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Primitivism and Left Communism

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EdmontonWobbly's picture
EdmontonWobbly
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Nov 18 2006 02:41
Primitivism and Left Communism

In the interests of not tracking mud on John's genteel discussion about Seidman I figured I would start up a barn burner over here. So is there a connection between left communism and primitivism? Can Zerzan and Perlman's earlier work even be considered be considered left communist? And finally why is it that those who want to destroy civilisation and revert to hunter gatherer existences all seem to eat a lot of tofu?

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Nov 18 2006 04:14

Loren Goldner, I believe, mentioned some thoughts about this. Something to the effect of: those who see the revolution just around the corner in every spontaneous act of workers when workers militancy is high, tend to write off the working class altogether when militancy is low.

uranus
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Nov 18 2006 07:36
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
And finally why is it that those who want to destroy civilisation and revert to hunter gatherer existences all seem to eat a lot of tofu?

why do anti-capitalists participate in capitalism?

besides, lots of primitivists practice foraging and are students of primitive skills.

also not all who oppose civilization desire a hunter gatherer existence.

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Nov 18 2006 07:47
uranus wrote:
not all who oppose civilization desire a hunter gatherer existence

out of interest, if 'civilization' means societies founded on agricultural surpluses, what else is there? Subsistence farming?

uranus
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Nov 18 2006 08:05

i should have clarified that not all who have a critique of civilization think we need to go back to hunting and gathering.

could this mean subsistence farming? i guess so

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Nov 18 2006 09:17

Well, the old UK Wildcat group, or parts of it, did wander off into primitivism a while back. I suspect that they were influenced by the GCI's critique of 'progress', which leads to the conclusion that communism was possible at any time in history. But left communism is essentially a current of marxism, and I would argue that such critiques owe more to Bakunin than to Marx.

Of course the marxist view of historical movement has, as in all other spheres, been hideously distorted by Stalinism, with its notion of the 'primacy of the productive forces' and its rigidly linear view of progress. That is indeed a bourgeois vision of progress. But the authentic marxist vision was put forward by Engels in Origins of the Family, precisely in this passage about the passing of primitive communist society. Engels, who more than Marx is accused of being an apologist of bourgeois progressivism, shows that he is equally capable of grasping the two-sided nature of all progress up till now. There are, of course formulations within the passage about primitive society which are open to question or need clarification (such as the idea of the child-like nature of primitive society and its view of the world), but the concluding section in particular, elaborating the notion of an advance which is also a fall or degradation, provides the only real basis for making sense of the human drama and tragedy involved in the historical emergence of class exploitation and the dissolution of the original human community:

