reagent of capital in the class soup in order to find out where it's at. Capital in its recent years lost its self-feeling and all its mirrors have become unclear. It didn't lack struggles in the mines, public services and atomic plants; however, no general subversive class project, no catastrophe was expressed in all this. Generally speaking these were battles to keep pace with inflation or defensive movements which scarcely opened new fronts. Capital worked without pleasure as did the workers. Carter was really the face of this lack of pleasure, a kind of Charlie Brown at the national level. Reagan provokes, through his classic conservative appearance at the ideological bazaar, all liberals, social democrats, socialists and progressive small businessmen. The old basis of the "European" analysis of U.S. capital, all the parties, coalitions, caucuses were powerfully stirred up. But it is clear that from this side no danger can grow to capital--the traditional left from the remains of the 60s are not able to mobilize new strata of classes in a new way; up to this point, nothing better has occurred to them than a new edition of the old mass demo in Washington (usually on a weekend afternoon). It is true that Reagan has lured this old political stratum from its hole, but not much else has come forth. A centralized representative answer from the 'rational' class middle is no longer possible. No new politics has been proposed against Reagan for the simple reason that it is not possible to propose any kind of politics against Reagan--only a more inclusive culture, a life style with which to confront Reagan, to answer his provocation on his own level--Reagan can only be played out.
Basically it is a question of two mutually determining and dynamic Games. If Reagan wants to play the upper and lower parts of the working class (the programmers and the part-time masseuses) against the average, because he thinks that there can be no contact between these two extremes, then he is making a mistake. An effective answer to Reagan and the Surplus Value Transfer can only be a 'short circuit' between these two sectors. The first game, the game of the upper workers, is the computer game. The new anti-entropological offensive of capital is assigned to reliable selectors. The second generation of electronic Maxwell's demons can no longer simply be disciplined with dollars.
Because one relies on their creativity, one has to allow them a certain room to play and this must be upholstered with a wage-guarantee. It is here a question of high labor cost, which one cannot devalue simply through firings and unemployment. Nevertheless, precisely this generation of programmers, technicians and intellectuals is in a deep reproduction crisis. It is not a crisis of money income, but a crisis of desires, of the joys of life, motivation, boredom, a culture crisis. Misery reproduces itself as loathing, emptiness and a loss of self beyond material needs. This crisis is not a 'luxury' and it is not just 'imagined', it is as real as hunger, disease and lust. It leads in the same way to mutilations and death through psychic diseases and suicides. There is no absolute ladder of misery, thus the 'civilization crisis' of the upper workers is as threatening as the material crisis of the lower workers.
This crisis found its expressions in the ecology movement, the sects. occultism, art, Zen, yoga, philosophy, mathematics, etc. The movement against this misery cannot be a traditional movement for wages, but it is aimed directly at use values. One of its 'forms of struggle' (between desire and fulfilment there is actually no battle but direct appropriation) is, for example, the Computer Game. The game is appropriation of work time, machine-time and enjoyment of these use values all in one. Seen purely economically the damage done to capital consists of the sums which banks and corporations lose through direct computer embezzlement. In higher organic composition organizations, Time is the most Valuable factor in the Creation of Surplus Value. And it is just at this point that the game begins. Games form the entropological dissolution process in the sorting and control machines. And the model for most of these games is the 'strange loop', paradoxical, reflexive feedback routines which make it possible to play with oneself. The Game is the game with one's alienation. The Game presents itself as the enjoyment of alienation, and becomes therefore a kind of sabotage: the actual vetigo of the demon of Maxwell. The Game is also the dizziness of the unproductive use of time, because it puts the beginning always as the end.
The meta-stability of the Demon approaches instability. From this point of view Reagan can only be understood as an ironic game: an historic Jest.
Yet, the Maxwell's demons and philosophical players of all kinds can sway on 'till they fall over without bringing the system as a whole to a breakdown. Their work is unimportant for the production of Surplus Value. They are replaceable and there are mechanisms for the selection of the selectors. The games can certainly cause accidents but no breakdown. The Game is simply too Evanescent. Therefore the other 'game' is needed, the game of the streets, of the alleys, of physical confrontation with those who control the production of Absolute Surplus Value. This Game is called Riot, Looting, Disruption of the physical circulation of Constant and Variable Capital (blockading the terminals extracting Surplus Value: department stores, banks, loan offices). Dysinformation without Disruption has little effect, Disruption without Dysinformation is too quickly recognized and easily handled. Yet this too is not a political alliance, no united front politics, certainly no organizational 'Proposal'.
The overlay of the two Games, Disruption and Dysinformation, can only appear as a new culture, as a kind of transversal culture. It can arise as music, as fashion, lifestyle--as the praxis of strife. IT CANNOT APPEAR AS A POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE WITH A FUTURE--in this case it would no longer be dysinformative, but intelligible to capital. This culture is certainly ironic in that it puts the lower for the higher and vice versa. In Europe it has brought highly paid engineers and day laborers living on an existential minimum together in the street in physical confrontation with the police. It is the High Sign between the programmers and the street kids. They need one another in order to win--because without internal breakdown, the military machine can no longer be successfully attacked.
The illusion of the 'consumer society' which has until now held the classes in competition is increasingly fleeting. The Poor no longer believe in their Rise. There will no longer be a battle for 'simple prosperity'. Even the Polish workers, who in this respect would have cause for illusion, understand this---the struggle to Rise has become meaningless. Although the 50s have returned there won't be any more 60s. Blacks and other 'minorities' will no longer come out for Civil Rights and Equal Opportunities. After the experience of the last decade they can only struggle for the abolition of all Rights and all Career Possibilities, or they would rather rot. The 'old values' live only in the Average sector of the working class and it is exactly this sector, paradoxically enough, that Reagan must try to eliminate. In this sense either there are no longer any future possibilities, neither Utopian nor real, or there are many futures at the same time, a whole handful of lifestyles which tear at the centralizing Future of Capital, as it were.
The decentralization of space (through computerization) must be followed by a decentralization of time. It is exactly the refusal of all Homogeneity that can become the strength of the transvestite double-Game. All this sounds Abstract doesn't it? But it cannot be more concrete. What makes it abstract is only the 'inborn' drive of the old politicians who want to force New possibilities into old Patterns. These Patterns are, for example, re-proposing Upward mobility, 'concrete' demands, Particular forms of struggle, Organization directed towards the mechanism of representation. That is considered Concrete, yet when one has seen 10,000 people on the streets of Zurich demonstrating merely against their 'dissatisfaction' and these same people are taking some physical risk for this, then one learns how concrete the Abstract can be.
Naturally it might seem that Opposition to Reagan's cutting of social programs is more Concrete. But we know that this is just a 'Jest', Reagan and his measures will not be able to re-solve any of the Fundamentalist Problems of U.S. capital. The experiences with Reaganomics, such as the Laffer curve or the 'rational expectations' theory of fighting inflation, more and more un-mask him and his new charlatans. Reagan's smile has already lost its fascination after a few months, even for U.S. capital, with the exception perhaps of the Defense industry. Self-hypnosis is a dangerous political method because the smallest blink can destroy the trance.
REAGAN MAKES IT CLEAR THAT FOR A LONG TIME CAPITAL HAS NOT HAD A THEORY OF ACTION NOR TACTICS, but only continues to exist in that it does SOMETHING and thus does not cease to exist. Capital's brain is today probably one of the largest collections of entropy in the system.
Although Reagan's Show gives the illusion of a forceful will, decisiveness, clarity and safe-ty, the motto for capital (and for us) has long been: EVERYTHING you know is WRONG, EVERYTHING you do is right. While the quantum physicists eagerly search for the 'glue-on' which can unite the elementary forces, Society becomes Fragmented, the forces of the system Disintegrate and only a Liar like Reagan can hold together the fragments by means of mind magic, rhetoric and Apocalyptic threats. Not for long however. The rags will soon be flying around the ears of this Fooled Fool. Not even a Russian tank will be able to save him.
Strange Loops places much focus on "high tech" workers, who are interpreted as actually or potentially disaffected and thus a subject of struggle. In the U.S. at this time we cannot view the mass of "high tech" workers as disaffected: their relatively high wages, degree of "creative" work, often flexible work schedule and orientation, fascination with the technology itself, and the space and resources to have "hobbies" - all add up, mostly, to relatively reliable workers for capital. One area of exception has been around nuclear power and weapons. Nonetheless, disaffection is by no means impossible. In the not-distant future, we can expect a "shake-out" of the industry which will "rationalize" it with negative consequences for the workstyles of many of its personnel. Simultaneously, the number of workers entering the field will begin to outstrip the number needed as the industry enters a "degradation of labor" phase. The results will be intensification and rigidification of labor, wage stagnation, and the ensuing need to reproduce one's work self in more intense and desperate circumstances. Disaffection must follow.
The "strange loop" in the working class is the connection between "high techies" and "marginals". What must be examined here are the questions of lifestyle and culture. Given the situation of non-work or marginal work for the "marginals" and the prevalence of "hobbies" for the "techies", the unifying theme is that life exists largely outside of work - even though the "techies" are able to incorporate a certain amount of play into work (a fact which will tend to disappear). Our question is, to what extent is "non-work" time a unifying force not just between two extremes of the class, but that runs through the whole class. Strange Loops indicates some lines of investigation of the forms of work refusal and the primacy of lifestyles rather than work as unifying class. What can be politically generalized in these refusals? Will the refusal of work generate a set of struggles in various sectors of the class which will not only generalize into the destruction of the new right, but also something new for the working class? Or will we only have the "choice" of warmed over, newly austere, social democracy?
To some extent the personnel of the anti-nuclear movement represented the unification of the two poles: people who were self-marginalized but potentially high tech in terms of background and accessibility to training, etc. They were not much able, however, to generalize themselves or to move substantially the elements of each pole they incorporated. Nonetheless, they may be partly a lightning rod conducting the electricity of the strange loops in the future.
However, without strange loops in the class we cannot win substantial victories. The odd circuits and strange connections between and among various class sectors is vital to undermining and outflanking capitalist command and planning.
Conversation with a Demon: The Education of Pedro Abono
Midnight Notes interview a worker involved with welfare systems.
Time: Late December 1981. Scene: Small cafe in Luquillo, P.R. - several M.N. Collective members are sitting around a table drinking rum and cokes and interviewing Mr. Pedro Abono, whom they recently met on their trip.
M.N. Briefly, what does your job involve?
P.A. I presently am working for a new national human services program. The section that I am working directly in is responsible for providing some social and employment services to unemployed families in a southern state. I am responsible, along with many others, primarily for screening, monitoring and planning.
M.N. What is this operation all about?
P.A. At this point everything is being planned and tested. The system is not in place yet. The fundamental idea is to determine what the recipients are doing, what services are being accessed, what their needs are, if they are working, and to locate them. The government is funding welfare assistance for these recipients and so the government finds it imperative to know what is occurring.
M.N. How do you keep track of them?
P.A. There is an official line and an unofficial line - the true one. Officially, we have a system in place and know what we need to. For example, we collect information through welfare offices, the immigration office, the social security office, etc. But in reality, we are attempting to set up a system and right now we are only guesstimating numbers... sort of pulling numbers and assumptions right out of the air... it’s true that we [have?] a few sources of information, but basically only old sources, and so who knows where half the information comes from.
M.N. So you don't know what is really happening to your recipients or whatever you refer to them as?
P.A. I guess to a great extent that's the problem.
M.N. Do you have a plan to tighten up the system?
P.A. Sure, in fact, it is part of our work plan. We are trying to develop what is called a management information system (MIS), in a general sense, a tracking system.
As a concept it’s there. We are attempting to develop it, but we are encountering a lot of problems. We are always being frustrated with the "old" system...To begin with, there are always a large number of bureaucrats to deal with. A large number of people fighting with each other over power. Second, one is dealing with the "old" system, which I believe, is mandated to self-destroy. It is very easy to destroy a program, to close it down. But if we want to develop something , it is so much harder. It’s like swimming upstream. So, as you are required to develop such a system, you design it and inform your superiors you need, say half a million dollars.
They just can't imagine spending this type of money for the required hardware and software, so they put a stop to it. They want the information and monitoring done but don't want to spend the money. Furthermore, there are the problems we face with the service providers and community of recipients. They want to be informed of what we are doing. They want to know everything… why we are making the inquiries, what we are going to do with the information. They want to be involved in all decision making and then to receive all the information. I mean, all these people get in the way.
M.N. Well, you want to respect their rights… don't you.
P.A. Definitely...But one is given an assignment and then finds it impossible to do it... You see, a federal act mandates and funds these services which are designed to enable this population to become self-sufficient in the shortest possible time. Now, our program pays for these services if they are not otherwise provided. But we are never sure whether the people who are paid to provide these services actually do the job. Or that the peopl6 who are receiving the assistance or services are actually using them to become self-sufficient. It isn't as if there is a one to one relationship between the money and work. So we have to check on this.
M.N. So it is your job to make sure that all these people are working? That they are using the money and services the way you have planned it?
P.A. Yes... and to find problems.
M.N. You mentioned contractors... doesn't the state hire and use its own workers?
P.A. No, at this point, our state agency does not directly provide services. We contract out to private agencies.
M.N. You mean, for example, the state is no longer planning to hire teachers as state employees, to teach ESL classes and some?
P.A. Right... I think it is an old concept that costs too much. I am sure that this is management's way of dealing with public employee problems. It appears to be much easier to contract for services.
M.N. When did this change come about?
P.A. I know this was a product of the Carter Administration...the beginning of the present "federalist" concept, in the sense that it put the federal and state governments in a position where they only fund, plan and monitor services. The federal government allocates the money. It also develops loose goals and guidelines the states must meet if they are to participate in the program. The states then take these funds and broad guidelines and, in turn, coordinate, plan, and work to insure the provision of these services. The states are responsible for these funds and so they provide for very stringent controls on these expenditures. But in terms of the actual provision of services, it is up to the state to insure that it is provided in the most cost-effective manner. I believe in most cases this means contracting out, even to other state or federal agencies. To date the largest share of the budget is in our welfare assistance category. It is interesting now that we are discussing this, that although we contract out for the provision of social services, and we have tried to develop a similar mechanism to distribute welfare assistance, we haven't been able to do it: The AFDC system has turned out to be the most cost-effective mechanism to date...the system which provides us with the best means of controlling the money as it is being given out.
M.N. Even though there is always the story that welfare is filled with crooks, you are now saying that the AFDC system is actually the most efficient and best controlled one?
P.A. Yes, you are right... the politicians are always attacking the welfare system, but it appears as if it is the most efficient public program in the country. We have compared their fraud or pilfering rate with that of private industry and the welfare system does a much better job.
M.N. So the idea here, in terms of welfare assistance, is to limit it to 42 months?
P.A. This is another important component of this federal act. It has built into it the limitation of entitlements. Many think that the Reagan administration began this, but Carter appears to have been the first to implement it. And right now the federal deputy secretary who is in charge of the program is trying to get it reduced to 22 months. Imagine that, the spokesperson for the whole system is trying to reduce the amount of time people will have to prepare themselves, knowing that 42 months isn't long enough for many.
M.N. 22 months??
P.A. Yes. But you know, we are being told that we are doing all of them a favor anyway...we don't owe them anything and aren't responsible for them ...but I can't go along with this...
Time: Later December 1981.
Scene: Living room of house over-looking Humacao, P.R. - several M.N. Collective members are sitting. around smoking dope that they brought while interviewing Pedro Abono.
