Further contribution to the debate between Monsieur Dupont and Red and Black Notes by a Red and Black Notes reader. Previous articles in this exchange can be found here, here and here.
A "Red and Black Notes" reader's comments on some of the material published by Monsieur Dupont
For Monsieur Dupont the enemy occupies every inch. I feel this too, but I don't think it. (Not to imply a separation between mind and body). Every act is only partially determined by the conditions from which it was born. In any case the present conditions are not exclusively determined by the rule of capital. Social conditions are only dominated by capital, but we still dream, create our own spaces, experience moments of genuine freedom, act outside the market, etc. It is true that capital is nearly omniscient, but in the end capitalism is still a knowable system, with a structure and a history, that is organized by directors and managers, and overseen by humans who are not each as competent or as authoritarian as the other. They make mistakes and can neglect or be unaware of growing threats. In so far as it rules over territory, both social and geographical, it is nearly universal. But like any occupying force, capital's strength varies from zone to zone, and occasionally a local population takes advantage of the relative weaknesses of its domination.
In Europe and North America many of capitals subjects have been so deeply colonized and indoctrinated as to believe that its rule is a necessary evil. Some even believe that liberal democracy and techno-industrial capitalism represent the end of history. For every worker who engages in sabotage or absenteeism, there is another who finds such acts irresponsible and self-indulgent. For every act of resistance committed by a worker, he/she commits many more that indicate not only voluntary submission to our domination by capital, but an actual belief in it. Coercion and bribery have paid off. Over half of the Canadian working class invests in the stock market. They phone the cops on their neighbours. They defend the patriarchal nuclear family, cheer for imperial wars, curse the faggots and punks, etc. Yet each one of them also has moments of hatred toward those at the helm for our condition, moments of reflection and insight that unmask the true nature and basis of our society. The population only appears defeated and its self-esteem decimated.
But we haven't become complete zombies, cyborgs or objects yet. All of us at times assert our subjectivity in order to continue living with ourselves, to remind ourselves that we are organic beings, not roles (worker, parent, citizen, consumer, revolutionary.) It is when these moments of assertion are collective or social that they offer hope. I know that hope can be a leash of power. But to endure it is necessary, otherwise only suicide or surrender seems left.
Some communists point to sabotage at work, or unauthorized actions (wildcats) at work etc. as the only real forms of working class attempts at self-emancipation or offensive class war manoeuvres. Yet these same individuals commit other acts outside the sphere of production that are also significant as examples of self-emancipation, but they commit them as individuals within the proletariat, not as actual producers. If coercive authority is partly predicated on the absence of authentic community bonds, then attempts at creating genuine community are radical acts. As well, many others who are not typically at the levers of production (students, the permanently unemployed, traditionalist indigenous people, spouses of the workers, children, the 'insane', the disabled, those who live exclusively by crime, even the managerial, intellectual and small entrepreneurial segments, etc.) also commit significant acts that are aimed explicitly at opposing their domination. The entire class of ruled are agents capable of liberating themselves not just the actual 'producers' within it.
What exactly dominates us? Does all domination begin and end only with the rule of state and capital? What are the various forms authority takes? Are there identifiable origins of domination? Can we ever hope to fully realize our desires without identifying the roots of our predicament? Radical, from the Latin radix, meaning root.
