Defense of the Territory or Co-Management of Its Destruction? – Miguel Amorós
A free society will be a mostly rural society; the conurbation is a strictly capitalist social formation that is incompatible with the advent of freedom and is unviable in economies without markets. These two verities lead us to consider the revolutionary transformation from completely new perspectives. That is why, when we are speaking of organic agriculture, food sovereignty or self-sufficiency, that is, the positive side of anti-developmentalism, it is necessary to indicate the framework within which the latter will emerge, the concrete situation of the territory.
In a society that is on the path of total urbanization, the territory is converted into a vacant, available space; a general reserve of space at the mercy of the metropolitan decision-making centers. In the new stage of capitalist development oppression has transcended the dimension of time and has become spatialized; the social space is the creation of capital and obeys its logic. The exploitation of the territory now plays the same role that the exploitation of labor played in the previous stage, but for optimal performance, places not only have to be filled with commodities, but certain formal changes are necessary that would adapt the specificity of the territory to the economy and not stand in the way of the unlimited expansion of the urban cores. These changes, besides the fact that they trivialize existence in the countryside, foment population flight, the abandonment of agriculture and surburbanization. This, let us say, final campaign of capitalist rationalization is endowed with the corresponding juridical instruments: laws that favor urban activity, agricultural taxes, zoning laws, municipal reforms, the use of eminent domain legislation, executive orders, comprehensive procedures, infrastructure development plans, etc. Furthermore, globalization creates a new ruling class linked to the political, financial and corporate management of space rather than that of the private property of the means of production; a class that was born from the transformation of the bourgeoisie after the defeat of the workers movement and the decomposition of the traditional classes.
This is a class in constant motion that develops within the international division of labor and induces a global territorial reorganization, or, in other words, it is the class that is responsible for constraining the territory to fit the capricious whims of the world market. From its perspective, any resistance to the market constitutes a “step backwards” and any instance of adaptation, “progress”. The existence of an autonomous peasantry would therefore be the quintessence of backwardness, and its extinction, the greatest achievement of progress. The regional governing bodies constitute the first link in the chain of the deregulation of the uses of the territory, for the tertiarization of the economy, and therefore for the rapid globalization of local resources. These changes are financed thanks above all to the surpluses produced by real estate speculation; thus, the shift of capital from industry, agriculture and mining to services results primarily in the construction of houses, highways and vast infrastructure projects. The countryside has ceased to be the source of food in order to be transformed into a mere source of land, leaving the door wide open to population concentrations, industrial agriculture and “environmental reconversion”, with increasingly catastrophic results for the territory and its inhabitants. The land is no longer the crucible where the identity of individuals and their community is forged.
The colonization of the territory by the commodity has been producing conflicts since the seventies, but they did not occupy a leading role in the anti-capitalist struggle until much later, when the consciousness of the combatants began to overcome the obstacles of environmentalist opportunism and workerist maneuvering. Indeed, both the environmentalists as well as the workerists attacked globalized capitalism in the name of a previous capitalist formation, since liquidated, in which the trade unions, the factory assemblies and the green parties played the role of counterweight to the unilateral requirements of the market. One more turn of the screw of suburbanization, however—and of mass culture—and the territory was standardized, or ordered in accordance with the criteria of maximum profitability, and became the scene of an identical lifestyle, where consumption was interpreted to be the definition of earthly happiness and was therefore considered to be almost a civic duty. Its compromise with institutions and businesses engaged in the controlled degradation of the territory discredited environmentalism, while the disappearance of the factories quenched the last embers of workerism.
The working class condition corresponds with urban society; wage labor is unthinkable in the traditional rural world. This condition, however, which previously served to consolidate a class, has undergone a powerful transformation in fully urbanized society, which has led to the dissolution of class consciousness and to the creation of masses of people immersed in anomie. With or without consciousness, however, the labor conflict no longer transcends the limits of the system and therefore does not question it. It does not even question the existence of the conurbation. And the same thing goes for environmental issues.
