If an eye for an eye is the motto of revenge, it can also be bad advice. On 29 April 2022, a white nationalist attacked Asger Jorn’s 1959 painting The Disquieting Duck (shown above in Jorn’s form). Jorn’s ‘modification’ (also ‘disfiguration’) was on display at the Museum Jorn in Denmark. Lex talionis: just as Jorn ‘disfigured’ a pre-existing nineteenth century style idyll, so too Jorn suffers disfiguration.
An obvious interpretation is that a Danish painting is reclaimed by a Danish nationalist for his own cause—he affixed his own likeness and signed his name in permanent marker. In the rush to exploit an increasingly excluded populace and the last remnants of a near exhausted natural world, capitalists, their managers and fascist proxies advise us to ramp up the competition for goods on an ethnic and national level.
Jorn thought very differently. He believed competition should be playful. As a member of the Situationist International (1957-1972), Jorn emphasised creativity in a non-exploitative cosmic journey (see tapestry below). The idea is familiar from anti-militarism. The demand that borders should not be defended is by nature transnational, so as to not leave anyone vulnerable to invasion. A demand that has been raised by rebellious soldiers as much as those that oppose war from the outset. So ended the First World War in 1918—a direct result of the refusal of both German sailors and soldiers, and their Russian counterparts, to go on amidst their revolution against war and capitalism. Indeed, this refusal was also widely present on the so-called victorious side, among which soldiers and workers had engaged in strikes and mass mutiny. Beyond an end to hostilities, we glimpse a new world.
Thus, to defend Jorn’s modification/disfiguration as a ‘national treasure’, as has Jacob Thage, the museum director where the painting hangs, is not only inadequate, it plays directly into the nationalist rhetoric of its attackers (a second fascist filmed the attack, both being part of current far right organising).
The Disquieting Duck is not simply a thing to be passively contemplated or revered as a transcendent value—a practice and value moreover, that were roundly rejected by Jorn throughout his life. In keeping with his explicit revolutionary outlook, The Disquieting Duck presents us with a profound and striking intuition, namely that we can reclaim from idylls and elsewhere a common raw creativity.
The modification of a bucolic canvas by Jorn is particularly piquant given that if we succeed in overthrowing capitalism, we will need to creatively repair the damage already done. Indeed, the formal slab of paint over the “realist” idyll is also the content of the painting. One can intuit the relationship between this form and content and extend that to questions of the modification and repair of present social-historical “idylls”, whether capitalist hellscapes or imaginary, eutopian impulses in the present—i.e., the desire for something other and better.
On the other hand, the fascist closely grasped and used Jorn’s technique of modification to delete a true idea of a common creativity and replace it with a false one of national creativity. In a word, Jorn was recuperated. By disfiguring The Disquieting Duck, these fascists want revenge on Jorn’s way of thinking. For the rest of us, it’s just more bad advice. Jorn’s cosmic journey is aborted, leaving behind a sordid and empty claim of ownership, along with a snide dismissal of what is possible beyond an obsessive and acquisitive hatred. Nothing to see here folks: the arts have already become focussed on different identities asserting themselves. Here as elsewhere this involves a claim to having been silenced—even if in the case of the white nationalists such a claim is just another falsehood.
As we have discovered to our cost, nation states and market competition requires pollution, global warming, and zoonotic viruses. These are not so-called “freak” side effects, nor simply the outcomes of “immoral” business people nor “evil” states. For instance, the unleashed viruses are the direct result of the exploitation of the biodiverse biomes that previously contained them. Such exploitation is necessary under capitalism. Necessary because, if one group of capitalists backed by a nation state does not exploit in this, and the other ecologically destructive ways mentioned, they will be rapidly out-competed by others that do.
Today, the consequences are even more dire. Potential world and nuclear war is added to the climate catastrophe as the competing blocs of global capital are insatiably driven to catch a lead on each other. Whether under the flags of liberalism, fascism or state-socialism, all of these market capitalists seek to undermine solidarity and the social conditions of life. If we don’t act soon to defeat their increasingly warlike machinations, that nightmare of the Twentieth Century that we dreamed was over will finally be realised: universal destruction. This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide.