Though they make many good points, this is where Monsieur Dupont is weakest. They write: " In antiquity it was possible for people to live in different ways across the globe but only to a certain extent due to the limited technologies of the time, these days there is the possibility, due to advanced technology, for everyone to live comfortably, but the economic system prevents this." Is it possible that Monsieur Dupont still believe that technical solutions are primary in solving social problems? Is a different 'economics" the solution? Why not no economics? Is a world of giving and sharing, without commodities or value, not in their dreams? It isn't clear in their text. Furthermore, even many mainstream anthropologists now describe the lives of primitive societies as materially abundant, filled with sensual wisdom, happiness, a sense of community, in short as even more than just 'comfortable'. They had intellectual sophistication, freedom, love and a sense of belonging. I'm somehow surprised that M. DuPont would hold such a Hobbesian world-view. I live on the west Coast of Canada. I have native friends, have researched their societies for years, have visited their cultural centres, etc. There is no question that anarchy prevailed here until contact, around 1750, at which time they were, in academic terminology, Stone Age peoples. Their lives were not nasty, brutish and short. This is a lie of the ruling class. Throughout the world, Palaeolithic peoples, in general, before Neolithic domestication, had, in terms of material equipment alone, the following: nets, skin containers, lamps, cordage, traps, huts and various other shelters, hamlets, paints, masks, a wide variety of specialized tools, including surgical instruments, a wide variety of weapons, graphic signs, hats, sewing utensils, weaving looms, musical instruments, games, toys, mats, storage boxes, various types of canoes and boats, medicine, jewellery, and the list goes on. This is before the last Ice Age came to an end! Lewis Mumford explains that reading back from our own aggressive, suspicious, competitive era, it's easy to bestow upon our ancient forbears attributes of our own. Palaeolithic people were not engaged in a desperate struggle for survival, in acrimonious competition with equally forlorn and 'savage' beings. What M. Dupont don't seem to accept is that it doesn't take industrial capitalism to provide us with comfort. We're animals. We just need habitats and to organically self-organize within them.
Who is going to work in the factories producing all the 'advanced technology' Monsieur Dupont is so in awe of. Each our turn, I suppose? The advanced technology dream is unimaginative to say the least. Even radicals among the civilized (deeply domesticated/ colonized humans) impose negative stereotypes on life ways that resulted from tens of thousands of years of anarchy, while what irony for them to admire the achievements of capital. Need I point out that the achievements of capital were paid for in oceans of blood? There are always sacrifice zones under Empire's rule. I don't want to be dogmatic. I'm not saying that everything that resulted from capitalism is inherently oppressive or destructive, paradox is, after all, a part of life. However, I think free beings will want to invent their own non-authoritarian tools and cultural implements, we don't need to accept an inheritance from capital.
The specialization (division of labour), the transportation grid, the universities, the plunder of nature, the drudgery, the overarching infrastructure, necessary to maintain and upgrade and refine these advanced technologies, seem deeply incongruous with the notion of an unknowable future communism. I hope you don't expect me to have to work in a titanium factory, plastics factory, aluminium mine, research lab, robots factory, or whatever to produce your gadgets and gizmos and junk. After all, what advanced technologies exactly are being referred to that offer this "comfort'? Satellites? Nuclear power? Electric toothbrushes? Computers? The Concorde? Bread Machines? It is pure escapist science fiction to describe a gentle green society in which robots build robots in solar powered factories ensuring an 'abundance' for all, while the humans are 'finally' 'free' to self-direct their lives.
Communism, which is an unrealized desire, will not necessarily be initiated by a movement and even if that were the case, then such a movement will not be created by experts, militants, professionals or leaders. But this is not to say that withdrawal or resistance by small or large numbers of heretics, free thinkers, inspired or angry people, or by more organized rebels, tribes or villages, etc. are doomed to be forever fruitless or of little consequence. I believe that a diversity of self-organized groups asserting their desires and subjectivity can have a great impact as a 'movement'. I'm not talking about activism or single-issue movements. I'm talking about living. Getting together and leading lives not determined by anything beyond our selves, i.e. asserting our individual and collective freedom. This is in direct opposition to capitalism (and is the only sense in which absenteeism from work makes sense to me as a revolutionary act, as an act that refuses work in favour of living). As for wildcats (the means) I'm always inspired when folks disobey and take initiative, but if the demand (the ends) are still reformist I'm less inspired. The same goes for sabotage at the workplace. This is more exciting because it shows contempt for the process of negotiating with power and for an alienating, oppressive and destructive means of production.
But again I'd be more inspired if the sabotage was aimed explicitly at permanently stopping production, not just to make a point with a bang or an act of desperation.