M.N. I was thinking about what we were discussing yesterday. It has a very diabolical aspect to it. You know the whole line in physics...about atoms in a diffusion process. From what I see, there is an extremely elaborate program being planned. It is a big tracing operation. I see it being similar to a gas diffusion process. You concentrate these people in particular places and then you let them out to different parts of the state...perhaps even the country, and then you are supposed to keep track of them as you let them out and as they diffuse out into the system.
It sounds like one of the most elaborate systems that has been developed to trace not just masses of people, but individuals as well. In fact, one of the great breakthroughs in the 30's was the gathering of vast amounts of statistics about developments in society; social security, unemployment figures, gathering data on industrial production and so on. These were mass aggregates. They fit quite closely with the economic theory of the time, Keynesianism...excuse me, I used to teach.
P.A. You see, this has been one of our big problems, a limit we have been facing. We are trying to track individuals, but we can't. We can barely track numbers, mass numbers.
M.N. Is this a model for government of the future? Do you feel that information gathering has expanded to such a point that microscopic scanning is possible?
P.A. That is interesting… I hadn't really thought about it in that manner. It appears as if the hardware for such scanning is available, but we don't know whether people will put up with it. However, there are a couple of things that make this a special population for a test case. First, they have for the most part all gone through hell, which to a large extent has made them more tolerant than the average American, at least in some ways.
Second, for many of them, this is a new country, a totally new environment, so that they do not know what is normal and what is not. We are presently able to collect a lot of information from this group because they probably think it is normal. I am quite sure that if we try to collect the same information from other people in this country, we will face a lot more problems.
M.N. So ,in a sense, they are a model population for this tracking system?
P.A. Yes, so much easier to work with, except for some, for example Haitians, they don't trust the government at all.
M.N. And the Cubans?
P.A. Well, the new Cubans refuse authority also. A large number who came out of Marriel had no use for the Cuban government. Their experience has led them to learn not to expect much from this government as well. But, they know that the U.S. will not deport them back to Cuba so they feel stronger.
M.N. You mean they don't like this state more than the other one?
P.A. Right. From all the problems that I have seen, they aren't happy here. One of their main problems involves being let down. As you know, the old established Cuban community and the American Government told them that they were going to live a very good life here if they came. They expected it, but they didn't getit. They are really disappointed. Some were thrown into concentration camps and other were left to starve in the streets, literally…
M.N. This tracking appears to be part of what is called an MIS system. I've had some experience with one. It was designed to collect certain kinds of information on a particular population. The team working on it had to change the system three or four times in 18 months. We started out trying to pick up and monitor too much information. We had to continually simplify the system and reduce the amount of information we picked up - the range and specificity. Small increases in information desired seemed to cause geometric expansions in cost and work (computer time, people to process and collect it, etc.).
P.A. We have had the same experience, and we have also found that in collecting too much information, one can also get into the position where it all ends up not meaning anything. You get 20 pieces of information on someone, but only need one that maybe is not even collected. It all ends up being a lot of work for nothing. We are presently trying to get much of our software rewritten so that we can get closer to getting what we want. However, you never know, in the future you may be in a position to use the data that you are now picking up, so you are afraid to throw it away.
Another big problem we have encountered is that, as you say, it costs a lot and until management can be convinced that they can benefit from the MIS system, they don't want to put money into it. They want us to come up with the information, but they don't want to invest in it, partially because they are under big pressure to cut back on all spending. A further problem is that as we are doing this, while we are developing our MIS system, we are facing all sorts of problems each day, crises, and we worry that we will not be able to set our system up in time to deal with it.
M.N. I see, in other words, if things shift too quickly, your information gathering process will be affected and unable to pick up the problem?
P.A. Yes, in two ways. One, it keeps us from doing the work of setting up the systems. We end up spending a lot of time trouble-shooting, which is not our job. Two, we don't know what is happening while the system is not in place and so we are afraid of being confronted with a crisis that we won't be able to deal with. You see, people have been hired with a certain perspective of reality, which doesn't allow them to see what is actually happening.
M.N. The Workers in the program?
P.A. No, the administrators... the bosses. They have a certain perspective of what it is like to be a recipient, of what social workers do, of what it is like to be in the street, which is I think false and naive. It is like the whole idea of cutting back on welfare assistance. They are supposed to be watching out for the interests of the state. In the short run, these cuts will probably reduce the costs for the federal and state governments, but in the long run, I don't think it will. In fact, with a high burnout rate for those who are put to work too quickly in bad jobs, on top of not being mentally, physically, or culturally prepared, they will put the state in the position of paying out large sums of money on cash assistance and services in the future.
But the managers don't want to listen to people who have experience in the field, who are dealing with the day to day crises and who are monitoring what little information we are collecting. But the managers think that the world runs according to their desires and perspectives.
M.N. Their performance seems to be judged on the amount they can cut?
P.A. Yes, I think you are totally right. But then again, they are supposed to be setting up a new type of system. I guess they feel that they themselves will be well rewarded for the destruction of these programs.
M.N. There is somewhat of a contradiction here. The job you are doing requires a lot more funding, but in fact you are being told to cut back.
P.A. That's right. You see, other sectors of the state, that in fact they want to reduce, they are also doing the same type of thing to, except that it is well planned, with no contradiction. They are cutting back on the staff and resources and forcing those who remain to do much more work. They are not investing in their people and so they are going to get fucked. This will cause serious problems in the future.
M.N. Of course the argument has been made by Reaganites that it is OK because people will be coming in and out of the private sector and they train people better anyway.
P.A. You are right. And once again, in cutting back on services, they are in fact trying to shift the responsibility back to the family, and that of course means the mothers, the women. More work for women.
M.N. But you seem to think that the shift to the private sector is in a sense almost cutting their own throat? They are not even going to have the personnel.
P.A. Yes… many of us do. I hope so…
M.N. We do to... so you envision a real crisis with this type of system?
P.A. Yes, in the short run. However, if they are given time to iron out some of their big problems, like training, schools, facing reality, etc...-they may be able to come out on top for a while. You see they are not fools either. I am sure that they plan to first destroy whole sectors before starting to rebuild things again. They want to get rid of all sorts of people who don't have the same interests and aren't willing to play their games. Meanwhile, in the short run, the system is not prepared, so if there is a real crisis now, I don't think they will be able to handle it.
M.N. If they are given the time? Or if we don't come up with new forms of trouble?
P.A. That's right... they are working against time and they know it.
M.N. In other words, as long as the recipients end the staffs accept their orders, eventually these problems will be ironed out?
- at this point Pedro brings out his own stash and rolls a few joints ...after a few minutes…
M.N: Just one question then Pedro: Am I paranoid… Is this just control for controls sake?
P.A. Well, when it comes down to it, we are trying to plug 300,000 people a year back into the economy. To make sure that they become "responsible", "productive", "law abiding", "hard working"… the old American virtues. All in the shortest period of time and with no real money.
M.N. So they are thinking that by putting a lot of pressure on these people, by limiting the length of entitlements, that that will push them to make themselves "productive" and take the jobs that no one else wants?
P.A. Well they say they don't want them to take the jobs that no one else wants... but that is what happens anyway. I for sure don't, but I see it happening. Of course, many work against the system and are better off for it.
M.N. What is your program going to do if it doesn't work?
P.A. I don't know. There have been many problems, but we really haven't faced a big crisis yet. However, the welfare rolls are growing fast and that is becoming a bigger and bigger issue... So this may be an important sign that it is not working... Pretty good dope... huh? See, it’s so frustrating. The administrators that I am working with have spent the last 5 to 10 years cutting back and destroying public service programs. It has been their profession to destroy the welfare. I think this leads us to the problems of the welfare state, whose era is now being brought to an end. People are tired of it because they are not getting what they want from it. One of the main reasons that this began happening in the late 70's is because government politicians and top administrator's planned it... people like Weinberger.
They used the excuses of fiscal crisis and more to cut back on benefits and staff, demoralized everyone, made it impossible for social workers and public sector workers to do their jobs. I know this is still occurring because now, as we try to develop something new to deal with people's needs, it’s impossible.
M.N. You are saying something different. The most common argument is that we can't afford it anymore. The problem with the welfare state is that it sabotaged the work ethic. People not working as hard meant that there was not enough money. There were too many "freeloaders"-like these welfare people- sapping the productivity of America. And the only way to recover prosperity is to do away with them and put people back to work again... which seems to be what your program is all about Pedro, to get them to be hard working "productive" citizens.
P.A. I think your analysis is basically correct, in the sense that the state and the system wants to put people back to work, wants to stop putting large quantities of money for people's needs. The administrators see things as you describe them. Their problem has been to get enough people disenchanted or disillusioned with the state so that they will take the cuts. To a great extent you have to pit one worker or citizen against another... and basically get them to think that the other is living off the other.
M.N. Aren't they saying that there is no more money now?
P.A. Yes. But the reality is totally different... We all know that... In our programs we have money that we have never spent, and the administrators would gladly give it back rather than use it to meet some very critical needs. This is something else they have been successful at doing, and perhaps we have also done it to ourselves. That is, accepting austerity and living with it. When, if you look at the flow of money in this country and the world, it is an incredible amount. The government has it when it wants it.
M.N. But are you using the money to do the tracking... detecting?
P.A. No, we haven't been able to get the MIS system into place yet.
M.N. So, you are supposed to monitor those people that don't get, taken care of by the private sector, providing them with what is called a safety net.
P.A. Right. When society in general doesn't deal with people's needs and as you know that is a very political question, what needs are, we are to step in. But we are being told every day that the private sector is to take over more and more because they do things better. So far we are spending a lot of time and money trying to get them to do it with very little success!!
As far as I am concerned, it has been a waste of time, perhaps a way to give business a big tax break. And get this.... Another concept that is being pushed is that we -the state- are no longer responsible for people's lives. How are we supposed to get people to believe this?... By using time... taking time to respond to a problem. Of course, that could blow up in their faces, but so far it hasn't. We are to use time to get people to realize that they can't depend on us and so they have to find another way of dealing with their problems. But you know, a lot of them don't.
M.N. Is there another way?
P.A. Is there another way?... I am sure there is. What it is, I don't know. But one thing is for sure, as long as they don't have to pay for it, it is not a relevant question.
Time: Late January 1982.
Scene: Living room of modern bright clean new apartment in Atlanta, Ga. - several M.N. Collective members are sitting around doing several lines of Pedro's coke while interviewing him (he is the only one who can afford it).
M.N. You know—We have been doing a lot of thinking about you and people like you working in what we call the "detection state" When I think of you, my mind goes back to a strange, kind of mystical creation of this physicist of the 19th century, Clerk Maxwell, who wrote about what was later called Maxwell's demon.
P.A. Ah...yes.. Stanislaw Lem plays on his stuff. He's one of my favorites. I am looking for the Spanish version of his book.
M.N. That is interesting. Anyway, the story goes, this Maxwell's demon was supposed to violate one of the basic laws of physics by detecting whether particles in a gas were going fast or slow. And when he detected the speedy ones he was to open a gate and let them through to a reservoir where only fast molecules would be going; and close the gate whenever a slow molecule tried to come through. He was able to create out of no temperature differentiation, a temperature differentiation. On that basis, work can be created. This was like a mythical creature, you might say.
P.A. I remember something about this; but I never applied it to my situation.
M.N. Norbert Weiner, a man who wrote cybernetics stuff, argued that this process can actually go on for only a short period of time, that this Maxwell's demon can work; but eventually the demon wears out, because the demon itself is subject to that basic law, entropy, wearing down to a standstill. With practice, a demon can work for a long time. Still, Weiner is saying that in the long run Maxwell's demon is going to die.
P.A. So you are implying that I am working as a Maxwell's demon of sorts?
M.N. Well, what are you trying to do, what is all this detection about? To find the good worker versus the bad worker.
P.A. Brilliant... brilliant...
M.N. Well, you have that problem, don't you?
P.A. First, I don't see myself as a demon.
M.N. Demon, not in a bad or good sense, of course. The idea of a demon goes back, probably to ancient days when the demon was worker, a Super Human worker - demonic energies, powers beyond the regular. Don't necessarily take it in a Christian sense, all right?
P.A. O.K...O.K...because we are now with the Reagan types supposedly fighting evil... you know—communists—atheists—gays—foreigners.. God against evil as Mr. Reagan says.
M.N. We know better—don't we, Mr. Abono?... ha.. ha—ha—don't we really?
P.A. O.K., O.K., I think that what you are saying, now that I can think about my job situation, my relationship with the people who I deal with… well, I really don't deal with people, unless there is some trouble shooting to do. It's true, I just watch the molecules go by, watch the impressions on the screen, read the computer print-out telling me where the computer detected the molecules I couldn't see. I am supposed to categorize people by the amount of work they are doing or are able to do.
M.N. But Weiner said you are going to be affected by that selection process, and eventually you are going to get worn down. Is that happening to you?
-a few more lines-
P.A. First, let me point out that, as I explained earlier, I still don't do just monitoring, as I am supposed to, due to the fact that the system is still not in place. I can't concentrate on detecting as I now realize that I am supposed to. However, I do that work too, and the more I do it, the more things look the same. It’s frustrating!
M.N. Frustrating ...in what way? Why are you frustrated Pedro?
P.A. Well, I am facing many levels of frustration… many of my fellow workers are feeling the same way… It's not the old burnout syndrome, it's not like you are dealing with so many people that you can't deal with them anymore... it takes another form. It's like watching too much TV: you get so that you can't tell the difference between the background and the things that you are watching.
M.N. Is it kind of an informational versus an emotional burnout?
P.A. Exactly, because you don't deal directly with individual's problems anymore… only you deal with your fellow workers, but even then there aren't that many of them. I have done social work before, where you go home and you don't want to talk to anyone...it's the type of burnout of not wanting to answer the phone, read, think... and you also realize that you are being fed lies; you process lies, and in fact you are living a lie. You can't trust anything anymore... this has become clearer and clearer to me after Puerto Rico...They want to pick the good from-the-bad worker, but that is as far as it goes. After that, they don't really know much. You start realizing that the things you are told are less and less true. You realize that the things you report and have to say are not true either… You realize that you are also being watched and screened by someone else... at the same time.
M.N. But if you are given enough time, eventually the, problems will be worked out... the system will succeed?
- another joint is rolled and passed around-
P.A. Yes, given the time… time… time… but of course only until. And until new problems arise which will require another response from the state.
M.N. How are' your fellow demons dealing with the development of the new state?
P.A. Let’s put it this way, I feel that there are two types of, as you say, demons; people like myself who for one reason or another have ended up with these jobs and don't really believe what we are told, and those who at least for now seem to believe in it and want to work with it, make it their career to detect for the system. Let me deal with those like myself, I know more about them and at this point they are more crucial to the system. We are people who have been forced into these jobs as our old jobs have disappeared or aren't affordable; from higher education or social work or the arts. As you can see, - couldn't live like this on a professor's salary... ha…ha…including all this coke…want a few more lines?
-everyone takes a few more lines-
So although, I was not trained to be a detector, I like that term, I am working as one. In the beginning, it wasn't clear what I was supposed to be doing, but with time it is becoming clearer and clearer. I am now realizing, especially after these discussions, what role I am playing... And that, let me tell you, makes it harder and harder to deal with... to eat their shit. But, the people that run the programs, although they have a narrow view of society, they basically know when people are fucking off.