Instead of disfiguring Jorn, we must reconfigure him. The only realistic way to confront the immense problems ahead is interlinked groups formed to favour the creative imagination as liberated from market strictures; groups that are embarking on the long voyage to a world beyond capitalism. These groups will also have to stand up to fascists—become antifa—to show the fash the true meaning of an eye for an eye.
Doing our bit for 50 years of cold war shenanigans and the alienation
of technique and knowledge in the service of spectacular power. The
text on the poster is adapted from Eduardo Rothe’s text The Conquest of Space in the Time of Power, first published in Internationale Situationniste
no. 12, September 1969. The image is the justly famous photo Armstrong
snapped of Aldrin at Tranquility base. A pdf of the poster is available here.
In Promethean mode, Rothe continues:
The “Conquest of the Cosmos” is the greatest spectacular expression of scientific oppression. […] The
conquest of space is part of the planetary hope of an economic system
which, saturated with commodities, spectacles and power, ejaculates into
space when it arrives at the end of the noose of its terrestrial
contradictions. Functioning as a new “America,” space must serve the
states as a new territory for wars and colonies — a new territory to
which to send producer-consumers and thus enable the system to break out
of the planet’s limitations. […] But the revolutionary old
mole, which is now gnawing at the foundations of the system, will
destroy the barriers that separate science from the general knowledge
that will be accessible to everyone when people finally begin making
their own history. No more ideas of separate power, no more power of
separate ideas. Generalized self-management of the permanent
transformation of the world by the masses will make science a basic
banality, and no longer a truth of state. […] Humanity will
enter into space to make the universe the playground of the last revolt:
the revolt that will go against the limitations imposed by nature. Once
the walls have been smashed that now separate people from science, the
conquest of space will no longer be an economic or military
“promotional” gimmick, but the blossoming of human freedoms and
fulfillments, attained by a race of gods. We will not enter into space
as employees of an astronautic administration or as “volunteers” of a
state project, but as masters without slaves reviewing their domains:
the entire universe pillaged for the workers councils.
Kenan Malik has written a critique of the racist roots of identity politics in The Guardian. He argues that rather than consider identity politics as the sole province of the “left”, it is better to understand it as a product of the “right”–and, in particular, of racist ideas generated in the 18th century primarily to justify the purported superiority of Europeans and their colonial expropriations:
It is […] in the concept of race–the insistence that humans are divided into a number of essential groups, and that one’s group identity determines one’s moral and social place in the world–that we find the original politics of identity, out of which ideas of white superiority emerged.
In contrast to the identity politics [sic] of 18th and 19th century racism, Malik notes that,
radicals challenged inequality and oppression in the name of universal rights. From anti-colonial struggles to the movements for women’s suffrage to the battles for gay rights, the great progressive movements that have shaped the modern world were a challenge to the politics of identity, to the claim that an individual’s race or gender or sexuality should define their rights, or their place in a social hierarchy.
Malik further argues that a paradoxical situation arose in
the wake of the Second World War. On the one hand, racism fell out of favour in
the West in response to the explicit racist, eugenicist and genocidal theory
and practice of fascism and Nazism. On the other hand, with the rise of
anti-colonial struggles, and campaigns against racism, sexism and homophobia in
the two decades after the war,
black people, women, gay people and others transformed the political landscape by placing their own experiences of oppression at the heart of new social movements.
what began as struggles against oppression and for social change transformed over time into demands for cultural recognition by myriad social groups. The social movements of the 1960s gave way to the identity politics of the 21st century.
In the broad lines of Malik’s argument, there is much to be admired. However–and even considering the understandable gaps that are a consequence of the strictures of his brief and schematic article–there are telling problems with his argument. Of least concern is perhaps his unfortunate representation of the ‘counter-Enlightenment’ as a source of singularly reactionary and racist ideas and practice. Even considering the more modern origins of this term, those that questioned the unalloyed progressive chops of Enlightenment thought were not always racist (consider the often confusing and misunderstood bequest of Friedrich Nietzsche).
More importantly, Malik seems unable to reckon with the
emergent universalism of many of the struggles for freedom in the 19th
century. We believe that these struggles are ‘emergent’ to the extent that they
posed the possibility and desirability of a truly universal, global society.