Practically speaking, I see potential in a variety of permanent autonomous zones and of 'movements' toward their creation, for instance the Magonist villages in Chiapas, the Papua New Guinea tribes people stopping industrialism on their territory, Catalonia in the thirties, indigenous rebellions, etc. It's true that a proletarian condition is being imposed on populations all over the world where capitalist development had remained weak or embryonic. This is called globalization. But the solution isn't for the tribes people and peasants to accept industrialism and the resultant destruction of their land base and the disruption of a freer way of life so that they can join the modern world by becoming wage slaves and thus share in its 'advanced' technologies and other 'benefits', but to try and stop the imposition. For us, as radicals wanting freedom, it is to organize against our conscription in the planetary Work Gulag, to ridicule and demystify the civilization of Pharaohs, Popes, Oligarchs, Queens, Lenins, masters, generals, experts, etc.
Communism is not everywhere or nowhere. You certainly haven't convinced me that " any direct opposition to capitalism is always forced to expand into a global phenomenon". Unless of course you see revolution as seizing and maintaining the productive apparatus, in which case the rulers are naturally going to use every means to wrest control out of the hands of the workers. I would say that revolution means destroying the productive apparatus and thereby creating the possibility for a new basis of living to assert itself. Surplus, or the material conditions and the productive apparatus to ensure it, didn't cause states to be born, it was the other way around. Therefore free people wouldn't have a productive apparatus, as it would be a burden, rather we'd have tools and ways. We would be too busy making love, planting corn, dreaming, dancing, playing, processing food with friends, etc to maintain a productive apparatus.
An apparent mentor of yours, Marx, described revolution as the conscious appropriation of life by those who live it. The stateless, communist societies that existed for millennia before being conquered by empires existed separately one from the other. The reverse can also occur. Capitalism can be undone in different places, thereby weakening its overall monopoly on power and perhaps ultimately spelling its end.
In Europe, Japan, Canada, America, etc., workers in certain relevant industries might have the collective power to temporarily stop capitalism suddenly, but they know that they face certain, swift defeat unless large elements of their class join them, especially if they want to abolish the helm but maintain the levers (self-management).
In other places, say Chiapas, the jungles of Columbia, in certain African countries, etc., conditions are different and the form of revolt will be different. Our dreams and actions can't rely on theories that deny that peasant societies can liberate themselves and create their own anarchy. In fact most recent social upheavals have occurred in countries where memories of authentic community are still strong in the social psyche, not in advanced industrial-capitalist zones like Europe or the United States, where these memories are fading fast.
Being a worker is a role scripted by capital. If we are to become subjects, then we must stop being, and treating others as, merely roles/objects. While rebels and activists won't create by themselves a movement that will overthrow capitalism, neither will the working class, as workers. Each worker is still primarily an individual and much more than just a member of the working class. As a comrade recently wrote: " Revolution develops from real struggles as the awareness of the need to destroy the present social order becomes increasingly conscious in the course of struggle." The real struggles involve both withdrawal and resistance, as individuals and as parts of a larger collectivity.
While it is true that the power has been in the hands of workers, in certain countries, collectively, to stop production and thereby to stop capitalism, is that all there is to it? What if those organised working class folk want to maintain urban civilization? Is self-management of industry really enough or do we want to start fresh? Is it just capitalist economics or is it all economics that we want to refuse? Is it just wage-labour or all 'work' that must be opposed? Is de-centralizing enough or mustn't we also de-massify?
Obviously the proletariat in many countries has felt for a while that it has more to lose than to gain by abandoning the levers of production, and ironically, their belief in 'advanced technology' and other so called benefits of capitalism is partly what keeps them voluntarily returning to wage-labour and accepting defeat.
When enough folk stop seeing themselves as merely workers/citizens, and stop accepting the bribes of capital, (like advanced technology) that is when they might stop production. Perhaps many of us will one day realize that to get a life, we need to stop believing and stop working.
First Published in Red and Black Notes #20, Autumn 2004, this article has been archived on libcom.org from the Red and Black Notes website.