“And a wonderful constitution it is, this gentile constitution, in all its childlike simplicity! No soldiers, no gendarmes or police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits - and everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole of the community affected, by the gens or the tribe, or by the gentes among themselves; only as an extreme and exceptional measure is blood revenge threatened-and our capital punishment is nothing but blood revenge in a civilized form, with all the advantages and drawbacks of civilization. Although there were many more matters to be settled in common than today - the household is maintained by a number of families in common, and is communistic, the land belongs to the tribe, only the small gardens are allotted provisionally to the households - yet there is no need for even a trace of our complicated administrative apparatus with all its ramifications. The decisions are taken by those concerned, and in most cases everything has been already settled by the custom of centuries. There cannot be any poor or needy - the communal household and the gens know their responsibilities towards the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. All are equal and free - the women included. There is no place yet for slaves, nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes. When, about the year 1651, the Iroquois had conquered the Eries and the "Neutral Nation," they offered to accept them into the confederacy on equal terms; it was only after the defeated tribes had refused that they were driven from their territory. And what men and women such a society breeds is proved by the admiration inspired in all white people who have come into contact with unspoiled Indians, by the personal dignity, uprightness, strength of character, and courage of these barbarians.
We have seen examples of this courage quite recently in Africa. The Zulus a few years ago and the Nubians a few months ago -- both of them tribes in which gentile institutions have not yet died out -- did what no European army can do. Armed only with lances and spears, without firearms, under a hail of bullets from the breech-loaders of the English infantry - acknowledged the best in the world at fighting in close order -- they advanced right up to the bayonets and more than once threw the lines into disorder and even broke them, in spite of the enormous inequality of weapons and in spite of the fact that they have no military service and know nothing of drill. Their powers of endurance and performance are shown by the complaint of the English that a Kaffir travels farther and faster in twenty-four hours than a horse. His smallest muscle stands out hard and firm like whipcord, says an English painter.
That is what men and society were before the division into classes. And when we compare their position with that of the overwhelming majority of civilized men today, an enormous gulf separates the present-day proletarian and small peasant from the free member of the old gentile society.
That is the one side. But we must not forget that this organization was doomed. It did not go beyond the tribe. The confederacy of tribes already marks the beginning of its collapse, as will soon be apparent, and was already apparent in the attempts at subjugation by the Iroquois. Outside the tribe was outside the law. Wherever there was not an explicit treaty of peace, tribe was at war with tribe, and wars were waged with the cruelty which distinguishes man from other animals, and which was only mitigated later by self-interest. The gentile constitution in its best days, as we saw it in America, presupposed an extremely undeveloped state of production and therefore an extremely sparse population over a wide area. Man's attitude to nature was therefore one of almost complete subjection to a strange incomprehensible power, as is reflected in his childish religious conceptions. Man was bounded by his tribe, both in relation to strangers from outside the tribe and to himself; the tribe, the gens, and their institutions were sacred and inviolable, a higher power established by nature, to which the individual subjected himself unconditionally in feeling, thought, and action. However impressive the people of this epoch appear to us, they are completely undifferentiated from one another; as Marx says, they are still attached to the navel string of the primitive community. The power of this primitive community had to be broken, and it was broken. But it was broken by influences which from the very start appear as a degradation, a fall from the simple moral greatness of the old gentile society. The lowest interests -- base greed, brutal appetites, sordid avarice, selfish robbery of the common wealth -- inaugurate the new, civilized, class society. It is by the vilest means -- theft, violence, fraud, treason -- that the old classless gentile society is undermined and overthrown. And the new society itself, during all the two and a half thousand years of its existence, has never been anything else but the development of the small minority at the expense of the great exploited and oppressed majority; today it is so more than ever before”.

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Nov 18 2006 11:44
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Looking back at that post it seems like I was trying to make a jab at left communists, I actually wasn't. That wasn't actually my intent all I was saying is that Seidman wouldn't be the first person with an ultra left critique of unions to take a primitivist position. At least here in North America a lot of anarchist magazines misuse a lot of warmed over left communist rhetoric to make their point. Just look at Anarchy a Journal of Desire Armed, any of the plethora of shitty insurrectionist zines, or green anarchy and you can see a marked similarity in tone and approach. For the record though for all my disagreements I think the left communists are sometimes onto something, the former folks are all just on something.

Yes, I think thought that there is a world of difference between the left communists, and the anarcho-insurectionalists. I don't see that there is any similarity in the tradition, or practice of these two currents.

Yes, Cammatte was a left communist, who went a bit crazy, and the rump of the Wildcat group in England went into primitivism, but I think as a trend it is certainly linked closer to anarchism through its membership, not its ideology.

OliverTwister wrote:
Loren Goldner, I believe, mentioned some thoughts about this. Something to the effect of: those who see the revolution just around the corner in every spontaneous act of workers when workers militancy is high, tend to write off the working class altogether when militancy is low.

Again this is something that I would say has more roots in anarchism than left communism. I think it reflects that tendency in the anarchist movement to insurrectionalism, which I wouldn't actually see as a class based thing.

Devrim

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Nov 18 2006 11:46

I'd suggest there are a couple of very strong connections

1. A shared hostility to existing mass organisation and the concept of it being 'the left hand of capital' or 'leftism'
2. An existence that mainly revolves around tiny groups producing a critiique (or simply denouncing) other movements as not going far enough/ not seeing the big picture
3. A conviction that the irrelevacne of their ideas today will be overcome in then future by a massive crisis so that if they stand still the world will come to them.
4. The idea that these is no need to consider the sort of compromises that might be required to make a 'real world' revolution function/survive in the short term.