P.A. Like for example, many of us were active in the past in, for example, affirmative action struggles, organizing unions, welfare struggles, etc... Now we are dealing with a situation where we don't see these struggles...things are con-trolled so well, they have put us in totally new terrain, terrain that they control very well so far. So besides dealing with the frustrations of one's tasks, one has to deal with this type of working situation. This means much more work. You end up having to fight battles that were, I thought, won many years ago. Like affirmative action. I think it is almost non-existent where I work... they don't even hire "tokens"
-more lines and a few joints-
M.N. Given your position, have you thought of how you or we can deny the system of the time it needs? When you say that the system needs time, you mean two things... first, how long the system will take to be put into place, and how long it will operate. You first have to create the demons and the door. Then you have to make sure they select. Given this, you are in fact in potentially very strong position. That is, in yourself as a demon you can theoretically cause a lot of problems and not provide the system with time to let it get what it wants.
M.N. Hey—what power! There are a lot of us in that situation. However, there are several problems that get in our way. Many of us are pretty isolated. They have put us in different places and broken a lot of our connections. It is a new terrain. We must find new ways of moving and connecting. You need to make more contacts and play more games. You know that as you are working for the government and in a sense embody their policy, just because you are doing the work, there is a tendency to get caught up in it. As a worker, you know that you are being watched as well. But since you are isolated and alone, it’s hard to do a lot about it.
For example, I am in the position where I need the money and I have had to pick the best situation, given little room to move because they have already weeded out many of us who have always played games together. Of course, one mustn't forget that we are still here and we don't agree with their policies, okay? They know we are doing work, but they spend a lot of time worrying about us: all the leaks, all the late work. Even Stockman, he really pushed a certain line, but it turns out that he really wasn't sure he believed in it either. Not that I see myself being like him. But of course there is always the good demon who really believes this shit, really embodies the new state. They are the ones who, in the long run, will be able less and less to detect, as pointed out by Weiner. His thesis will apply most to them in the long run. They will be the ones who probably are going to survive these jobs, if the new state survives.
M.N. But the question is, are they going to be the ones who are going to know what is going on? In fact, you said that this is not the case. You are saying that unless the demons who burn-out very quickly actually set up the system and the programs, those who survive, who are in a certain sense more blind, will not be able to do the job.
P.A. I think this is the problem they face with Stockman. Stockman played some games. I am not going to compare myself with him, but...
M.N. You play your games too, Mr. Abono.
P.A. Right.. Stockman believed in supply side economics, at least he said he did...but I never did...
M.N. You were never asked...
P.A. True...ha ha Still, if he leaves before he has set things up for them, they are going to be in real trouble. In my situation, I was hired because I had an academic background, I had been involved in community organizing, and dealt with minorities. The people who hired me didn't have this experience or knowledge. They knew their weaknesses. Of the 30 or so of us that were hired, most came from the same background. Some didn't -basically the ones who are now being trained to replace us, the one-sided demons. Of course some of them will change too, I am sure. But, it may be too late for them. Anyway, of the 30, side had to leave early because they either played games without covering themselves or couldn't take the shit anymore. The rest of us, excluding the one-side demons, are still around, not agreeing with what is happening, but sticking it out. We know we are needed now. But with time, if things get properly set, they won't need us, and it will be much easier to get rid of us.
M.N. You will have set up a system which by monitoring 8 or 9 pieces of date will give them a fairly good idea whether a molecule is "fast" or "slow" and where it is headed. So they won't need you. Right now, they need you. They have to go for the person who can detect what is going on, who can translate the detection into the creation of the MIS system. Your contra-diction is creating an MIS system that is going to replace you and you are suspicious of anyway.
P.A. We are dealing with something new here. Besides, in the last few years I have learned that I never know at the moment I do something on whose behalf I am doing it. It takes a little while to know who you are really working for, who is benefiting from your work. When I started doing this work, I knew something different was happening. I was playing a whole new game and when you started talking about these Maxwell's Demons back at Luquillo beach and Humacao, it all started falling into place.
In the past, I thought my job was detecting needs...not people. But, I see this whole thing in a different way now. It’s not a question of detecting need. See, I have been told that I have to detect needs so that we can address them. But every time I detect new needs, they just take notes of what I say and never address them, unless they have to or it means getting more work out of people. In fact, they seem to be afraid to let us monitor and register the real needs because then somebody will use that information to demand something.
They tell people that as a long as they don't see the needs, they are not there. Now, it is getting clearer...
Like I said, the needs are always politically defined. For example, they are now coming up with a concept called Prime Wage Earner, taken from CETA. They say that they only want to detect his needs. I say "his" because the "primary wage earner", is supposed to be someone who has the most potential for earning the highest wage, in a family: so the man. It basically sets up a situation where women are once again discriminated against. They even have the audacity to claim that it is not sexist.
They also only want to detect short run trends and problems. This is one of their blind spots... Because they are not trained to think too far into the future.
M.N. It appears that the assessment of needs is largely the attempt to determine which needs are the most explosive, immediately, disruptive, hoping that if they prevent blow ups, they will get more time to transform the system.
P.A. That's Well, the difference between the old state, the “mediation" state” and the new “detection state” is that the old state said “we are going to be there.. to "mediate" between you and your employer, private capital, etc." The "detection state” says "we are not going to be there unless we have to. Of course, we are going to be watching you." The "long run" is no longer the responsibility of the state, nor of the private employer, private capital, ...but of the people. Their only long run goal is to have only the chief administrator working. Everyone else will be out the door. They are saying to us, when you are finished, we are going to kick you out.
M.N. Everyone must know that by now.
P.A. Sure, the manager brags about it.
M.N. There is a contradiction here - you are saying that you are all quite isolated and there is an enormous quantity of information that you are all sharing together.
P.A. Yes, I agree, but I think this is also a problem which society as a whole is facing.
M.N. Well, as a demon, what do you suggest that atoms do with this new state?
P.A. Well, if I were an atom and of course I realize that for a higher demon, I am an atom, someone else is tracking me, I feel it more and more. I process information in a cogent manner for the state. So if the atoms are going to deal effectively with the system that we are building, they are going to have to know that they are dealing with an information system: A system which works to pick up information from everyone and then either keep it from itself or return it in a distorted or modified form. The information being picked up is for managers and politicians, not for the people.
In this sense, democracy, (ha!) or what little "democracy" there was is being destroyed. For example, I have noticed lately that the is a move to destroy all forms of real decision-making input by people, even doing away with the pretence of giving that power. They want people to give information, but that is all.
I have seen state managers again and again go out of their way to change regulations to eliminate formal decision-making input mechanism. They use whatever reason they can get away with: too much bureaucracy, takes too much time, costs too much money. The atoms should be aware of this and work to subvert it. They are dealing with a "ones-way-mirror." Next, "molecules" should know the types of information the state is collecting from them and work to give it bad or disinformation. The problem is how to do it.
M.N. You are saying there are many different levels of information. You have access to a lot of information which you are supposed to use, yet you also have a hard time getting hold of a higher level of information perhaps collected on you. Now, it is useful to get hold of all this information that is being collected. However, the system is making it harder to get hold of information at higher levels. If you are out there, being a molecule, you are not getting, or you are not supposed to be getting any information from a level above you, even if you are working within the system as a demon on a lower level. How do you get this information? Part of the answer is for people in your position who have access to this information to share it with those who need it and are seeking it. That way, everyone has the same information. What can the demons do to get this information out? First of all, leaks… the whole field of leaks.
P.A. You are right… go ahead.
M.N. There are two ways. This can be one of Midnight Notes Theorems: One is to pass on dis-information to the system, and the other is to pass down and across the information you have collected and involving your instructions and regulations. What kind of information do you pass up and let these higher demons collect from you? You have to come out with bad information that is plausible and that will make it hard for them to do their planning. You also have to try to get many others to do the same thing. If you do it by yourself, it may be so insignificant that it may never even matter. But then it might. Meanwhile, you have to take the 'real' information that you have collected and pass it on to the molecules, leak it out. Send wrong information in one direction and correct it in the other - exactly the opposite of what the state wants.
P.A. Hold on! Don't forget! Ever present in these games and leaks has to be the concept you people always talk about, the refusal of work, doing things with the least amount of work. Otherwise people, whether demons or molecules, will just burn out. The strategy which we are discussing cannot become another form of work! You have to enjoy your games, "enjoy your struggle".
Many of us demons are feeling quite isolated, but that is not the whole story. We are not dead yet. Many of us have formed informal links, sharing many pieces of information - about our jobs, about the information we pick up, etc. This "network" of information is growing each day and is becoming a pain in the ass for management. Issues of pay and work situations usually start off the relationships. Telephones always bring people closer together when they are physically separated, but I always wonder who's listening. I am always careful.
You know, going back to this whole issue of refusing work - It has become very clear to me that the times when I am least able to think and react to what I am doing is when I am working hard, over-worked, the times when they pass the work on to me. So I think one of the most important ways to fight back is to pass the work back to them. The more the better. If they realize that every time they make you work, you make them work more, they will soon stop. Keep them hopping!!
MN(1) That's right. That's the point. The more they hop, the shorter the life span of the demon.
P.A. This is the best way to deal with the demons who love their work, or any fellow worker who loves his work, just like the boss: Make them hop, give them all the work that they love to do.
M.N.(2) Ha...ha... give the work to your enemies.
P.A. That's a beautiful quote…give the work to your enemies… only to your enemies!!
M.N.(1) I've thought something! The signal-noise ratio in information theory!
M.N.(1) You know, every time the information is passed from one level to another, it is corrupted and played with; and so, by the time the information gets up to the highest level where it will be used to make basic decisions, it will have become so completely unconnected with reality that this will cause them to make decisions that can cause enormous problems for the system.
P.A. You mean they become unable to detect the true signal through all the noise… and they then use this information to make wrong decisions.. what a feeling of power I have all of a sudden.
MN(2) It's the coke!
P.A. It's time to play, some noisy games I see.
M.N.(1) Ha ha. They have to be given the sense that they know, but they don't. All coups are based on that actually... Ha.ha..ha... Now that we are talking about information theory… there doesn't seem to be a channel for us to circulate the information among ourselves, or to our molecules - welfare mothers and fathers, office workers, factory workers, students, whoever the hell else we want to pass it on to.
M.N.(2) Well, that's the irony of the moment… To transfer information you need two things - a channel and a code. The channel is there. It's only for the using. For example, take the cassette and the recorder that we are using right now—everyone has them... they also have television-, telephones, etc... everyone has a fantastic amount of possibilities of communication with each other on an immediate level. One of the things is to use those channels. Think about Khomeini, how he. was able to use his tapes even in "primitive" Iran: the electronic ayatollah.
M.N.(1)The second thing is the code.. the language … we have to create a new language… we have to get a lot more information out with a lot less ideology. The left tends to spread a lot less information with a lot more ideology. But there has to be ways of disseminating this information … oh, no, of course not you Pedro..Ha.ha..ha..
P.A. Well, maybe I would like to join in on the fun.
M.N. (1) Oh, a convert!
M.N. (2) I was detecting that we might have found a convert back in Puerto Rico. Ha..ha..
M.N. (1) They have assumed that they (the state) can win by denying us information, We can win by getting this information out. Imagine what millions can do with all this information! Infinite wealth!
M.N. (2) It's the wealth we really want to share —what does it mean to get the information out? What is the information… it must be more than just reports and statistics...Where the money is ..that there is money, where it is, and how to get it… Where the rest of the wealth is ...that there is such wealth, where it is, and how to get it.
Credit to the Parties in Brixton: Malcolm X Day at Attica
Midnight Notes visit Attica prison.
It's May 16, 1981, and we're at the N.Y. State Correctional Facility at Attica celebrating the birthday of Malcolm X. For foul deeds done behind these thirty-foot walls the millionaire Rockefeller earned his sobriquet, "the Butcher", as history will always and forever remember.
This afternoon the Attica Institution Band provides the opening entertainment. Theirs is a powerful, contradictory sound. Some had wanted disco, others jazz. These wizards offer "fusion" which blasts across the gymnasium ricochet off the cement-block walls. They practice five nights a week, play Saturday and Sunday before the movies and do special concerts like today's. A red, green, and black cloth of sound is unrolled across the people who quietly and expectantly sit at the picnic tables that have been spread about.
"It's a rat race in here," a prisoner explains to me, "only the strong survive. The evils of the outside society are intensified in here: it is individualistic, predatory, profiteering, parasitic. Inmates are divided against each other."
The Afro-American Cultural Studies Group has organized today's celebration and it seems that they have brought every art, ancient and modern, to help break down the isolation of the inmates. "The policy of the A.A.C.S.G.," its spokesman announces, "is to educate, to agitate, and to organize." In the few years of its existence it has had to struggle against great odds. Its leaders have been shipped out or put in the hole. Its members have been harassed. Bureaucratic pricks and thorns have been strewn across its path.
Malcolm would say that you "have to wake people up first, then you'll get action. But how do you wake them up?" he'd ask. "Not by telling them of their exploitation. No, you wake them up to their humanity, to their own worth, and to their heritage." It's this that the A.A.C.S.G. does in Attica. It teaches African and Afro-American history. It teaches the history of Attica too. "our being here. This is a product of struggle. Thirty-one people died in D-yard so we could be here today."
1971: ten years have passed.
Apparently, the guards have changed too. Besides the crew-cutted, beer-bellied lifers, there's a number of long-hairs, some Blacks, even a woman, and quite a few Kluxers. There's a strong union, a state job, good pay, not bad hours and security. "I don't care who you are. Put on a uniform and sooner or later you'll start oinking". I scribble away on a notepad. Two guards approach me. They escort me to the sergeant's office. "No notes", the say. After a brief exchange of views during the course of which a great many members of the A.A.C.S.G. have assembled at the office door it is agreed that I may continue to take notes as long as I refrain from taking down a man's name or number. "Don't use your right name, no, no, no, no", as Fats Waller used to say. As to numbers, who wants them anyway?
John Fairbrother, the oldest and chiefest of the brothers takes the microphone and asks for silence. He tells us, "Listen, please", and the courtesy and command within his pronunciation of that word, "please", instantly makes you understand why he's the first speaker. We listen. He paces backwards and forwards. He carries the mike as if he were singing jazz. He wails his wild notes. His words are in the Malcolm plain style.
"Let's learn his language", Malcolm would say of the white oppressors. "If his language is with a shotgun, get a shotgun. Yes, I say if he only understands the language of a rifle, get a rifle". John Fairbrother's is a helicopter language, whirling and chattering from above, bringing succour to the hurt and menace to his enemies. "Music of the devil", somebody at our table says and everybody chuckles. When he finishes his speech, someone else notes, "Within a month he'll be shipped out: just watch".
Besides music, dancing. Three sisters have travelled down from Buffalo for the occasion. "Sure, everyone tells us not to come down here 'cause we're sure to get raped or murdered or at least robbed". She laughs and laughs. Here is the drum. Here is the dance. These are Afro-American dances: the Nile, the Euphrates, the Congo, the Mississippi flow in the four limbs of each of the dancers. In the drums we hear the voodoo of Toussaint, of Harriet Tubman, of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement.
John Fairbrother, after their performance, asks a sister to dance. What formalities, what kindnesses, what gentle courtesies, these beautiful dancers cause! Three sisters, a hundred brothers: in that hideous architecture of evil, a hundred and three mirthful countenances.