The territorial conflict, on the other hand, does. An autonomous and liberated territory is something that is radically incompatible with the capitalist order, something that cannot be said of the defense of the environment, wage levels or jobs. It is also incompatible with masses of urban wage laborers. The defense of the territory has an anti-capitalist and deproletarianizing content that is hard to deny and revealed an essential characteristic that definitively distinguishes it from the workerist and green platforms, at the same time that it denounced their ineffectiveness and obsolescence. This defining characteristic was anti-developmentalism. The battle for the territory rejected a basic dogma of capitalism and of workerist socialism, the development of the productive forces, that is, unlimited growth—both in its pure form as well as its socialized or “sustainable” forms—as an obligatory way of addressing and solving social problems. To the contrary, such growth aggravated those problems. The totalitarian reconstruction of social space as a new class project violates the territory and necessarily creates more problems. Protest, so often without leaders, cannot but spread and intensify, which is why its deactivation has become the main objective of the ruling class. Then the policy of domination was changed, from complete intolerance to the partial recognition of the conflict and negotiation. Thus was born “participatory democracy”, the tool with which a false mediating subject could be manufactured from the ranks of self-proclaimed committees, platforms and social pseudo-movements—the delegation of the citizenry—and in this way protest was imprisoned on local stages, fragmenting and isolating it. Participatory democracy was invoked expressly for the purpose of sabotaging the rebirth of a social consciousness of the territory, preventing the appearance of a real historical subject. Primo Levi, in The Drowned and the Saved, mentions a grey zone between the Nazi executioners and their victims that was composed of all kinds of collaborationist prisoners, thanks to whom the concentration and extermination camps could be administered. In view of the fact that the contemporary colonization of the territory is being carried out with methods that are in perfect correspondence with a hierarchical, bureaucratic and authoritarian society, it is not at all mistaken to establish a parallel and to speak of a grey zone composed of all those who seek compromise formulas between territorial aggression and territorial defense.
Anyone who has any experience with civic commissions and local platforms will, mutatis mutandis, be able to recognize himself today in the words of Levi, entering the “lager”:
“… all of them, with the exception of those who had already gone through an analogous experience, expected to find a terrible but decipherable world, in conformity with that simple model which we atavistically carry within us—‘we’ inside and the enemy outside, separated by a sharply defined geographic frontier. Instead, the arrival in the Lager was indeed a shock because of the surprise it entailed. The world into which one was precipitated was terrible, yes, but also indecipherable: it did not conform to any model; the enemy was all around but also inside, the ‘we’ lost its limits, the contenders were not two, one could not discern a single frontier but rather many confused, perhaps innumerable frontiers, which stretched between each of us. One entered hoping at least for the solidarity of one’s companions in misfortune, but the hoped for allies, except in special cases, were not there; there were instead a thousand sealed off monads, and between them a desperate covert and continuous struggle. The brusque revelation, which became manifest from the very first hours of imprisonment, often in the instant form of concentric aggression on the part of those in whom one hoped to find future allies, was so harsh as to cause the immediate collapse of one’s capacity to resist.”
The grey zones are formed of those who, accepting the rules of the political game of oppression, seek protection from the aggressor state while each one of them dissimulates his self-interest with a mouth full of slogans such as rights of the citizenry, candidates, voluntary austerity, recycling, “de-growth”, the new culture of the territory, social economy, alternative model of regional development, etc. The context is certainly favorable for a human type that has emerged from the decomposition of the middle classes, particularly degenerate, easy to corrupt, ambitious and frustrated, sly and inclined to engage in backdoor deals, priests and philistines, greedy for power and at the same time servile. It is precisely this kind of person that populates the intermediate stratum between the oppressed and the oppressors, the kind that brags about being an environmentalist, is active in his trade union and belongs to some local group. The concept of the grey zone makes politics in a really concentration-camp type of society more intelligible and vice-versa, the political life of totalitarian domination can be better understood by way of the birth and development of the grey zone. This zone must contain and dissolve conflict, whether by channeling it towards electoralism, or towards the courts and futile negotiations. In every case it submerges conflict in the spectacle, controlling debate and reducing the real protagonists to the category of the public.
The greys concede a great deal of importance to the communications media in this transfer of reality to the stage of the “culture of yes, but”, which is not only more adapted to the needs of domination, but which also forges a more functional type of submission.
This explains the playful environment that accompanies the media instrumentalization of conflict, since such an euphoric state of mind is the most vulnerable to the unilateral message, and therefore the most adequate for assimilation in the spectacle. Thus, the grey zone of civil society collaboration works hand in hand with the police, the psychologists and the experts of social democracy in order to make society appear to be without contradictions, transparent, a level playing field, satisfied, festive, ecological and cheerfully contestatory. “Transverse” participatory mechanisms are intended to assure that survival in increasingly more toxic and degrading environments does not tarnish the rose-colored image of the pseudo-conflicts or generate a detectable level of questioning.
Participation must reeducate the individual as a voting citizen, convinced pacifist and “responsible” consumer committed to the environment, not incite him to think or rebel.