However, this proposition was posed in response to the ambiguity of the
development of capitalist societies and social relations. On the one hand,
capitalism tended to extend itself across the globe, destroying existing
societies, and in the process haphazardly bringing a global society into being.
On the other hand, capitalism continued to rely upon, and more maliciously
foster the particularisms and bigotry of racism and nationality, as capitalists
chased profit around the world. Those internationalists that opposed
capitalism–in particular the emergent international worker’s movement of the
19th century–argued that the implicit global society emerging in
spite of its capitalist shackles must be made explicit. Struggles such as these
that embraced a critical internationalism can be considered as having offering
an alternative form of universalisation than that offered by the capitalist
market, the dominance of work and money, and the often-brutal expansion of
capitalism–both “domestically” and colonialist.
However, it is Malik’s exceedingly brief historical gloss of “left-wing” identity politics that is most problematic. He is right to locate the rise of “identity politics” proper, to the period after 1968. However, he does not reckon with the fact that left wing identity politics can be found to already pre-exist this–even, and especially, in the heart of those struggles against ‘inequality and oppression in the name of universal rights’.
We believe there are two vectors for leftist, identity
politics in the 18th and 19th centuries. On the one hand,
at the heart of the project of bourgeois liberalism is the figure of the
unitary nation and people. Without doubt, this “identity politics” fuelled not
only what became obviously the “reactionary” nationalism of European nations in
the later 19th and 20th centuries, but also those
‘national liberation struggles’ of the 20th century that adopted
bourgeois nationalism as its model. The idea of distinct and unitary ‘cultures’
and ‘peoples’ is a modern confabulation which certainly has more ancient
antecedents, but only bloomed in its nationalist form with the advent of
capitalist nation states in the 17th and 18th centuries.
No doubt there is an ambivalence in the bourgeois
nationalist project–at least at its most radical. For instance, in the Great
French Revolution of 1789-99, the universal ‘rights of man’ sat uncomfortably
alongside of the more particularistic ‘rights of the citizen’. The former,
rather than the latter, inspired the more radical worker’s movement of the 19th
century. But as Marx, among others, would argue, the vision of ‘man’ (sic)
offered by the French revolutionaries was irrevocably sunk in particularistic
worldview of the bourgeoisie. Indeed, this tension between the universalist and
particularistic claims of the bourgeois revolutionaries was taken over by later
working-class revolutionaries, rather than abolished and transformed. In
particular, the unitary and universalising moment of the bourgeois ‘man’ was
mirrored in the representation of the worker (albeit, ‘inverted’).
Which brings us to the second vector of contemporary
identity politics, and by far the more confusing and misunderstood one, found
at the heart of what many consider the most progressive and radical movement of
the 19th and 20th centuries–namely the working-class
movements. The identity politics that pervades much of the “intersectional”
politics of the current world has its roots in the labour politics of social
democracy, orthodox Marxism and workerist anarchism of the 19th and
20th century. Among these movements we can find the cult of labour
and the worker. In contrast to Marx’s critique of labour–in which he posed that
the reduction of all human activity to labour and wage-labour was in effect the
negation of human potential–the labour movements that arose in the latter part
of his life, and came to dominate most of the reformist and revolutionary
movements of the 20th century, held to the belief that labour was
the essence of the human, and as such was the pivot of human liberation. At its
most grotesque we can see this in the social realist deification of the
“worker” in Stalinist and Maoist propaganda, and the insane religion of the
Stakhanovite in the old Soviet Union. But even its more apparently anodyne
variants–like labourite and social democratic demands for the “right to work”–draw
upon the same, identitarian font: that the human “essence” is work.
Amidst the movements of 1968 and after, the thinking that
would later be associated with left-wing identity politics intuitively
criticised the reductive, identitarian thought of Marxist and anarchist
orthodoxy. Against the figure of the worker other subjects of liberation were
posed: women, blacks, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, etc. However, in broadening
the scope of the potential revolutionary subject many of these thinkers ended
up merely replicating the reductive identitarian thought of Marxist orthodoxy.