"Ballots or bullets", the most famous three words of the decade. Malcolm would start out slow. "It’ll be ballots or bullets," he'd drawl. He knows you've heard it before, that you're waiting for it '"It'll be liberty or it will be death”. Yes, yes we’re with you, this continuity with a rhetorical tradition, "The only difference”, now everyone's really listening, “The only difference about this kind of death, it’ll be reciprocal". And the audience would explode.
"Reciprocal". I have heard this curse: May the last and ugliest dog save his polluted urine to water the filth of Rockefeller's grave.
Ballots or bullets. "If you're afraid to use an expression like that, you should get out of the country, you should get back to the cotton patch, you should get back in the alley". Attica is a slave plantation, the guards watch the quarters. Outsiders have a license.
So: a college professor explains why he calls Malcolm a “Black revolutionary warrior”. What does it mean to say that he was “Black”. It means that he’s the heir of the worst oppressed of three centuries, that he’s part of the cutting edge of the liberation of the Third World, that today his name is on the lips of Soweto. What does it mean to say that he was “revolutionary”? It means that he could make the oppressor appear puny and ridiculous. It means that he could make us seem like a rising giant, and a cunning one.
“We pray that our African brothers have not freed themselves of European colonialism only to be overcome and held in check by American dollarism”, he’d warn. What does it mean to say that Malcom was a “warrior”? It means that he was clear in his objective, responsive to his followers, creative in his thinking, and always audacious : “In Mississippi we need a Mau Mau. In Alabama we need a Mau Mau. In Georgia we need a Mau Mau. Right here in Harlem, in New York City, we need a Mau Mau”.
The talk at the tables is careful, subdued, dignified, as inmates choose to share their experience with a visitor. A man in dreadlocks, a Rasta man, says that he feels about Bob Marley’s death the same way many felt about John Lennon’s. “We have a class analysis”, he says, “not a race analysis”.
“When I saw that they put a skull and crossbones on Marxism-Leninism, I decided then and there that’s what I wanted to study”, explains a militant.
A scholar wants to know what I think of Harry Beaverman’s book on the debate on the transition from feudalism to capitalism.
“You can’t stop those youth over there. That’s a working class that puts its theory into practice. They’re taking care of business. It’s not a racial problem. It’s a class problem. I give credit to the parties in Brixton”, says another.
“Like man, I’m a Christian. I don’t have the time for the Afro-American Cultural Studies Group”, says a dissident.
A poet rises and takes to the stool in stage center. He is accompanied by two bongos and a guitar. He sings of Stackolee and the Rehabilitation Brother”. The prison rebel tradition of the toast, as BAAAAD as poetry can be, is transformed by the poet into rattling chains of scorn and ridicule for the con-artists of rehabilitation. The poet sings his song of praise for Malcolm. Trumpet notes to the slain. There is a beautiful hymn to “Umodja” – unity. He recites with fervent passion, and concludes: “Prison serves no purpose WHAT-SO-EVER.
We eat prison grub: all starch and sugar. However, there’s some wonderful rice, truly fine, a well and hotly seasoned pilaf. A couple of polaroids have been produced and everyone's getting in line to have their picture taken with one of the dancers from Buffalo. "I wish they had performed a war dance", a brother mutters.
Reverend John S. Walker, known as Talik to the brothers, is a tireless, learned, dedicated advocate of prison reform and freedom for the Afro-American people. He gives a final speech. Of the music, the rice, the dancers, he tells praises. Then he gets down to business. He has a warning. Black communities across the nation are weak, powerless, and incorrectly politicized. "We must begin to think of ourselves as vanguards", he suggests, "practicing the collective leadership that the A.A.C.S.G. exemplifies and accepting the responsibilities that leadership entails".
Since 1965 the strategy has been to eradicate black and poor people from the streets. "The brothers from the joint cannot return to the communities with negative criminal activity. Black ex-offenders have not organized to eliminate the situation in Atlanta. Our communities need you and we need to know that when you return to us that what you say is sho' 'nuff". He concluded with the story of Gideon who preferred 300 fighters to 10,000 lame ducks. It was a powerful speech and a hundred pairs of hands applauded it hard.
Malcolm. Always outrageous, always pushing, daring, goading, taking your breath away with undreamed of possibilities. "Stop singing and start swinging". he's challenged the Civil Rights marchers. Just when you thought you were getting somewhere.
All of us sang the rolling hymn of James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing". We sang the first verse and the third verse. The middle verse was printed on the program, only we were quite distinctly told not to sing it. So, here's what it says:
Stormy the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last were the white
Gleam of our bright star is cast.
A spokesman for the A.A.C.S.G. delivers, finally, the wisdom of the joint. "Crime is illegitimate capitalism. The capitalists are the most violent group of people in the whole world. Capitalism is the real terrorism. That is what we have to prevent". It's true: besides the H-bomb makers, about the only business that's thriving now is the prison-construction business. "We need your help, the help of the community", he says. "It's like the sardine reforming the can: it can't be done on the inside".
Quien Sahara El Salvador? Who Will Save The Savior?
Midnight Notes' critique of the protests against the US intervention in El Salvador.
This spring, CISPES and other groups will be calling another series of demonstrations. They will be the n-th, the n+1st, demos on El Salvador in addition to the hundreds of rallies held throughout last year all over the U.S. Once again, as on May 3rd 1981, people will congregate from every part of the country, spend (collectively) millions of dollars, nights of sleep, march, long hours of bus shock, to participate in an event which, as last year's experience has taught us, will have at best a purely symbolic effect. Haven't we learned yet? Demonstrations in Washington will not stop the US build up and intervention in El Salvador.
It is certainly nice to get together with people all over the country, exchange news about what's happening back home, take some literature that will come in handy at seminars, teach-ins, etc. Most important, excuse the irony, it's nice to have the feeling you are doing something. But are we really? Take last year: thousands of people poured into Washington, millions of words and slogans were written, screamed and chanted, most often reaching ears already convinced -- and yet what did we gain except feeling good about ourselves, keeping alive the impression that we are doing something?
The state hawks clearly were not very impressed by our effort; their main response was to escalate the war. Meanwhile, in El Salvador twenty thousand people were butchered. In fact, one had the experience of a total schizophrenia. One day you march with your placard: "Imperialism won't pass", "La lucha continua", etc. Next, you read in the paper about the massacre of hundreds of Salvadorean refugees in Honduras, the mutilations and tortures, as if the war and our demonstrations each went their own way: Americans marching to Washington, Salvadoreans dying, we march, they die, march and die. Even in the battle to prevent deportations we have failed to reach any success.
Is this simply because the US state and capital are "too strong" or is it the case that there is something wrong, badly insufficient, almost non-serious, with our strategies and tactics? Why in fact should the State Department worry about all our marches on Washington on Saturdays and Sundays when nobody is there and we couldn't disturb the hair on one dead-bureaucrat's head?
They are so confident in our ineffectuality they don't even send the police openly any longer (see May 3rd) to keep us in line. Indeed, they can only be happy that we channel our frustration and potential explosiveness in such innocent and innocuous ways -- we engage in "celebrations of solidarity", but not in occasions to discuss what this would mean in practice. They must be happy indeed that we spend our energies and our money - our precious and decreasing movement resources -- to hear repeated (many times) from a podium the same facts and ideas that got us going in the first place (plus the invariable Pete Seeger). What a perfect method of neutralization. They would, however, be very upset if instead of Washington we marched on week days in the shipyards and airports where the helicopters leave for El Salvador, or on the factories where they are built.
As we all know, American intervention in El Salvador is not made of words and ideas but is a very material process, made of guns, rockets, bombs, jets, gunships, welders, assembly lines, trucks, ships, air freight haulers, CIA and military advisors and, possibly soon, even us as draftees. Why then demonstrate in Washington and not in the factories, ship yards, airports and recruitment stations where the helicopter gun-ships are built, shipped, assembled, packed and Manned? So why go to a dead city on Sunday and not on Monday talk to workers that are doing the producing, packing and shipping?
We learned from the 60's that it was not our words that troubled the Pentagon. If the anti-war movement had success in disrupting US involvement in Vietnam this is because we did much more than simply march on Washington to inform the country of our moral outrage. We burnt draft cards, occupied ROTC buildings, left the country for Europe or Canada instead of being inducted for Nam duty. We never took the "winter palace", but our actions were a continuous nuisance, a continuous material drain for Pentagon and Co.. By forcing continuous breaks, preventing the wheel from grinding on, we were an inspiration to people all over the world.
Today the success and the impact of the European anti-war movement on even the US war mongers is based on the same success. For example, recently the movement physically blocked attempts by the US to widen and lengthen an airfield in Germany in order to make it ready to receive the new missiles they are planning to base there in 1983.
The movement was also able to draw in many people who saw in this a concrete act against the war planning and to draw the connection between general nuclear death and the daily death people around the airport suffer from; the pollution, jet noise, shrinking space.
But we can’t we do the same now? Why not investigate what are the lateral links, the bridges of repression between the US and El Salvador, where we can direct our action [marches????] and intervention? Why can’t we find out where the helicopters are built and shipped, how we can prevent it, how we can involve the workers who are doing it?
Can’t we make everyone confront the fact that they are participating in murder? Troubling their sleep? Put on the map these isolated [????] “innocent” towns where the weapons are built, say their [????} and show them to be American Auschwitzes? Harbor refugees and prevent them from being transported and block the airplanes that attempt to take them back. This is not marching in Washington “on a Sunday afternoon”, but it is what will help the Salvadorean people avoid an American slaughter.
By failing to practice these sorts of actions, not only will our demos be ineffective and wasted (dissipating our energies for nothing), but we won't be able to avoid being accomplices, by virtue of our passivity and lack of action, when faced with a slaughter.
We know that we are not along in feeling that we cannot repeat the same thing as last spring, and that current tactics lead us nowhere. The stakes are getting higher and higher. As Haig, Weinberger and Reagan have made it clear: this is a question of life and death, there is no return for anybody in this war. Not for the US state who is testing here its ability to control and exploit Latin America and further its ability to suppress any dissent at home: not for the Salvadorean people for whom the only alternative is either victory or genocide, and not for us, who if we accept Salvador will accept everything. We too are being tested in El Salvador. For the government knows that if we accept this, we are ready to accept even a nuclear war.
It is time then to move not just with our feet, in yet another [march?] but move politically by finding the raw nervies of the apparatus of repression and transferring our activity directly on the [?????} the problem is in Tulsa, act in Tulsa, not on the lawn in front of the UN. “Acting in Tulsa” means the following:
Find out the unions that are involved in building and shipping arms to El Salvador, - go to meetings.
Talk to the women in these areas, show them the pictures, the facts and not just on the campuses.
Name the plants and shipping points with graffiti, stickers, etc.
Put obstacles in the flow of production and transport.
Make the connection between accepting death as a way to make a living, accepting to become a murderer in exchange for a wage, pay the rent with the blood of people who haven't done anything to you and accepting a job that you know will kill you and may even kill your children as well.
Bring the attention of the media to the towns that are now living on the death of the Salvadorean people, bring Salvadoreans to these places and talk to the workers, and ask them not to butcher their kids, etc.
This is by no means a complete list, but it is only down this path, which is no guarantee of victory, that a real possibility lies. Continuing the old path is a guarantee of defeat.
Midnight Notes #06 (1983) – Posthumous Notes
6th issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes
This 'Midnight Querist' began this issue with questions of the movement's dead. The issue then analyzes the "Peace Movement" and its control by the "re-industrialization" sector of capital. It also presents a proletarian nuclear strategy that is increasingly relevant for us in the 1990s. We catch the post humorous laughter of the insurrectionary dead from the eighteenth century, then address our real dead, from the voice of Rigoberta Menchu speaking from Guatemala, and our Italian comrades railroaded, tortured and killed. It concludes with an "Audit" of the balance of living class forces in the early 80s.
- Midnight Querist
- Freezing The Movement
- Elegy for E.P. Thompson
- A Letter to Boston's "Radical Americans" - From a "Loose and Disorderly" New Yorker - Autumn 1770
- In the House of the Killer Bats (Guatemala 1983)
- Or Di a Frau Dolcin (Italy, 1983)
- Audit of The Crisis
Where Do We Come From?
Is the right to work the right to be exploited? Why does the Left make the "right to be exploited" its primary political demand? Is housework work? Do women on welfare work? Did your mother work? What did she get out of it? Is sex work? If so, for whom? Do you work after you retire? Is schoolwork work? Is "unemployment" work? Is work productive? If you work, should you get paid? If your wages rise, do someone else's fall? If the wages in the US rise, do wages in Latin America fall? Vice versa? What is a "high wage"? If wages rise, do profits fall? Should we be afraid of robots? If your job is automated but you continued to get your paycheck in the mail, would you send it back? Is there "meaningful" work? Do you get a raise by working harder? Do you get a raise by going on strike? Do you get a raise because others go on strike? Is there scarcity? If so, of what? Your days, hours and minutes or oil, coal, uranium and natural gas?
Who Are We Now?
Why, in the most liberal state in the US, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1982, did 75% of the electorate vote for the Nuclear Freeze Resolution and 60% vote for the re-institution of capital punishment? Why did we not trust the state to decide our collective death but we did trust the state to decide who is to live and who is to die individually? Would it be different if most of those condemned to death were white? Are "work related fatalities" capital punishment, genocide or necessary accidents? What do you have against the mugger if Reagan is an honest man? Do social workers who "allow" their "clients" to starve or freeze to death deserve the electric chair? Is it more of a "war crime" to burn people in ovens or bombard a city and blow them up in their apartments? Can the US afford national health insurance, an apartment for everyone, a two-day work week, a guaranteed income, good and plentiful food for everyone, wine and beer for every dinner table, retirement at forty, warm northern apartments, cool southern homes, long vacations, food for the "hungry of the world"? All, some or none of these?
Where Do We Go To?
When was our last revolution? 1776, 1864? or the 1960s? Jefferson said there should be a revolution every decade, is he to be trusted? When will the next revolution in the US be? Are you willing to wait that long? If not, what are you going to do? Do you advise children to plan for a revolution in your life-time? If not, why not? Who do you have to trust to make a revolution? is a revolution made like a car, like a shit, like an orgasm, like a house, like a bridge, like a dance, like a child, like a murder, like a brawl, like a play? How low must the profit rate fall before capital dies? Can capital die of senility, of cancer, of a heart attack, of gunshot wounds, of stroke, of suicide, of emphysema, of AIDS? if you "had" an army of one million what would you do? Would you try to seize state power? March into Congress? Arrest Reagan? Shoot the heads of the Fortune 500? Take over the banks and computer network? Distribute food, fuel, housing? Automate factories? Disarm the police and the loyalist army? What is paradise? Utopia? The end of things? Is paradise on earth perpetual fun? What is fun? Is sleep the model of paradise? Is eternal awareness its model? Will your boss go to paradise? Is it death that bothers us or Life? The life that has been taken from us? Is this what makes us ghosts?
Freezing The Movement
Midnight Notes on the "nuclear freeze" protests of the early 1980s and ruling class plans for a post-apocalyptic society.
The existence of the bomb paralyzes us. Our only motion a gigantic leap backwards in what we take to be the minimal conditions of our existence where by all desires, demands and struggles vanish, only our biological survival appears a valid cause. DON'T KILL US , EXTERMINATE US , BURN US ALIVE, MAKE US WITNESS THE MOST HORRID SPECTACLE THE MIND CAN IMAGINE (????) , lived thousands of times in our fears watching the 7 o'clock news, reading the "scientific medical reports." PLEASE LET US LIVE, that's all we ask, forget what this life will be like, forget about our now seemingly utopian dreams ...