Leo
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Nov 18 2006 12:11
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A shared hostility to existing mass organisation and the concept of it being 'the left hand of capital' or 'leftism'

A shared hostility to existing mass organisation is common in the entire left-wing spectrum. Let alone the fact that a mass organization doesn't have to be left-wing, do anarchists not have a shared hostility to existing Leninist mass organisations for example? Do you think it is wrong to do that? Should we not reject what actually is 'the left hand of capital'? As for primitivists, they reject mass organizations in general, well actually they don't really care about mass organizations in general - there is major a difference.

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An existence that mainly revolves around tiny groups producing a critiique (or simply denouncing) other movements as not going far enough/ not seeing the big picture

Groups don't come in big versions when they start. There were massive left communist organizations in the past, such as the KAPD or the ICP. Should we not denounce other movements as not going far enough/ not seeing the big picture if they actually don't go far enough/ don't see the big picture? As for primitivists, they simply don't care about other organizations in general - again there is a major difference.

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A conviction that the irrelevacne of their ideas today will be overcome in then future by a massive crisis so that if they stand still the world will come to them.

I don't think primitivists have any idea about crises or world coming to them, let alone deep theories left communists have. Again, they simply don't care about this kind of stuff.

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The idea that these is no need to consider the sort of compromises that might be required to make a 'real world' revolution function/survive in the short term.

Again, there is a major a difference between saying "no compromise" and saying "what?" in a very confused tone when it comes to that question.

It is usually the anarchists, more right-wing to be specific, like the ones fethishizing riots and destruction that end up moving to primitivism, saying "fuck all" about politics and working class who make the bulk of primitivism, and when we look at left communist or left-wing anarchist individual intellectuals who moved to primitivism, among with intense personal problems that depress them, we see that most of them made a stop at right-wing anarchism.

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Nov 18 2006 12:24

I would agree that most primitivists are just anarchists who are stupid, mainly who have very little knowledge of history, little understanding of capitalism, and poor social skills leading to misanthropy.

But there does seem to be some kind of intersection between the quasi-primitivist anti-organisationalism (I suppose now mostly called insurrectionism) and some ultra-leftists. I mean I couldn't stomach posting on a certain political web board because there are so many of these nutters on it, yet some intelligent ultra-leftists like Peter do. Possibly because he says that they are just an irrelevance whereas most anarchists will actually be harmful.

Some left communinists like the ICC and primmmos seem to share the same catastrophism, as joe says. Someone like Seidman seems to write off industrial self-management, for example, and I've only heard him used in arguments by left communists and primitivists alike...

fort-da game
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Nov 18 2006 12:40
John. wrote:
I mean I couldn't stomach posting on a certain political web board because there are so many of these nutters on it

I think the feeling is mutual. But your poor tummy, if you get so worked up can you be sure that you are not a nutter?

p.

cph_shawarma
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Nov 18 2006 13:02

The problem with primitivism is not its critique of civilization. The problem is its moralism.

A critique of civilization is definitely necessary, a critique of the way civilization (ie. capitalism) has integrated itself into the totality of our lives etc. The primitivists are far from the only people who criticize civilisation, and far from the best ones at it.

The problem with primitivism is that they put up moral standards as to what people ought to do instead. This is ultimately the wrong way to pose the question. We will not undo capitalism by reverting into some "original state", there is no such "original state" where everyone were free and so on. If we would follow the primitivists, then the fault would teleologically be randomly put on the introduction of the wheel, the institution of ritual war or some other random historic "landmark". The primitivist is incapable of grasp history as relations and instead grasps it as any half-witted Marxist would, by basing it on technology.

We all know Marx was a critic of civilization, as was Bordiga (cf. Murdering the Dead on Antagonism Press). This did not make them primitivist, but they were not technologists either.