By means of the complete separation between the base of protest and its representation and by way of the explicit condemnation of self-defense, an attempt is made to emasculate conflicts, which are invariably destined to drown in the sewers of the state, or the cesspools of the self-proclaimed “representative democracy”. No one should fool themselves; the movement dominated by this grey zone is not, nor does it claim to be, an enemy of parliamentarism but is instead its effective auxiliary. This is why it is not at all contradictory to find in its ranks militants from parties and trade unions, a few local councilmen, and even some mayors, since what they contribute to this movement is their skill in self-limiting conflicts and silencing radical expression from within. They have to prevent debate from leading to anti-developmentalist conclusions, and the struggle from leading to confrontations; in other words, they have to prevent discussion from concluding in the extra-institutional elaboration of general interests that would give the defense of the territory perspective and resolve in opposition to capitalism. In fact, this participatory and group-related grey zone has gown almost as fast as the conflict itself that it parasitizes, encouraged by the existential vacuum, anomie and confusion provoked by the generalization since the eighties of the urban consumerist way of life. The zeal for consumption—like the zeal for voting—burst forth in a frantic hedonist climate that required, to sustain its momentum, a minimal amount of mental activity, an erased memory, and a suspended intelligence.
No one is spared from this atmosphere; that is why not even the most openly-anti-developmentalist struggles, the fight against the TAV in Euskal-Herria, the defense of the Galician coastal areas or the opposition to the MAT in Catalonia have been exempt from the influence of a grey zone that, when it does not undermine them from within, preys on them from without. The problem of the greys, however, is that the dominant system, which can hardly do so with the expenses granted by the state, are even less capable of operating with the costs of an agreement that serves to neutralize the conflict.
A fortiori, it is not capable of financing a territorial bureaucracy that is minimally credible that could effectively co-manage the process of environmental and social destruction; consequently it does not disdain the path of media criminalization, fines and trials.
This will not cause the grey zone to disappear. Its work will simply not be institutionalized, it will be done for free.
In the domains of late capitalism social anomie largely renders the work of the collaborators unnecessary, since domination can easily repress protests because it almost never has to face real movements, but only radicalized minorities. When revolt, however, undergoes its first outbreaks, the grey zone is an indispensable resource for governments, which are compelled to exchange their image of pseudo-democratic moderation for another more aggressive, and even pseudo-revolutionary, one, which in critical moments are often embodied in the figure of a supreme leader or chief, such as Morales, Ortega or Chavez, for example. The savior “who speaks like the common man”, “with the simple folk who must speak their mind”, that is, with the most submissive and manipulable population, indicates that the social crisis has reached a turning point that requires the replacement of the traditional political bureaucracy by another one created ex novo from the ranks of the state. The populist regimes need a general mobilization of society for the pursuit of a program of growth and linking up with the globalized economy that the traditional political apparatus of the ruling class is in no position to carry out. Once the usual mechanisms of control and representation have failed, an appeal is made to an extensive patronage network that fulfills the function of a satellite base movement.
A duplicate of the party of order. A grey zone that then acquires by cooptation the status of a new class responsible for carrying out important tasks of demoralization, disruption and disorientation in order to induce a state of mass anomie with very low levels of consumption; the grey zone must weave its own web by unraveling the social fabric where it has failed.
Its third-worldist development constitutes a stimulus of the first order for its counterparts in the first world. Contemporary collaborationists, including professional anarchists like Michael Albert and Noam Chomsky, enthusiastically became the best propagandists and even the informal ambassadors of populism. Often celebrities, intellectuals and wannabe politicians become interpreters and champions of the populist discourse, since the pseudo-radical hot air of famous personalities supplies it with topics, myths and references with which an identity that the western grey zone has always lacked can be consolidated. After rummaging around in this storage room, the greys can emerge enlightened enough to place themselves in the hands of reaction disguised as revolt. The grey zone, now that it has been endowed with a discourse of indentity, undergoes the transition from being spontaneously reactionary, to being consciously reactionary.
We can conclude that the grey zone, the space occupied by collaborationism that separates the exploited from the exploiters, is a necessary complement of domination, but only becomes indispensable at moments of serious social crisis, when repression does not work, the parties are discredited and it is of the utmost urgency to ideologically disarm the revolt in such a way that it cannot successfully constitute a revolutionary subject. Only then can it be institutionalized; only then can it form part of the state bureaucracy and therefore comfortably perform the task for which it is destined. Because only then do social conditions that make a totalitarian universe possible, conditions that have always been there, become obvious and are displayed in all their horror, assuring the continuity of the destructive process against the threats of revolution.
If the defenders of the territory do not want to end up as members of an administrative partnership managing the catastrophe instead of overcoming it, then they have to unmask the greys from the very beginning, who incubate betrayal and lie in ambush in every conflict. Concerning such people, Rosa Luxemburg often quoted the following Biblical passage: “Ah, if you were at least hot or cold! But since you are neither one nor the other but lukewarm, I spit you out of my mouth.”
Text reconstructed from talks given at the CSA Sestaferia of Gijón, on October 8, 2010; at the Espacio Libertario of El Ferrol, on October 12, 2010; and at the Jornadas de Agroecología in Valladolid, on November 13, 2010.