But isn't this declaring we' re dead already? Isn't this admitting the explosion has already worked, that we've already been blown to pieces hundreds of times when, of all our needs and struggle, only the will to survive remains? Worse yet. Isn't this declaration a most dangerous path? For when only people on their knees confront the powers that be, these powers feel godlike and justified, not restrained by the fear that should they dare so much, whoever of us will he left will make life impossible for them as well.
Why a freeze then? Freezing what? Just our brain it seems, in the false assumption that the status quo may hold at this moment any guarantee for us. Freeze is accepting to live with the blackmail of the bomb. Accepting to bring children into a world threatened by a nuclear explosion. Freeze is to allow THEM to periodically toy with the threat of blowing us up. Are we so mad that we can watch on TV a discussion of our future disposal... as if the Jews had been let to witness the plans for the construction of the gas chambers. Are we to bargain -- ask for 10 instead of 100 or 1000 crematory ovens -- debating on their size, expediency and efficiency? Shall we ask how many people will they put to work or out of work? Or do we harbor the secret hope that they are readied for somebody else -- perhaps Europe, more likely the Middle East...
A Summer of Peace
The summer of 1982 was a summer of extraordinary peace. In the midst of the deepest period of unemployment, cutbacks and bankruptcy rates since the Great Depression, the only movement in the streets was the Peace Movement.
The summer began on June 12 with the largest demonstration in memory gathered in NY City before the disarmament session at the UN. The demonstration took months to plan in Washington and New York, and many throughout the country made it the focus of their political and creative efforts. Almost one million people from all over the US (with other marches on the West Coast] converged on the City. Writes an observant marcher:
The spectacular aspects of the march were the most powerful and even now, a month later, they are still vivid in my mind's eye. I suppose you have seen some of the floats: a blue whale a hundred feet long with a slogan on its side: SAVE THE HUMANS. A white dove actually fabricated from huge bolts of white cotton that was elevated by poles and which the afternoon breeze animated into a floating life high above the people along Fifth Avenue. The puppets I think were seen by millions -- earthy, peasant and fantasy-life figures of women and children that glided fifteen and twenty feet into the air. Banners of all kinds. Absence of uniformity of slogan, poster or placard -- a big difference with the Solidarity Day march in Washington.
The contrast with the other events of the summer was remarkable. From the trade-unionized working class a grave-like silence, with only few desperate exceptions, like the Iowa Beef strike -- a long, bitter strike that led to the calling of the National Guard with guns drawn and weapons carriers in the streets, assisting scabs into the plant. The strike was bitter because, being held, in the midst of the lowest level of strike activity since WW II, it was totally isolated and, characteristically, it was not over wage increases but over the size of the "give backs". Only the professional baseball players could strike and win that summer.
With the unwaged part of the working class there was the same peace. It was the beginning of the "riot summer" in the US ghettos and not a riot was to be found in the face of the most devastating attacks on the wages of Blacks and Hispanics. The silence was so noticeable that the New York Times at the end of the summer could editorialize about the silence with a sigh, and the Wall Street Journal sent an investigative report team to find out why Nothing had happened.
The only noticeable movement activity was the Peace-Freeze Movement, which to this day represents the major form of organized protest in the Reagan period. What is the Freeze Movement and who are the crowds that poured into the streets of New York that summer?
As a mobilization against nuclear war and an appeal for an alternative use of social funds, the Freeze Movement is in many ways a generalization of the post-war Peace Movement and the anti-nuclear energy movement of the 1970s -- not accidentally, the previous largest demonstration in New York was an anti-nuclear energy demo in 1979, that drew a quarter million people. The Freeze Movement is also a regrouping point for many activists, drawn from different quarters, who in the absence of an alternative join the Freeze as a way of re-establishing-contacts and test the possibilities of political activity in the 1980s. It would be a mistake, however, to see the Freeze Movement as simply a caldron for different strands of social protest which in the appeal to survival find the only possibility to move at the present. The heavy institutional back-up that has accompanied the Freeze from its beginning, its strategy as well as the fact that the debate concerning its objectives occurs at the highest levels of the State, all indicate that much more is at stake than a spontaneous movement against the perils of nuclear disaster. To what extent the Freeze Movement represents a novelty with respect to the politics of the 1970s can be seen by comparing its grass root organization, leadership and tactics with those of the anti-nuclear energy movement. For all the possible critiques one may have had about the anti-nukers, one thing must be singled out as important: it created new configurations on a microscopic social level that brought together people from radically different layers of the division of labor inhabited by the non-industrial worker (though excluding the black and Hispanic ghetto dweller).
The "affinity group" filled the need for a new social "mix-master" the Party and the Unions could [no?] longer provide for in the 70s. We had the "Shads," the "Hard Rains ," the "Tomatoes," the "Clams," and the "Abalones." On the contrary, the Freeze Movement is organized along occupational, art and church lines; consider the typical group names of the Freeze Movement: Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Disarmament, Artists for Nuclear Disarmament, Writers for Nuclear Disarmament, Communicators for Nuclear Disarmament, Computer Programmers for Nuclear Disarmament, Educators for Social Responsibility, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Architects for Social Responsibility, Nurses for Social Responsibility, United Campuses to Prevent Nuclear War. And let us not forget Business Alert to Nuclear War; the church groupings, from the Quakers to the Catholics; the Demo-cratic Party fronts and the C.P. fronts too.
Secondly, the leadership of the Freeze Movement is quite different from the relatively diffuse leadership of the anti-nuclear energy movement (though its "no leaders" mythology was delusive). The leaders of the Freeze Movement are sited in Washington, D.C.: in the “neo-liberal" think tanks and the Halls of Congress. Though the rank and file attempt to do more than the dirty work, the real initiatives for the movement come from the Capitol.
Thirdly, while the "median tactic", i.e., the kind of action that typifies a movement, of the anti-nuclear energy movement was "civil disobedience", the median tactic of the Freeze-Movement is the vote and the tribute. That is, the Freeze Movement defines itself in a purely representational way, in terms of referenda, congressional seats and legislation and it relates to its base accordingly. Like CISPES, from which it has learned much, it asks for a tribute or tax from its base in order the do the movement work. There is the assumption that the "average person" is too busy for direct political participation and therefore he/she should pay a "tax" to have this work done for them. This is levied both as bodies in a weekend demo or as funds for the organizers.
Finally, the politics of the Freeze. Ostensibly its central objective is to freeze armaments build-ups, in view, presumably, of a future reduction and/or elimination of all nuclear weapons (on this point the jargon of the leadership and of the base often differ in terms of where the accent falls). At the same time, the movement has made it clear that:
(a) they are not in support of unilateral disarmament-on the side of the U.S.A. and
(b) they are not ready to support any call for non-interventionistic policies.
The call is for an alternative type of war and an alternative type of armament, rather than for the abolition of wars and weapons of all types and the end of military intervention by the US. This stand, which represents the official position of the Freeze Movement, has not gone unchallenged, as witnessed by the deep splits and conflicts that have surrounded the preparations for the June 12 demonstration.
Centering around the attempt of the largely white leadership to exclude a black grassroots organization, the central split undoubtedly had racial overtones. The real issue, however, was whether the campaign literature would link the arms race with US interventionism in the Third World and racism at home. Initially this was agreed upon at a meeting of the National Coordinating Committee on Jan. 29, 1982. It was also agreed that at-least one-third of the members of each leadership body in the campaign would be Third World, and that a caucus of Third World Organizations would choose who would represent them on the leadership bodies.
By March 8, however, the "mainstream" groups sent a letter to the "centrist" groups arguing for a new approach that would make these agreements null and void, viz., to form a corporation to produce the June 12 event. The groups that signed the letter included: Riverside Church Disarmament Program, American Friends Service Comm. , The National Nuclear Freeze Campaign and SANE. The groups that received it were: Mobilization for Survival, War Resisters League, US Peace Council, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).
The object of the exclusionary effort was the Black United Front and a variety of white left-wing party formations. As the spring progressed, the splits between the mainstream, the mediating, white "centrist" and the black and left organizations festered, until the threat of having a separate demonstration forced the mainstream to opt for "harmony" and allow Third World leadership in the June 12 Rally Committee. The tension, however, was so intense that there were rumors of fist-fights behind the stage, while Bruce Springsteen played for the gathered million, between black speakers and rally organizers , who were arguing for a few more minutes for the "Boss".
Possibly the lesson of that summer's experience is the reason why nothing has since happened on Freeze "mass front": no local initiatives, no recruitment drives. The Freeze Movement seems to have frozen itself, while its institutional character has become increasingly predominant. Nowadays the discussion about the Freeze is largely a Congressional matter, while at a typical Freeze or Ground Zero meeting one is impressed by the jackets and ties, and the evidence of official backing.
Even William Colby, former director of the CIA has come out in support of it, thus making a sham of Reagan's claim that the movement is backed and "ran" by the KGB. The reason for the impressive backing the Freeze movement is receiving from many politicians as well as the media is quite simple. Behind the Freeze is a new military-industrial complex, representing that part of US capital which is sceptical about the future of Reagan's "development model" and is consequently in search of more stable options for the US economic and war machine.
Two major concerns shape the programs of the Freeze supporters:
(1) the conviction that nuclear weapons are militarily-obsolete, for the threat to capital’s control does not reside in mass territorial war, but in diffuse, molecular crises: that cannot possibly be resolved by nuclear, means. Could, e.g., nuclear bombs— be used to restore control in El Salvador or Nicaragua? Could the P.L.O. have been dislodged by a nuclear bomb on Lebanon? While certainly not insensitive to the ideological value of Reagan's cold war, anti-Russian campaign, the Freezers represent. 'a. call to "facing reality", which means facing the fact that the real danger for capital at present is in each country -- internal subversion -- and therefore pinning all hopes on "the Bomb" is a suicidal route.
As Admiral Bobby Inman (the real head of the CIA in the early Reagan years) declared in explaining his resignation from the CIA in April 1982:
"I reject out of hand the likelihood that we could be surprised with a Pearl Harbor kind of attack. And the same pretty well holds true for the eastern front, central part of Europe."
The problem is rather "following political and economic trends abroad...dealing with instability in many areas of the world, trying to cope with the fervor of religious movements" (NYT, April 28, 1982).
(2) Not only is the bomb ineffectual from a military point of view, its economics as well worry many politicians. To put it flatly, the Bomb does not create jobs or at least, not enough jobs and not for the type of workers who have traditionally represented the backbone of the American working class. There is a widespread fear, particularly in Democratic quarters that the dismantling of mass production the Reagan-nuclear model is already causing may in the long run produce irreconcilable social contradictions. They fear social upheavals, as hundreds of thousands of blue collar workers are thrown out of their jobs and forced to either disappear in the cracks of the system or to accept the minimum-wage type jobs that so far have been reserved for women and immigrants, but the crisis of the mass industry sector is leaving as the only option for white male workers as well.
There is also a fear that being based on astronomically high procurements for a few selected companies, the nuclear war economy may lead to a wasteful/unproductive use of capital's resources. A typical example of this type of reasoning is the appeal, recently launched, by the New York City Council calling for a Jobs with Peace Week:
"The Reagan administration's military build up has not only increased the threat of war, but deepened this country's social and economic crisis. With a proposed military budget of $234 billion, it's easy to see why the nation's unemployment rolls continue to swell. Military spending creates fewer jobs than virtually any other economic expenditure. (italics ours) And as working people suffer so does our economy in general. Military spending robs us of vital talent, capital and natural resources, lessening our ability to produce high quality goods and services."
Such considerations have caused many politicians to become outspokenly critical of Reagan's Cold War bi-polarism and to embrace the Freeze Movement, whose success would undoubtedly lead to a redirection in military spending priorities, away from few high-tech and costly weapons towards the relaunching of more, lighter, cheaper conventional arms. Economic and military considerations perfectly match in the program behind the Freeze, as it allows both for more "flexibility" and efficiency-dealing with insurgency at home and abroad, and for the possibility of a new “Keynesian plan" based on state intervention in the economy for the reindustrialization of the U.S.A. On the basis of this platform, different forces are today joining in the call for a Freeze: unionists a la Winpisinger, who are presently seeing their base vanishing under the impact of mass industry lay-offs, state planners like Feliz Rohatyn, Keynesian Democrats like Kennedy and Tsongas, church and community leaders, the social democratic left. All come together in the belief that a different social contract is possible from that proposed by the Reagan administration -- one, presumably, in which national security, economic profitability, and social peace can be harmoniously integrated and planned.
Small, Cheap, Many
The main publicist for a new military strategic thinking is undoubtedly James Fallow. His book, National Defense, published in the first year of the Reagan administration, laid out the main arguments for the new approach, nicely capturing the tone of a former Vietnam war resister who has come back to the fold but demands "humanity" and "reasonability" from the system as the price. His strategy in military spending is to build cheap and many -- small is beautiful in military weapons as long as they are bountiful. Consider the procurement list recommended by Washington Monthly, Fallow's and the "neo-liberal" house organ:
Weapons The Military Could Use:
1. A light, manoeuvrable long-range bomber to replace the B-52,
2. Increased procurement of A-7 attack plane now used only by the national guard.
3. Increased procurement of A-10 close support plane.
4. Renewed procurement of F-4 and F-5 fighters.
5 Small, diesel-powered submarines both for attack and missile-launching capability.
6. Cheap, small "fast boats" that avoid radar.
7. 106mm recoilless (cannon) rifle for use as anti-tank weapon.
8. GAU-8 70mm cannon for use as an anti-tank weapon.
9. Increased procurement of sidewinder missies.
10. Battalions of motorcycles to improve manoeuvre warfare capability
11. Increased procurement of Remote Piloted vehicles (unmanned target locators and distractions for enemy anti-aircraft).
12. Small, light tank for the marines
The key words are "light," "small," "cheap, and "manoeuvrable." Fallow and friends, however, are not only critical of the Pentagon's excessive reliance on high-tech, "magical" solutions to the problem of defence. One of their main targets is also the "culture of procurement," which in their eyes is guilty of a total disregard for the question of economic and military productivity:
(There) is corruption, but not in the sense most often assumed. The bribes, the trips to the Caribbean in corporate aircraft, do occur, but they distort the essence, as Abscam distorts the essence of congressional irresponsibility, and payoffs in the General Services Administration distort the pathology of the civil service.
The real damage is not spectacular but routine: it is the loss of purpose in the daily operation of the military machine, the substitution of procurement for defence. This is the true corruption, and it affects all the relevant groups: soldiers, who are converted into sales agents, rewarded for skills that count in real estate; contractors, whose productive core is corroded by contact with the non-performance culture, and finally the rationality and civility of public discussion about defence, which are sabotaged by the hidden purpose of continuing to spend money.
Here we have the voice of reason, who is only asking that the job be done right.
Now compare Fallow's earnest prose with the nervous complement of a Business Week team that in 1980 set out to study the possibilities of re-industrialization in the US:
Too often chief executives send mixed signals to their staffs. On the one hand they demand creativity and on the other they regard numbers...the easiest way for executives to feel comfortable with alien technological or marketing concepts is to devise a technique for measuring them. Not only had internal rate of return and discounted cash flow replaced educated instincts for deciding on new projects, but quantitative approaches -- or at best, formularized ones -- have even pervaded human resource management. The old days of motivating employees by example and by general day-to-day closeness to the field have given way to consultants' techniques such as behavior modification climate and attitude control and the like. It is little wonder that top management has become isolated from its employees.