The schism between the left and primitivists primarily is one where the first wants to take over the present and guide it in a more "rational" manner whereas primitivists aim to dismantle the present to revert. Neither of these stances are revolutionary, since they are incapable of regarding the future as different from the past or the present. Communism is not the current state of affairs under new government (in any manner, all of capitalism's technology, morals, property relations, the relations between man/woman etc. must be utterly destroyed) nor is it the undoing of human history. Communism is the movement which abolishes the present state of affairs.

cph_shawarma
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Nov 18 2006 14:40

For fuck sake, read my post, don't scramble up some trash from the gutter.

And yes, communism is only possible as the destruction of the contradictions between labour and capital. What's so difficult to understand about that if you're not an ICC nut?

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Nov 18 2006 15:15
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communism is a world so pure and beautiful that it is unimaginable to us debased beats of borgeois debauchery.

Communism is not a "pure" and "beautiful" place, where did you get that? Seems to me you read some half-witted nut. And, yes I've read Dauvé and his best parts are his critique of morality. Communism will probably be as "terrible" and "horrible" as it will be "beautiful" and "pure". The maximisation of happiness is one part criticized by the critique of morality. What you're describing sounds more like an utilitarian utopia...

Let's not turn this into another thread on the nature of a communist revolution. I can only say that the proletariat as an active pole of contradiction negates its Other, ie. capital, which implies the existence of capital, and thus the proletariat. The proletariat can not by mere negation of capital (which is its everyday struggle against capital) negate itself, unless the contradiction is put on the level of the reproduction of classes. And then arises a whole bunch of problems: how does a dismantling of the contradiction which poses labour as labour and capital as capital coincide with an escalation of the contradiction? This is the paradox of communisation... Now can we drop it or continue in private form?

Mike Harman
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Nov 18 2006 15:20

cph and revol play nice please.

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all of capitalism's technology ... must be utterly destroyed

All of it?

cph_shawarma
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Nov 18 2006 15:26

catch: Yes, its contents is inseparable from its form in the present society. Neither the production line nor even the products themselves are neutral in the context of capitalism. Of course this is not a primitivist moralism, as revol68 would have it. I am using a computer right? I eat at McDonald's, I work in the health sector and so on. But the entirety of our relations to the world, ourselves and each other will be completely altered and thus the social relations of the present (technology and productive forces are social relations, as Althusser/Balibar clearly describes in Reading Capital) will be utterly demolished.

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Nov 18 2006 17:47

Basically with Revol on this one. The working class has no alternative but to take over the existing productive forces as a precondition for transforming them, just as it has to affirm itself before it can negate itself. The modernist vision of cph isn't really new: it's Bakunin's grand dissolution in a new wrapper.

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Nov 18 2006 18:00

I don't think Bakunin really saw the working class as the subject of the revolution at all - it was 'the people', an amorphous mass in which bandits and declassed elements were perhaps more revolutionary than the organised workers, the whole thing in any case being directed by the hidden hand of the International Brotherhood....

Although I don't think this thread should fixate on Bakunin, his rejection of Marx's historical method is relevant to the discussion about primitivism.

petey
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Nov 18 2006 18:32
cph_shawarma wrote:
The problem with primitivism is that they put up moral standards as to what people ought to do instead. This is ultimately the wrong way to pose the question.

what other way is there? as a practicing non-teleologist of long standing, i've come to realize that the choice is stasis, or an idea of where things ought to go. the issue comes in a philosophical chestnut, viz., how much authority do you have to impose on the lives of others, if you think you're on the right track yourself. the busines of libertarianism is first to create enough space to work your own life out. how big a space that needs to be is where people on this board differ.

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Nov 18 2006 21:29

You guys are all objectively counter-revolutionary, as evidenced by your use of language.

cph_shawarma
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Nov 18 2006 23:04

revol68: Come on... Of course capitalism inherited lots from feudalism in the beginning before it could consolidate itself as a mode of production (ie. as the totality of relations neeeded to self-sufficiently provide all of the conditions of reproduction of capital). And still that does not make capitalism the telos of feudalism, just as communism is not the telos of capitalism. I renounce that kind of teleology, the telos of capital is capital (round and up the spiral it goes).