Now, instead of one identity, multiple identities were posed, all with the
weakness that flows from the tendency to pose an absolute difference in
identity. More pointedly, in criticising Marxism they often misunderstood or
ignored the negative dimensions of Marx’s ‘proletarian’. For Marx, the
proletarian identity is not merely historically contingent, it is generally
enforced by capitalist relations. The point, then, of a proletarian revolution
was not the elevation or deification of working-class identity, but rather its
The present bulwark of the destructive reduction to
identity, is capitalism’s ongoing drive to reduce all human activity to the
measure of labour-power for sale. No doubt there are other reductive moves on
the part of capitalist hierarchy. Today, they are inextricably caught up in the
central reduction: the measurement of what it means to be human by work-time
In all forms of reduction to identity–at least when it
comes to conflating social individuals to largely ephemeral, historical notions
of group identity–there is little to be gained from distinguishing left wing
and right-wing variants. This is something Malik seems to be oblivious to, for
instance when he distinguishes between good identity politics (left wing) and
bad identity politics (right wing). Rather, we should distinguish between the
types of identity and universality that we fight for–and against.
By posing the possible and desirable emergence of a truly
human community–one that is not based upon the reduction of the social
individual to identity but rather the flowering of human powers and creativity–we
do not necessarily reject identity. The problem with identity is not identity
as such, but rather the absolutism of both left- and right-wing variants. Life
is neither sheer contingency nor absolute being. Short of the sheer materiality
of being and becoming, and the struggle with and against entropy and time’s
arrow, we now know that stable identities tend to change over time.
Science has revealed the common animality of the human
species, and this in itself is one of the most startling rebukes to the
irrationality and falsehood of racism and its attendant ideologies.
Nonetheless, the brute fact of our shared species heritage is still not enough
to pose the possibility or even desirability of a truly universal community. In
order to fashion a society beyond the narrow particularisms of nation and
capitalism, we must do away with nationalist and capitalist
identities–alongside with other, equally contingent identities such as those
pertaining to sexuality and gender. Identity is a conquest, not a given–and
perhaps most important of all, it is ephemeral–like every species that has
ever been or ever will be.
There has some bluster lately on social media, and even at a house show I attended, about how we have a duty to vote. Supposedly by voting for suitable politicians we can save society and the planet from the ravages of capital. This rhetoric is that of being informed of rights and responsibilities that you are lucky to have. It’s about respecting freedoms gained by past struggles. In the Australian case, as no doubt elsewhere, some barely disguised nationalism is at work.
As ever, the promises of nationalism are false. Voting
cannot and will not do what its passionate proponents think it can. Even
turning up to a polling booth actually disguises a real lack of democracy.
Casting a proper vote is full complicity in a lie.
Our loyal voters are no doubt ready to say that it is
exactly because of missives like this one that voting does not do what it
should. This is ridiculous simply because the authors of this missive do not
control the flow of information in a deliberately dumbed-down society. The
capitalists who do own the media can talk up candidates on the basis of their
ability to serve the needs of capital at that time, and suitably vilify others.
The manipulations involved have in the recent past have gone on to involve the mass
murder of refugees. Just as in Israel the mass murder of Palestinians is
often instigated around election time, in order to rally racist nationalistic
sentiment. We must outright reject such murderous charades by refusing to be a
part of the electoral spectacle.
True, the owners of our society are not omnipotent in their manipulations. In Britain, Brexit recently showed them the dangers of being overconfident. The capitalists running Britain will now require another referendum and an “information” campaign for the “right” result–or some other less obvious, but still potentially troublesome, machinations. The capitalist logic of staging a second referenda for the “right” result was rolled out by the Australian government in the First World War. After the defeat of the 1916 referendum on conscription the government and its supporters restaged it and were defeated a second time in 1917. The results were a definite sign of the radicalisation emerging amidst the working class during the war, and the movement from a banal and bloody nationalism of 1914 to a class increasingly angry and combative from suffering its masters’ political and economic machinations. The Australian ruling class learnt its lesson. Conscription was never again submitted to such a popular vote. Instead it was introduced democratically–through the parliament. Within twenty years the result of the referenda during the First World War was ignored, and conscription introduced for men over the age of 21. Australian conscripts would fight in the even bloodier Second World War, and then in Korea, and Malaya. A ballot version of conscription was still in place during the Vietnam War.