The rhetoric of "loss of traditional vaiues”, “mistaking means for ends," and the theme of "domination of technique" permeate both these efforts aimed at finding out what has gone wrong with the capitalist totality. But the relation between Fallow's thinking and that of the re-industrializers is by no means rhetorical. Not only are both in support of "jobs with Freeze" and convinced that true national security cannot be achieved unless US industry is re-modernized and "useful work" is provided for millions of unemployed Americans. They are equally convinced that once waste and inefficiency -- in the Pentagon as well as Detroit -- are eliminated, once a "path of sanity" is pursued in economic and military spending and the money saved from nuclear bombs and Trident submarines is redirected to "socially productive purposes", the US can be made a safe place for investments and American capital can "come back home" again.
The repatriation of US capital and the end of the US role as cop of the world is another important goal inspiring the politics of the freeze. Capital investments abroad, in fact, have long ceased to be attractive, in view of the 'lack of stability' in many Third World countries and the acceleration of European wages through the 1970s past US wage rates. It is also complained that the US bears a disproportionate share of the cost of 'defending the world,' thus giving a 'free ride' to Japan and the NATO allies, who in the meantime spend their money making better TV sets, computers and automobiles. As a consequence, there is a renewed interest in the US proletariat, whose demands appear substantially curbed by the combined attack on social-welfare spending and employment levels. In the perspective of the freezers the US should get out of Europe and many of its advance posts in the Third World, concentrate its domination in selected spheres of influence (Central and South America being the likely candidates), and reconstruct its productive basis at home making it once again competitive on the world market. As a Business Week re-industrialization 'team' put it,—In a section of their report entitled "Export or Die":
the United States, unlike its major competitors, has a rapidly growing labor force, much of it unskilled, and US wages will be declining reIative to those abroad. The economy will have therefore the resources to staff mass-production industries, such as autos and textiles, that the other advanced countries will begin to de-emphasise because of incipient labor shortages and rising wages. But the United States will have to make these industries much more efficient, since it will be coming into increased competition with the newly industrialized countries of Asia and Latin America, where labor costs will be much lower.
A capital-investment-based imperialism is thus to be substituted with an export-based imperialism, whose success, however, would depend on the willingness of the US labor force to accept wages competitive with those of the Third World, the termination of confrontational politics with the Soviet Union, and the ability to "find more suitable, cost-effective means, ranging from foreign aid to military intervention in specific situations abroad" (Business Week) in case of eventual disruptions of the international capitalist trade.
The Freeze and the Draft
"Is there anywhere where our theory that the organization of labor is determined by the means of production is more brilliantly confirmed than in the human slaughter industry?" (Marx to Engels-1866)
Inevitably the freezers/re-industrializers, through their whole spectrum, have radically different views from those of the Reagan administration concerning the draft. As its cautious, temporizing way of handling resisters to registration showed, the Reagan administration favors the present, post-Vietnam, volunteer army, which is a mirror, functional image of the class composition Reaganomics is fostering. On the bottom Reagan's army is a "free enterprise zone" of labor, conscripted by wages that are made appealing by the starkness of the labor market. On the top are the well-paid professionals and consultants required by a high-tech war machine. When the liberals of today rehearse what used to be an old conservative cry: "Money is not enough! You cannot build an army on money alone," Reagan, with Milton Friedman behind him, can answer, "Why not? We run the rest of the damn system on it." By contrast, it is the liberal freezers who are presently campaigning for a return to the draft:
Before anything else, we must recognise that a functioning military requires bonds of trust, sacrifice, respect within its ranks, and similar bonds of support and respect between the Army and the nation it represents ...I believe that will not happen unless we reinstate the draft. (Fallow)
On a more prosaic note the editors of the Washington Monthly who, after complaining that with the AVF (All Volunteer Force) "most Americans need never have direct contact with military life," point out that the draft would also save money. They too, however, recognise that "the most important benefit can't he measured in dollars and cents." Indeed. For how can the re-industrializers hope to fight their trade wars in Africa and Latin America when their troops are almost all black and hispanic? Not to mention that the mixture on which the AVF is based, of highly paid technicians (engineers, intelligence consultants etc.), mercenaries (select counter-insurgency forces) and a mass of poorly paid troopers is a very volatile one. Finally, should the promise of a full employment economy materialize, why would the white youth join a volunteer army, unless the wages were prohibitively high? In the words of the Washington Monthly:
Pentagon planners like to point out that last year they met their recruiting goals with enlistees of improved quality. What they don’t like to mention is the major reason for these gains: the worst economic recession since the 1930s. If the economy revives, the recruiting problems will return, particularly since the national recruiting pool of 15-21 year olds will decline by 15% by 1990.
What the liberals and freezers do not consider is that if the Reagan model prevails in the long run, there will be no revival of full employment to undermine "American Patriotism." What they also underestimate, in their disgusting ejaculations about the "Ol' Army," is the resistance of 15-21 year olds to the "Officer and Gentleman" routine.
Their stance to the draft, then, makes it clear that the re-industrializers need the support of the "new military" thinkers as much as the latter need them. No-one expects to sell the draft to white youth, much less to their parents, unless it is part of a package deal, offering them a "real future," i.e., a guarantee of secure employment in exchange for their readiness to “sacrifice." For, aside from mass jailings, the only credible weapon against draft evasion would be employment discrimination; but if the average white youth did not have the possibility of a "good job", why would he register for the draft and show up when called? Why die to defend the country if life in it does not pay? Without re-industrialization, the hope of a largely white, mass army is an impossible reality.
Thus to the white youth the re-industrializers offer the old jobs back, undoubtedly at lower wages (backed up by the whip of international competition) but with the promise of lower levels of exploitation (labour participation in management decisions being a usual feature of their new “social contract”). Also, they add the promise of a deal with the Russians to safeguard them, their families and their laboriously gained houses from the only possible threat to their physical existence: nuclear war. They promise a more rational, poly-valent world: no more titanic struggles between the forces of Good and Evil, fought with MXs and lasers; just a few trade wars plus a limited dose of social democracy in selected areas of the Third World, plenty of jobs and some charity for the basket cases.
The political economy behind the freeze is largely a return to the Keynesian state, based on mass assembly production, impelled by the restoration of US primacy in international export-trade and a revived mass army. Whether this economic set-up is envisioned as a "final solution" or as a temporary provision to ease the pain of the transition to a computer-run economy is difficult to assess. Democrats like Jerry Brown do not hide their preference for a Silicon Valley-type of economic development, while others, on the socialist side of the re-industrialization spectrum, seem to believe that the assembly line has long-term therapeutic qualities and will be with us for many years to come. What is certain, however, is that the Freezers-re-industrializers are in a position as untenable as Reagan's, since they re-propose a model of class relations the working class has already considered unacceptable. They go back, in fact, to square one of the crisis, hoping that workers in this country have been tamed after the last bout with Depression.
Despite the differences, one common assumption shared by all re-industrializers is the need to lower American wages and convince the US-proletariat to accept a reduced standard of living for the future. This feat will be presumably achieved by the establishment of a triple alliance between business, government and unions, who, forfeiting their alleged traditional opposition, will jointly decide what is best for the "public good." On this point the programs of the social-democratic left are in total conformity with those of the right, as witnessed by a proposal for a "Rational Re-industrialization Strategy" recently published by Socialist Review (n. 63-64) put forward by Dan Luria and Jack Russel.
Taking for granted that "the power and needs of private capital will continue to dominate the national and regional economy for the rest of the century," the authors claim that a center-left corporatism is on the agenda:
Corporatist, as we use the term, calls for voluntary cooperation between capital, labor and the state beyond the normal institutions of bourgeois democracy (e.g., elections, union contracts), it asserts the need for economic planning from above as the basis of this tripartite integration, and seeks common ground on which to contain conflict and organize growth. (Italics ours)
The only difference in this leftist proposal from others coming from the business press and the corporate planners is a projected "distant possibility" that the factory will become an immense university, where workers will be educated in the complexities of production and the bargaining process. They too insist, however, that we shed any "liberal, populist, communitarian, infantile-militant illusion" beginning with the "illusion that the sixties re-distributive programs can be replayed in the 80s." It is difficult to predict the future; yet, for all the beaming reports about their ability to "put America back to work," it is impossible to imagine that the re-industrialization model can have much success. Certainly, today workers are lining up to get "any job." But should full-employment materialize would they peacefully return to the five-day-a-week routine on the line at reduced wages, after years of "blue collar blues" and the increasing awareness of the fantastic possibilities that exist to robotize most of the work in this country? And how far will wages be reduced if American workers are expected to be competitive with workers all over the world? If it is true, e.g., that a textile worker in India earns 38 cents an hour (whatever that means), how can any worker in this country even bargain for the minimum wage? Finally, is fighting for a promised utopia of "more work and less pay" the only alternative to Reagan's "nuclear madness"?
We cannot decode time future, but we can look at the past, and this tells us that a collective plunge to the bottom cannot save us a Reaganite apocalypse. Only the lifting of the bottom, with the explosion of the Black Movement, put an end to cold war politics and the threat of atomic war in the late 19S0s and the early 1960s. It was Watts and the "hot summers" in the US cities that shifted the war on the Russians to a "war on poverty" at home. It is only because of the apparent lack of any genuine resistance to its plans that the Reagan administration can at present play its war-games and terrorize us with the absurd threat of a Russian takeover of the world, a threat whose only purpose is to justify the cuts in our standard of living and keep us busy struggling just for the right to live no matter how.
For why should the "U.S.A." wage a nuclear war with the "U.S.S.R."? First of all there is no U.S. and U.S.S.R., but a class system in both countries, i.e., a Soviet and American capitalist structure and a Soviet and American working class. On the workers' side, are we to believe that Russian men and women are interested in taking over N.Y.C. or Detroit or engage in nuclear disaster any more than American women and men want to conquer Moscow or Siberia and risk millions of deaths in the process? On the capitalist side, why should the US or the Soviet government want to destroy each other when they have drawn for decades immense benefits from their cold-war and iron-curtain politics, keeping their workers in line with the threat of "the other side"? Granted that Absolute nuclear war is out of the question since it would wipe out the winners as well as the losers, a partial nuclear warfare would be possible only if both Russia and the US government decided to launch it in their mutual interest to prevent the masses in both countries to gain too much power. It would only be possible if such a crisis opened in both countries at the same time to make a swap -- Kiev for Detroit -- desirable; and most important, if the guarantee existed that a massive destruction of a targeted sector of the Soviet and US working class did not lead to such a revulsion as to cause the collapse of both systems. Who would get up and go to work, lunch box and all, and who would plan to have a kid or save to buy a house after seeing millions of his/her fellow beings destroyed in a controlled/partial holocaust???
This, in fact, should be our strategy today. Not simply demand that they let us live, but make it clear that any attempt to realise their threats would have catastrophic consequences for them as well. Wars have always been high-risk gambles on capital's side and moments of deep instability for the system -for any social contract begins to break down when death on a mass scale becomes part of the bargain. This was the case in many countries of Europe after WWI and WWII --and the lesson has not gone lost, as can be seen from a congressional study prepared for the Joint Committee on Defense Production, published in March 1979, at the beginning of the arms build-up. The study ends with a chapter on "The Social and Political Implications of Nuclear Attacks", in which we find these telling words concerning a post-nuclear environment:
A significant risk of total loss of political legitimacy may develop, accompanied perhaps by real efforts on the part of survivors to change the leadership or the system forcibly or, at a local level, to take matters into their own hands. While a sense of national emergency and solidarity may operate to sustain the support of survivors for some time in the post-attack period, the failure of the government at any level to achieve rapid and meaningful recovery progress, to explain satisfactorily the causes of the attack, or to demonstrate a genuine concern for social needs and pre-attack values could lead to widespread dissatisfaction and perhaps result in serious challenges to the authority of government itself.
This fear is our greatest defense against nuclear war: the unpredictability of working class response can make nuclear war impossible. Yet, it is this very uncertainty that the Freeze attacks, for it commits itself to the same institutional process that would bring about the war in the first place (as the German Social-Democrats voted "reluctantly" for war credits at the start of WWI). In Nuclear War: what's in it for you?, the official book of the Ground Zero group, the description of the post-nuclear scenario has no mention of any insurrectional consequences or possibilities. Rather we are presented with the picture of a griping, depressed population whose most dangerous form of activity is some occasional food riot and dabbling in the black market. This is no accident. Such an image is the product of how the Freezers want us to be in the pre-nuclear stage: upset, but not so upset as to do anything rash.
They are so afraid that their ranks may get out of control that even after their electoral successes in 1981 and 1982 (where the freeze resolution passed in many states and localities) they slowed down their mobilization process, afraid that things were rushing along too fast for other elements of their plan to mature. Thus, while presumably we are on the verge of total annihilation ("we must proceed with all haste" is their slogan) they are postponing the Apocalypse till the election of 1984!!! The Freeze movement creates the very political conditions for the state to fight a partial nuclear war: a docile, patient mass waiting for the leaders and experts to solve the problem through respectable legislative means. Our best strategy is to preserve and intensify the "surprising autonomous" element of our struggle. It is best for two reasons: (a) it attacks the weak foundation of all "nuclear war-fighting" policies and (b) it has worked before, most recently in the "strange victories" of the anti-nuclear-reactor movement.
It is only with an extensive "civil defense" apparatus that it is even theoretically possible for there to be even a question of nuclear war-fighting. Whatever the technology available, unless the nuke war-fighters can convincingly demonstrate that "the masses" can be "protected" (i.e., controlled) to same extent during an atomic exchange and its aftermath, the very distinction between the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and Nuclear War-Fighting fails. So the Reagan administration has pushed for a leap in funding for civil defense, e.g., in the spring of 1982 it officially requested 4.3 billion dollars for a period of 7 years while, unofficially, the figure is more than 10 billion dollars for 5 years. And the ideological stage-setting from Reagan on down has been on "accentuating the positive" in the face of the nuclear Armageddon. Consider she chorus: Charles Kupperman (executive director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's General Advisory Committee):
It means that, you know, it would be tough (after a nuclear war). It would be a struggle to reconstitute society that we now have. It certainly wouldn't be the same society as prior to an exchange... But in terms of having an organized nation, and having enough means left after the war to reconstitute itself, I think it entirely possible.
Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) publication on December 1980:
With reasonable protective measures, the United States could. survive nuclear attack and go on to recovery within a relatively few years.
L.C. Giuffrida (head of FEMA under Reagan):
(Nuclear war) would be a terrible mess, but it wouldn't be unmanageable.
W. Chipman (Giuffrida's assistant at FEYA):
Someone mentioned the Black Death, and I was impressed a few weeks ago in reading about that during the period of the Hundred Year's war. Here was a catastrophe that killed a third of the population of England. And yet these people were able to mount an expeditionary force to France and fight the Battle of Poitiers six or eight years after the epidemic. I do not know what this says about the ethics of the human race, but it shows there is a certain resilience and toughness of society.
It was this very Chipman, who when asked if "American institutions" would survive all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union replied, "I think they would eventually, yeah. As I say, the ants eventually build another anthill."