I do not think that communism exists in the present, that would be absurd, just as if "capitalism" existed in feudalism or in ancient Greece (but then, why didn't communism exist within feudalism?). The problem of your potentiality is that it is ahistoric, the potential for communism is in a historic rupture, not in some God-given essence of the proletariat. And I think this problem arises from the idea that proletarian activity somehow is separated from the social relations it works within. The break with these social relations are produced as an overcoming of them, not by themselves (as the social relations of the present produce proletarian subjectivity for instance).

To steer it back to primitivism, I would like to reply newyawka that the idea of autonomy is a quite liberal notion, based on the separation of private and public life (ie. the separation of "civil society" and State). To believe in the possibility to "work your own life out" means believing in the possibility of "free will" and and atomised existence as individual within a collective.

And back to revol68: I am not saying it will be easy to demolish means of production as they are an inherent part of the social relation of capital. But the idea that we can use our proletarian subjectivity to "steer" these relations another way seems utterly naive. What I am talking about is not necessarily the physical destruction of property as the disassembly of means of production for communist perversions. I do not want to revert to hunter-gatherer if that's what you think, but we need to do away with all the shit that is aiming towards the self-sufficiency of capital, ie. all technology, all education etc. which takes place in capitalism. If we do not, from the first day of revolution, dismantle these social relations, then the revolution is mere words and not action. Watch the Argentine revolt of 2001, it was the beginning of the rupture.

Skraeling
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Nov 18 2006 23:06

And the score between the anarchists and left communists remains locked at nil all. The anarchists have launched some confused, incoherent and half-arsed attacks which have easily been mopped up by the left commie defence, but the left commies haven't really launched any counter-attacks yet.

John. wrote:
I would agree that most primitivists are just anarchists who are stupid, mainly who have very little knowledge of history, little understanding of capitalism, and poor social skills leading to misanthropy.

I'm no primitivist but this is just plain abuse, not argument.

Quote:
But there does seem to be some kind of intersection between the quasi-primitivist anti-organisationalism (I suppose now mostly called insurrectionism) and some ultra-leftists.

This is getting silly. Insurrectionist anarchists don't dismiss organisation, they are against formal organisation because they think it inevitably become bureaucratic and puts a brake on working class struggle, instead they believe in informal organisation. And i think primitivists from what I have read aren't all forms of organisation either.

I think i'm getting turned off these boards.

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Nov 19 2006 12:11
cph_shawarma wrote:
I do not want to revert to hunter-gatherer if that's what you think, but we need to do away with all the shit that is aiming towards the self-sufficiency of capital, ie. all technology, all education etc. which takes place in capitalism. If we do not, from the first day of revolution, dismantle these social relations, then the revolution is mere words and not action.

What do you mean here, social relations?

Technology is not just a "social relation", it's a huge number of neutral or beneficial physical objects. Now I can't understand the majority of any of your posts, cph_s, so maybe I'm misunderstanding again, but that sounds like you want people to go out on the first day and destroy all technology. So all the life support machines, dialysis machines, glasses, everything. This would be part of a primitivist position, but I'm assuming it can't be yours - is it? :?

Skraeling - sorry I wasn't trying to offer an intellectual critique or anything
edit - it was more pop-psychology touching on the fact that I think most people vaguely associate with primitivism for emotional and peer group reasons rather than rational intellectual ones, unlike ultra-leftism, hence why any crossover would be bizarre.

cph_shawarma
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Nov 19 2006 12:23

John: My point is precisely that technology is not a huge number of "neutral" or "beneficial" physical objects. That is the main problem of Marxism (but not at all points Marx), ie. the fetischism of technology. It correlates to the 2nd international idea of steering capitalism in the "right" direction. Technology is a social relation, it is the form of a social relation: capital.

This does not mean that we should get rid of all highly developed things, but that technology as such (ie. in its contemporary form, the only way we can conceive of it without becoming ahistoric) must also undergo the total destruction of all social relations which is the content of communisation of relations.

When I met Roland Simon from TC a couple of weeks ago he said he usually a bit provocatively say that the Soviet Union was socialism, that is the way socialism in all its appearances (be it anarchist, council communist, leninist or any other of these currents) manifests itself. Socialism was the aim of the communist revolution in the era of programmatism. The communist revolution in the present aims at the break-down of society as such, ie. the production of communised relations in stead of social relations. With communisation comes the break-down of the factory as an isolated cell, which means that the entire technology of the factory must be reassembled in its entirety. We do not want to take over the factory, nor do we want to take over society. We want to destroy them both.

Communisation will not be a trip in the park, it will probably be extremely terrible, but it's the only way to stop the totalising dialectic of capital.

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Nov 19 2006 12:35
cph_shawarma wrote:
John: My point is precisely that technology is not a huge number of "neutral" or "beneficial" physical objects.

Sorry cph but that just means you're taking a word in common everyday usage, and changing it so no one can understand what you're saying. Which is fine I suppose, if that's what you want to do. Thanks for the clarification.

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Nov 19 2006 13:14

cph_shawarma, i think you give capital too much credit. insofar as "technology is a social relation, it is the form of a social relation: capital", like capital it is a relation of struggle. but the relation is not closed, it is an 'open dialectic' (to use felton shorthall's term) in that it contains the possibility of it's own sublation; under capitalism, capital seeks to recuperate our desires (for health, comfort, enjoyment ...) with certain technologies, and we seek to detourn those technologies to our own ends.

This detournment would be a neccessary component of the kind of 'communization' Dauve envisions, i.e. in order to immediately communize production beyond the capitalistic boundaries of firms and industries, all sorts of networking and information flows would be needed - and no doubt the ingenuity of 'the general intellect' could appropriate 'capitalist' technologies like computers, fibre-optic cable networks/exchanges, databases etc to this end.

I'm not sure if you're using dramatic rhetoric for effect ("destroy" etc), but i get the impression of a certain millenerian year-zeroism in your posts, that does remind me of primitivism. maybe i just don't understand? :?

cph_shawarma
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Nov 19 2006 13:39

I am not a primitivist, but i am not a technologist either. Communisms must be diverse and in my honest opinion there will most likely be people living out in the woods by themselves with very little contact with the rest of the world. And why would that be a problem? What I oppose is the moralism that states that people who live outside "civilization" are primitivist nuts. Primitivists and technologists are all alike, they come up with The Answer and then just claims that everyone who thinks otherwise is naive.

My radical response is that there is no answer! Communism will probably bear with it technically advanced items as well as people living in tree huts, and neither is "more" communist than the other.

And computers, fibre-optics etc. will have to be transformed along the same lines as the factory. No aspect of our life is neutral.

PS. Yes, capital is a relation of struggle, but this relation of struggle is reciprocal, ie. it does not contain a "rational kernel" (the proletariat) which will burst through the "shell" and suddenly appear as communism. DS.

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Nov 19 2006 15:12

if it doesn't contain a kernel of something worth preserving/sublating, how can we transform 'capitalist' technology "along the same lines as the factory"?

this is what i don't get about the idea of 'clean break' communization, what does it actually mean on the morning after the army has mutineed, the police stations are in flames and the workplaces are in our hands? what do we actually do that constitutes an immediate rupture with capital? How do we extract ourselves from history?

I mean i know there is no singular 'answer' to hypothetical 'post-revolutionary' scenarios, and i'm not having a go, but i can't see what communization theory actually offers beyond more-revolutionary-than-thou rhetoric neutral

(and i don't really object to people living in the woods if they want. my bleeding heart would probably be ok letting them use our hosptials when they realise what a romantic-but-shit idea it was too wink )

cph_shawarma
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Nov 19 2006 17:58

revol68: I am not an ultraleftist, if you would remember the discussion on unions, for instance... But maybe it's convenient just to label someone as a "primitivist" and then barf up some bullshit... I am not going to answer you, since you clearly is not up for any kind of discussion. (PS. This is not due to the fact that "I can't answer", I would very well like to answer this crock of shite, but I've learned enough about these kinds of discussions to stay away from them past a certain point. DS.)

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Nov 19 2006 18:08

you could ignore revol and answer me though?

petey
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Nov 19 2006 19:08
revol68 wrote:
Capital is everything and therefore everything must be destroyed in order to stop it. This is the most childish idiotic shit i've ever heard

thank you