In the face of these optimistic chants we have groups like the Physicians for Social Responsibility shrilling the "negative" antiphonically. For example, they point out that the very ability to control casualties in the event of an Absolute nuclear war requires a socio-medical fabric that would have been effectively destroyed in the initial seconds of the thermo-nuclear blasts...especially in the form of evaporated doctors. They envision more than 50% of the population destroyed immediately and 70-90% of the fixed capital obliterated; plagues decimating the survivors; lukemias, cancers and mutants sprouting for generations to come...if there are any. They revive an almost fourteenth century rhetoric:
In many areas radiation level will be so high that corpses will remain untouched for weeks on end. With transportation destroyed, survivors weakened, and a multiplicity of post-shelter reconstruction tasks to be performed, corpse disposal will be remarkably complicated. In order to bury the dead, an area 5.7 times (sic) as large as the city of Seattle would be required for the cemetery.
Thus we are caught between the terror of the "crackpot" realists of Reagan's limited nuclear war and the terror of the "scientific" Jerimiahs of the Apocalypse. Our approach would reject both types of terrorism and take up the theme of the Black Death that so inspired Mr. Chipman with that sacred awe of human stupidity. If he had read on in his history book he would have been somewhat dismayed because whatever the military exploits of the English longbowmen at Poitiers, the con-sequences of the Great Plague led directly to the end of Feudalism and the opening of the "Golden Age of the English Proletariat." For immediately after the Black Death, wages rose dramatically for a generation; then in an attempt to control them the feudal state tried to impose repressive statutes and poll taxes that led to the Peasant's Revolt of 1381.
In the ranks of the rebels were "primitive communists" like John Ball who preached: "things cannot go well in England, no ever will until everything shall be in common... and all distinctions levelled." Though that revolt was defeated, after a successful takeover of London, the pace of collapse of feudal institutions intensified. So that a century later a "counter-revolution" (i.e., capitalism) had to be launched to preserve class rule from the collapse of serfdom and the regime of high wages in England.
Such a history lesson might even make a numbskull like Mr. Chipman revise his notions of the "ant-like" nature of his fellow creatures. For it would show that the root of Reagan's nuclear war-fighting is not to be found in the MXs, the Pershing 2s or the cruise missiles but in the assumption of a fundamental attachment of the working class to capitalist relations and capitalist reproduction whatever they require. Once that premise is shaken, the delicate electronic innards of these machines and the extra-terrestrial powers lodged in their nosecones prove to be silly though dangerous toys.
But we need not go back to the days of "merrie England" to see that the most effective tactic in the struggle against nuclear war is to make the "autonomy" of the working class from capital evident for all to see by making our needs and demands primary. This has been demonstrated over and over again in the struggle against nuclear power plants. For the most troublesome stumbling block to the building of new plants has not been the technological foul-ups but the "social" factor, viz., the inability to be able to come up with "reasonable" evacuation plans in the event of an accident. Our Brooklyn friends write us of the latest such incident, on April 15, 1983 in statements made on the advisability of continuing operation of the Indian Point nuclear plants:
One of the two reasons that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Westchester County Executive, Andrew O'Roarke have given for saying that emergency planning won't work during an accident at the nuclear plant at Indian Point is that the bus drivers might refuse the work of evacuating people during the accident...this has been talked about for a while but has never been stated so forcefully -- O'Roarke says the plants should be shut down until the bus driver "problem" can be "worked" out.
Thus the very FEMA that is so gallantly planning to manage the nuclear war "mess" and bring about the "recovery within a relatively few years" admits defeat in a relatively less serious eventuality, a nuclear power plant accident, at the hands of bus drivers who they suspect will very reasonably violate "regulations" and "first gather their families or whatever and split." Similarly, when we not only as bus drivers but workers in general, put our interests above the interests of capital, then the whole system of terror breaks down. The very presupposition and end of nuclear war: to terrorize and control for the purpose of producing more and more work, cannot survive if we are moving out of the orbit of control.
So the answer to Reagan's nuclear war threat is not the Freeze and re-industrialization, for they merely re-package the presuppositions of nuclear war to freeze and preserve them. No, it is only by refusing to organize on the basis of universal competition in the national-international labor market --whether our competition is defined as other workers around the world or robots --and fighting for the reduction of the work week for everybody with an increase of wages and a policy of "full employment" achieved through "full payment for all the work we do already" -- for who is not working in this country except the rich? --whether in money or wealth (i.e., houses, food, medical care, etc.) or both, that we can not only turn back nuclear war but we would be in a position to want to!
Elegy for E.P. Thompson
Midnight Notes critique E.P. Thompson's writing on the nuclear war industry.
How could anyone accuse E.P. Thompson of ignoring the working class and its struggle in the analysis of anything central to the development of international capitalism? Of all writers on the Left, Thompson probably has done the most to teach us that capital in its attempt to form an industrial proletariat confronted the determined resistance of a work force which saw itself as coerced and exploited by a property-controlling employer class.
His books and articles have shown us that the central institutions and practices of developing capitalism, from the organization of production in factories to the rituals of 'criminal' 'justice’ must be understood as responses to this resistance, as societal mechanisms for turning unwilling labor power into disciplined, quiescent producers of surplus value. It is Thompson and the young historians he has trained who have shown us how to revise the history of the 18th and 19th centuries to place the development and struggles of the working class at the center of the story, where they belong. We are therefore surprised to find that Thompson's analysis of one of the most important institutional complexes in twentieth century capitalism -- the nuclear war industry -- utterly ignores the fundamental part played by war policy and its enormous economic base in organizing the expropriation and accumulation of surplus value.
After proving to us that so many of the practices of early capitalist society served the accumulation process by effecting the organization of labor, Thompson seems to forget that capitalism's raison d'etre has not changed in two hundred years -- any more than its principal obstacle has ceased to be the organization of us. Thompson's most cogent accounts of the nuclear war establishment appear in his "Notes on Exterminism" (New Left Review, Spring /Summer 1980) and in a book just published, Beyond the Cold War (Pantheon, 1982).
In both places he presents the war establishments of the NATO countries -- the US especially -- and the USSR as self-generating, self-sustaining complexes of belief, ideology, economic institution, and social practice. These practices and the larger belief systems they have spawned in their respective societies are 'exterminist,' in Thompson's splendid bit of jargon, because they inevitably push these societies toward the nuclear confrontation(s) which will result in the extermination of multitudes, indeed, of us all. Thompson recognizes, of course, that the effects of war policy permeate capitalist society, affecting profoundly the values and political practices of the western democracies, and even more profoundly, their economies, given the massive expenditures required to support nuclear armaments.
He thus introduces his category of 'exterminism' as 'something less than (a) social formation, and something a good deal more than (a) cultural or ideological attribute' in order to make the important point that the war establishment is a matter of institutions with strong economic foundations -- a matter of fully developed social systems -- and not just a lot of ideas in the minds of generals and right-wing politicians.
What Thompson does not do is to ask the fundamental question which any marxist social analysis must always ask, viz., what function do these institutions and practices fulfil in furthering the larger aims of a capitalist society -- how do they advance the process of accumulation? what part do they play in sustaining/re-instructing current modes of production? how are they instruments for the organization and control of labor power? The closest he comes to dealing with these questions is a brief reference to 'the competitive drive of arms manufacturers' as one of the several factors sustaining nuclear arms development in the west; and he cites with qualified approval the view that the defense industries are and are intended by government policy to be 'the leading sector' of the economy, responsible for major innovations in technology, hence productivity, and charged with leading the economy out of its recurrent recessions via the massive appropriations it absorbs and transforms. But these economic functions of defense policy are cited as items on a list of many apparently equal, in Thompson's eyes, explanatory considerations. No special importance, let alone priority, is assigned to class, as opposed, e.g., to symbolic or ideological functions of the war establishment.
This rejection of traditional marxist categories seems particularly odd since Thompson is brilliantly effective in demonstrating the irrationality of of nuclear 'defense' strategy as a military strategy and of nuclear arms as an instrument of international politics. He argues effectively for the bankruptcy of the older 'deterrence' theory and for the manifest absurdity of current NATO claims that the new generation of weapons (Pershings, cruise missiles, neutron bombs) permit confinement of a nuclear exchange to a limited an manageable area --all of Western Europe, for example -- and so provide a useable military and diplomatic option. He argues this case so effectively that we are left wondering why admittedly very "smart" people have for years operated a belief system and institutional set-up which, in terms of ordinary means-ends rationality, plainly is insane.
Thompson's explanation is that a series of factors largely internal to the process of producing weapons and weapons policy join together to create a powerful 'inertial thrust' in the direction of ever larger war-making establishments. The point of his 'inertia' metaphor is to stress that weapons development and war-strategy are self-sustaining and self-generating, not dependent for their continued existence and growth on their ability to satisfy societal needs or functions other than those of 'defense'. Thus nuclear armaments and their elaborate delivery systems are constantly renewed and reconstructed because of enormous internal pressures exerted by generals and the weapons technologists themselves; new strategies like that of 'theater nuclear war' are generated because frustrated and impatient militarists demand new game plans to utilize the superior power of their new technologies; militarists and arms manufacturers interlock with government bureaucracies and become skillful in spreading their ideology through news media and in the organs of state; a large state security and policing apparatus grows up around them, ostensibly to protect against the Soviet enemy, but also to enhance the control of information and inhibit opposition, thereby enabling the formation and dissemination, unchallenged, of a supportive ideology. This 'inertial thrust' has brought us to the point where, in Thompson's excellent formulation, '... the USA and the USSR do not have military-industrial complexes: they are such complexes." Militarism is founded in a circumscribed institutional base -- the military, arms manufacturers, civilian defense bureaucracy, state security apparatus, the scientific establishment of weapons research -- but its influence extends into all areas of social life, to such an extent that this now powerful 'social system,' as Thompson rightly calls it, is able to stamp its priorities on the society as a whole, determining the direction of economic growth, moulding the entire culture.
This explanation must be taken seriously because it makes it very clear that the policy of nuclear war expresses deep structural characteristics of the society and economy, and so cannot be taken simply as the outcome of machinations by a clique of generals, politicians and industrialists. No conspiracy theory of the cold war can do justice to this fact that 'defense' now designates an entire social system, with a social system's capacity to sustain and perpetuate itself. The merit of Thompson's inertial metaphor is the graphic fashion in which it makes this point. Yet the image he creates for us goes fundamentally wrong. For it is, in effect, the image of a gigantic cancer, rapidly taking over the host body, but deriving its impulse to growth entirely from within itself. Like a cancer, the defense apparatus fulfils no constructive functions for the larger body. Its existence and rapid growth are indeed irrational, as Thompson stresses repeatedly, but the irrationality is an artifact of his analysis, due to the fact that he assigns it no central role in furthering the fundamental objectives of a capitalist society. The enormity of Thompson's failure is most evident in his assertion that 'exterminism does not (call into being its own antagonist). Exterminism simply confronts itself. It does not exploit a victim: it confronts an equal (viz., the exterminist social systems of the Soviet Bloc).' The claim is explicit: Exterminist social systems of war are no to be understood as instruments of class oppression or as factors 'in class struggle: 'Class struggle continues in many forms, across the globe. But exterminism itself is not a "class issue": it is a human issue.' And the movement against nuclear war is not a program of resistance for the working class against its rulers; it is 'the defense of civilization, the defense of the ecosphere -- the human ecological imperative.'
As always in Thompson's writing, there is an important element of truth here: If 'working class' is defined narrowly, after the fashion of classical marxism, then exterminism is not merely an instrument of working class oppression, since all who live and breathe and labor are oppressed by it, In the Midnight Notes, however, 'working class' has always been defined broadly, to include all who contribute directly, through labor waged and unwaged, to the production of value to be expropriated and accumulated by a ruling class which controls for its own advantage the means of production. Thompson's politically sanitary formulation wholly obscures this essential fact: the social systems of exterminism, like all enduring social systems in a capitalist society, exist and develop because they are effective instruments in the organization of the society for maximally efficient (per the judgement of its rule) pursuit of the expropriation and accumulation of surplus value, given the modes of production available in the current phase of capitalism's history (modes of production now undergoing radical change: itself a central factor in the evolution of war policy).
The policies and programs of these social systems are as irrational as Thompson thinks, in their own advertised terms, as military and diplomatic instruments for preserving "Western Society." But it does not follow that they are irrational or that the rulers who continue to operate them are fools and madmen. For again, their function is to facilitate the repression, development, organization of labor power, waged and unwaged. The 'defense' they are principally charged with is the defense of an exploitative social and economic system against ourselves, and they are rational as long as they hold the promise of carrying out this defensive function effectively. We in turn defend ‘the ecosphere' against exterminism by demonstrating that no such strategy for the exploitation of our labor will be tolerated.
Thompson himself points to one way this deeper 'defensive' function is fulfilled when he describes '...the danger that the weapons states will themselves become terrorist, and turn their terror against their own peoples.' If this description of the Official Secrets Act and its administration by Thatcher's government considered together with anti-'terrorist' and 'conspiracy' provisions in current attempts to reform the criminal codes in this country -- not to mention the Reagan Administration's efforts to expand the brief of the CIA and FBI to include 'domestic intelligence' -- make it clear that the 'danger' is now being realized. The familiar program is to use the supposed imperatives of 'national security' to justify the imposition of social discipline by state police forces; the supposed danger of instant annihilation by Soviet missiles being cited to terrorize populations into accepting as legitimate the authority of rulers who attempt to suppress political dissent and resistance to work, whatever its form, in the name of 'keeping our borders safe.'
A clear example of this is the Italian state's need to repress and criminalize all autonomous social movements in order to create a 'safe environment' for the installation of Cruise missiles, so that 'nuclear defense' neatly dovetails into the 'struggle against criminals and terrorists.' But as Thompson has taught us in his vivid descriptions of resistance to the exploitation of industrializing England, social discipline is labor discipline, and the first object of 'social order' is a tame workforce. The voices to be suppressed in the name of national 'security' are first of all those calling abolition of exploitative institutions, redistribution of wealth, 'more money/ less work' -- and this most definitely is a 'class issue.'
A second function of the social systems of war is to provide an unchallengeable basis for absorbing that same wealth, money and work to the point of making all workers totally dependent on their paychecks for survival -- the surest way of all to achieve 'labor discipline.' The threat of nuclear war, which the policies of our political leaders ensure will remain very real and salient, is used to render unquestionable and irresistible all expenditures, however large, made in the name of 'defense’. The point of the policy of cold war is to make military expenditures appear as necessary and as matter of course as every family's expenditures on electricity, food, heat and shelter. Reagan's latest TV speech about the alleged crumbling of the anti-Soviet defenses is an excellent example of this P.R. program of frightening the US population into accepting his decimation of 'social programs.' His object is to absorb so much of the society's surplus that only a pittance is left for the programs which sustain workers independently of the wage -- and to do so, moreover, in the name of 'higher ends' which no one will challenge because to do so is to invite nuclear holocaust. Reagan has made the strategy crudely obvious by combining huge increases in weapons budgets with huge cuts in non-military spending. This too is a 'class issue': GM stockholders do not lose welfare or unemployment checks to pay for Pershing II missiles and B-1 bombers.
This list can go on much further, but it will be enough to cite one more function of the policy of nuclear war, easily overlooked because in a way it is the most fundamental of all. The industries producing nuclear weapons and their enormously sophisticated and expensive delivery systems are extremely efficient accumulators of surplus value produced elsewhere in the economy, given that their one client is the state and their payment is comprised of tax money. In this, defense industries are like the energy industries: they are high technology, capital-intensive industries, with relatively small labor forces (and these comprised largely of 'skilled' labor) , hence are little subject to the depredations of dissatisfied workers. And their profits are enormous, again because of their special relationship to the state. They are, in effect, conduits through which the state transfers huge quantities of surplus value produced in other sectors of the economy into the hands of holding companies, multinational corporations, and banks which control and finance weapons development and production. Like the electric bill and the gas bill, everyone has to pay up, whatever the cost, so that raising the rates provides a sure way of extracting value from throughout the society. This is why the movement against nuclear war upsets Reagan's people so thoroughly. It is a direct attack on one of the most efficient instruments of accumulation post-war capitalism has yet been able to devise.
A Letter to Boston's "Radical Americans" From a “Loose and Disorderly” New Yorker, Autumn 1770
Midnight Notes on the multi-ethnic rebellion at the roots of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770 in which British soldiers shot and killed several people.
A Letter to Boston's "Radical Americans"1
From a “Loose and Disorderly” New Yorker, Autumn 1770
TO THE MEMORY OF BOBBY SCOLLARD,
Race Track Schemer,
Dear Radical Americans of Boston,2
Brothers and sisters of Boston, this letter is for you. It is a warning and a reminder. Events are moving fast. The British lion is hungry. We have all heard its roaring. How shall we fight this imperialist beast? How can we stay its unquenchable appetite for our lives, labors and goods? Are we to let the Ruffle-Wearers of our towns lead us to battle against this beast, and when we have defeated it then turn their own hunger against us, to ravage our lives and families under the colors of some American flag instead of the Union Jack? Or, can we defeat them both, the she-lion and her American cubs at the same time?
Even as we try to resolve this question in the practice of our struggles, the political meaning of our efforts is transformed by artful liars in the pay of our own gentry. One Paul Revere, a silversmith, is in the lead of these "historians" of the Ruffle-Wearers. Last week his print arrived in New York, the print describing the "Bloody Massacre" of THE FATAL FIFTH OF MARCH when Captain Preston and some of his bloody-backs shot at our brother workers with their loaded firelocks. On the right his print shows the Captain ordering the red-coats to fire into the crowd that only three paces away had gathered armed with nothing more than snowballs.
We had heard of the massacre. It was the talk of the New York markets and taverns. We knew that the soldiers had come to hassle and mess about with your lives. We knew that the lousy lobster-backs were active in scabbing against the dispute going down in Mr. Grey's rope-yard. We knew of Sam Grey who had advised the soldier who entered the yard looking for work to "go and clean my s--t house." We knew the Irishmen, Patrick Carr and John Clark, who were slain. Of course, we knew the Afro-Indian, Crispus Attucks, who lay dead. How could we not? Since his escape from slavery in Framingham, he'd got around. At six foot two inches, this man, part Natick Indian and part African, cut a pretty prominent figure on our common coast. "The first to defy, the first to die" as your fat man, John Adams, said of him at the trial where that lugubrious crocodile, Adams, defended Preston and his bullies.3
Paul Revere is of the fat man's party. True, he does not defend Preston, but he lies as to who was killed. Why does he not show any African faces in the crowd of the victims? Where is Crispus Attucks? We do not pretend to be skilled engravers, but surely a black face is as readily rendered by the engraver's art as a white face which in any case is defined by the blackness around it. And could he not have by some symbolic emblem in the hat or coat - a shamrock would have looked well for instance - have indicated that our brothers, Patrick Carr and John Clark, were Irishmen?4 Why is it that so swiftly after the massacre we find this print carried throughout the North American dominions obscuring the essential ethnic combination leading to the first battle of the coming American Revolution?
The answer is that the native lion cubs have well studied what the imperial lion has taught them - DIVIDE AND RULE. The brutality of the English merchants is known around the world, from Bombay to Guinea, from Belfast to Boston. Its appetite for blood and gold is so great that our native "patriots" wish to leech upon us too. The slave traders and task masters of Boston and New York must fight the imperial lion as well as us Irish, Africans, and poor crackers. Though we make all the riches, individually we have nothing. Our only strength is our numbers. Our power is our combination. For fear of that power they lie and conceal our mighty alliance. That accounts for Paul Revere's omissions and distortions.
The importance of this lie, indeed the necessity of it, arose from a fact of our New York history. On SAINT PATRICK'S DAY, 1741, we in New York sought to spice the imperialist dinner with some salt and pepper of our own. Black and white, Irish and African, offered to roast them alive. On that day we set fire to Fort George, the Governor's Mansion, the imperial armory, the symbol of Royal Majesty and Civil Authority, and the haven and security of the rich. We cooked it to a crisp. It was the signal to start fires throughout the town, and the flames of ten fires (eight in six days) was the beacon of general insurrection. We danced in the streets by the light of the conflagration. We drank through the night in the warmth of our just wrath. The flames lit up the sky in billowing bursts of ocher and orange. Their reflections played in the waters of the harbor. The world seemed to turn upside down. Irish were to be governors, Africans to be kings.
I wish to recollect 1741 for you, Radical Americans, though it was thirty years ago. I am a "loose and disorderly person." I belong to the "scum and dregs of the white complexion." When your fat man, John Adams, referred to the victims of THE FATAL FIFTH OF MARCH as the "most obscure and inconsiderable that could have been found upon the continent," the brave words belong to me! Therefore you may dismiss what I say, or doubt its veracity, or question the faltering memory of an old and indigent man. As you ought. Consequently, I'll tell the story only by reference to what has been printed. You can check everything I say in the book that was printed of the trials.5 (The trials were long, my friends, beginning in the violent spring and stretching throughout the hot summer of 1741 and beyond. Small wonder they were long , for long was the trail of blood that followed them, long were the clouds of smoke that rose above the city from the burning of our brothers and sisters, long was the voyage of those transported to the West Indies, long was the time that the leaders hung in gibbets on the docks.
The trial proceedings omit to record the words of defense, only the confessions that were extracted from the miserable wretches who would sell out their brothers and sisters to save their own lives were published in the proceedings. Nevertheless, I shall refer only to what was printed, and leave the rest to your experienced imagination that can easily piece together the fragments. Or better, you can investigate it yourself by asking questions at the taverns, rope-walks, wharfs, and timber-yards of your own city where surely you'll find veterans of SAINT PATRICK'S DAY of 1741.
Thirteen black men and women were burned at the stake in the evenings between May and August. Sixteen black men and women were hanged during the same period, except in the mornings. Four whites were hanged. Seven whites and seventy Africans were transported out of the King's North American dominions to be sold into slavery in Newfoundland and the Caribbean. Extraordinary marvels took place at these scenes of terror and English law. I shall tell you of them presently. For now, let me lead you into the circumstances of the revolt and guide you to the innermost places where we brooded and planned our conspiracy.
Do you remember the coldness of the winter of 1740/41? Oh, it was the worst of the century! All over Europe, as we later learned, people rioted for food. In Ireland Bishop Berkeley reported seeing the carcasses of children frozen solid in the lanes, and haggard women fighting one another for the privilege of gnawing on dog's bones. In New York it was very bad too. Provisions were low and the market was bare. Diana, a slave to Mrs. Marchado, laid her child on the ground to spite her mistress. There the simple creature was frozen to death. John Hughson, considered by many to be the leader of the rebellion, was far more often that winter away from home with his sleigh collecting firewood from the fields and commons. His neighbor and brother tradesman, John Romme, likewise took particular care that winter to get in his firewood. Two Africans, Caesar and Cuffee, and a white lad named Yorkshire made regular deliveries for him. Antonio, one of the Spanish prisoners of war unjustly sold as slaves, walked into town on an errand for his master, and froze his feet in the first snow. By spring he was permanently lame. And if the winter were not bad enough, the horrors of war added to the fears of our town, bringing death and desperation to the poor and deluding hysteria and un-certainty of trade to the ruffled rich.
A year earlier that merchant mountebank, Robert Jenkins, fooled around in Parliament flourishing his severed ear in front of the astonished bigwigs, pretending that Spanish papish predators had sliced it off in unprovoked battle. Yet, we knew from word arriving through Mexico and El Salvador that the London merchants had already instigated trouble among the long-cutters of Honduras and the sailors of the slave fleets (asiento vessels, so-called because the English possessed a monopoly on slave trading to the Spanish Main.)
In New York the effects. of war were already felt. Captain Lush in March of 1741 had captured (or stolen!) a Spanish frigate. Nineteen of her crew were Spanish-speaking Africans. They were imprisoned. A Court of Admiralty ruled them all slaves. The Vendue-Master at their auction said that the proceedings were warranted because he had heard from a ship's captain who had heard that some of the crew were heard to have been slaves once in Carthagena6 Lush profitted heavily from the transaction, though he risked the wrath of the Spaniards who promised to burn his house down and even dared to threaten to "tie him to a beam and roast him like a piece of beef."7
Though they insisted that they were not slaves - they did have surnames which they duly produced in court - they refused to stand aloof from those who still were. Later these Spaniards were an example of courage and teachers of soldiering technique to those of us less experienced. Antonio, for instance, "had something black, which he said was to throw on houses to set them on fire." He cut this "something" into pieces and distributed them at Hughson's. The slave Ben answered Jack's doubts about the conspiracy saying, "Oh! you fool, those Spaniards know better than York Negroes, and could help better to take it than they, because they were more used to war."
In the autumn of 1740, an expeditionary fleet against the Spanish West Indies was raised in New York. This alone dangerously depleted provisions against the coming winter. John Hughson and his African associates were pretty sharp in this situation - selling a man-of-war fourteen or fifteen firkins of butter that they had somehow obtained. John Comfort carefully watched to whom the water from his well went. All manner of poor men and boys wore pressed in the streets to man this fleet. So few were the young and able-bodied left, that Albany (Mr. Carpenter's slave) "believed an hundred and fifty men might take this city."8 After the departure of the "Cuba men" only the indirect effects of the war touched our city - shortages and hysteria.
The latter we saw in the spring of 1741 in Governor Oglethorpe's letter. Freshly returned from his slaughters in the Florida campaign, he wrote the governor of New York from Georgia saying that all kinds of Spanish priests had infiltrated the northern ports disguising themselves as physicians, dancing-masters, and school-teachers. This was a premature Red-Under-the-Bed theory. To an extent it worked: the wartime delusionary paranoia helped hang many of the people here, including that good and learned man, John Ury. Us slaves, "scum," and "dregs" needed no such outside interference from mysterious plotters, though we were grateful for whatever help we could get. What we wanted was an attack by sea on our city: if the European imperialists were at each other’s throats we could supply the coup de grace from within.
Preparation for the insurrection of SAINT PATRICK'S DAY, 1741, had begun months in advance. The Spanish POWs and the War of Jenkin's Ear both played a part that Bastian, a slave, summed up in this way: "they had a parcel of good hands, Spanish Negroes, five or six of them who could join with the York Negroes: that they expected that war would be proclaimed in a little time against the French, and that the French and the Spaniards would come here." Their expectations were disappointed. However, other problems were resolved. In forming a coalition of African slaves, Irish servants, free Negroes, Afro-Hispanics, native Americans, and some discontented white soldiers of uncertain progeny, in the repressive atmosphere of a Calvinist, merchant city, we were able to overcome some important problems of command, weaponry, ideology, and communications.
At the trial some of the characteristics of the command structure emerged. The city was divided in two parts: the east and west, with John Romme's house being the headquarters of the "Fly Boys" in the east, and John Hughson's house the headquarters of the "Long Bridge Boys" of the west. Each had their captains and was further sub-divided into companies. Juan was to be a captain, same with Jack. Ben and Toby also were appointed captains, assuming their masters' names as Captain Marshall and Captain Provoost. Around Christmas time about forty Negroes of Long Island formed themselves into a company, mustered out on Sunday afternoons, and trained themselves in the use of "borrowed" arms. Indeed, back in 1740 word of the plot had spread into the country around New York. In Westchester it was heard that "there would be bloody times in York before harvest." A slave in Long Island was heard saying, "if they burn their backsides, they must sit down on the blisters, but said further, let them go and prosper."9
Though he denied that he could read and write, Ben, who also had access to his master's horse and weapons an account of his master's frequent absences, kept a list whereupon all the conspirators affixed their marks against their names that he had written out. Those who worked the hardest and took the most risks also took the grandest titles. Thus, Caeser was to be the governor. Hughson the King. And Peg, "The Newfoundland Irish Beauty" was to become the Governess.
Weapons were stockpiled all that winter. Hughson collected money from his African comrades (who'd reappropriated it from their masters) to buy arms and ammunition in New Jersey. The Spaniards offered technical advice in the manual exercise of arms. Powlus, one of them, sold nine knives at the meal-market for 2s. 6d. We knew something about detonators and explosives too. When it came to pyrotechnics, none knew more than "Doc" Parry, an African living in Nassau, Long Island, since his expulsion by the New York magistracy for what they were pleased to call "malpractice in physic"! "Doc" Harry, understood that poisonous, therapeutic, and explosive properties of substances, knowledge that he had begun to study in his native Guinea.
Once after a supper meeting at Hughson's he cried out, "Hurrah for Guanas boys, for he had Guanas boys enough." Guano, as some of you Boston radical Americans must know, is the excrement of bats and birds. Those of you who have sailed on the Peruvian coast or around the off-shore islands of Florida's Gulf coast, will have seen huge mounds of it and the cliffs covered with it, like icing on a cake.
"Doc" Harry had learned how to make gunpowder from this, and other explosive forms. Much later, board the ship that transported him to Hispaniola, Bastian remembered, "We had combustibles prepared by doctor Harry, made up into balls." Several of the many fires that broke out after SAINT PATRICK'S DAY were ignited by his preparations, though it was a smoldering hickory or walnut fire-brand (such hardwoods can keep an ember alive for twenty-four hours with the minimum of oxygen) that Quaco had actually used to ignite Fort George that day.
The ideas that propelled so many to such to desperate action were not given a full hearing at the trials, because the justices were less interested in what we had to say, than they were in pretending that we were all the stupid agents of the Pope. However, sometimes a few words would slip in, and I can safely leave it to you to read between the lines and to choose for yourself any among the many communitarian traditions alive in our century that they belonged to.
The white soldiers wanted money. It was as simple as that. They had not been paid in months, and when they were paid it hardly satisfied their wants.10 The Irish soldier, Kane, born in Co. Athlone, told Johnson, the journeyman hatter, "D--n ye, don't be down-hearted, never fear, for we shall have money enough by-and-by." Hughson used to say "the country was not good, too many gentlemen here, and made negroes work hard." The Newfoundland Irish Beauty remembered him telling Cuffee, an African leader, "they should steal all that they could from their masters: then he would carry them to a strange country, and give them their liberty, and set them free."
My! my! my! did those Dutch and English property people in the jury hate old Hughson! He was guilty "not only of making Tregro slaves their equals, but even their superiors, by waiting upon, keeping with, and entertaining them with meat, drink, and lodging."
Equality might have been the watchword of the insurrection. Quak “said he would ride in a coach after he had destroyed his master." Cuffee used to say, "that a great many people had too much, and others too little; that his old master had a great deal of money, but that, in a short time, he should have less and that he (Cuffee) would have more."
Equality and freedom. Cato complained "it was hard a case upon the poor Negroes, that they could not so much as take a walk after church-out, but the constables took them up; therefore in order to be free, they must