It is true as well that the owners of society can disagree
over details, and over changes to these details, when it comes to the
administration of capital’s infrastructure–aka the state. At the level of the
commanding heights of political and economic control these are mere quibbles
over how people are best exploited. At
our level the consequences can be more terrifying and humiliating. This rightly
suggests we as voters have no substantial control.
We should in this regard consider various manipulations such
as gerrymandering, legalisms and sometimes more covert means. Overall, the
owners of our society, and so too the owners of its chief communication
channels, have a satisfactory if not foolproof control of the voting process.
We should not dignify the resulting three yearly charade
with even a single vote.
Some of the bluster in favour of voting has taken issue with
the proletarian commonplace that, keeping with the Australian example, the two
main parties are in essence the same. Of course, the main Australian political
parties are not the same in the sense that 2+2 is the same as 4. Nor in the
sense that certain particles are so similar to each other that on some more
speculative readings of physics these have been assigned numerical identity.
The parties are the same in that all serve capital, even if in slightly
different ways. That is what counts.
In the Australian context, one party has traditionally been
entrusted with building the infrastructure of exploitation, the other with
paring it back. One or the other is then more attractive to capitalists
depending on particular variables–not just the capacities of individual
politicians or coherence of the ruling party at a particular time, but perhaps
even more importantly the disposition of class forces in society (consider, for
instance, the defeat of John Howard’s Liberal government at the end of the mining
boom in 2007). This is not a strict rule. If required, in terms of economic “health”,
those who traditionally build or are supposed to build will pare back. This
happened very clearly in the 1980s and 1990s with the reformist Australian
Labor Party in government. Equally and conversely, in the 1950s and 1960s it
was a conservative government that was required to undertake the task of
building, especially around educating the workers of the future. What is
strictly true is that massive interests largely determine how people vote. Even
if people vote unpredictably, or the outcome is not ideal for every single capitalist,
the outcomes are always about profit and exploitation. Voting disguises these
What promises are made, and which are kept, are determined
by the abstract needs of capital rather than those of people and the
environment. Whether or not the building
aspect includes environmental reforms, it remains the case that the
exploitation of people and broader nature must go on. Profit must come from
somewhere. The different capacities of different individuals who make up
elected or shadow parties does not change the overall functional identity of
these parties. Hence, we find their policies, pronouncement and modus
operandi, despite differing on points like the role of unions and organised
labour, nonetheless share the ‘big picture’ view of economic expansion, and
prosperity for some. This again correctly suggests voting is pointless, and the
proletarian commonplace about the sameness of the parties should not be so
It is also impossible to understand how voting can confer
any benefit when electoral promises are regularly broken. In Australia, this is
over everything from transport and wages to the environment, and on every level
of government. While anti-democratic, this breaking of promises does at least reveal
the real nature of the political process. Here’s how. The promise is made, and
a ghoulish representative of economic power who made it then takes office.
Instead of implementing the promise, this ghoul then claims that political and
economic conditions have changed. This leaves the poor voting sucker with the
option of trying for another undead phantom who will do the same thing. In the
meantime, at least, the real determinant of social life is revealed, namely the
needs of capital.
If we examine the desire politicians have for power, and the
belief that they should be rewarded for their good policies by keeping them in
office, we must also consider the benefits of this afterlife. Under capitalism,
money is the real social power that each individual carries in her hip pocket.
Politicians like to pretend that they are making career sacrifices for the good
of the nation, but this is nonsense. All politicians are interested in power,
and so inevitably in money. Their wages and conditions are good–and, unlike
the rest of us, determined largely by the politicians themselves.
Additionally, the more ambitious and influential politicians
can be assured that even if they make an unpopular decision that leads to some
public vilification, they will be later rewarded. Indeed, these unpopular
decisions are invariably in favour of large companies. After leaving office,
the ex-politician often walks into lucrative consultancies, bureaucratic
sinecures, board positions, etc–often in that industry most tied to their
former political life. Usually we don’t like to recognise the names of such
ghouls since they are insubstantial in view of their interchangeability and
redundancy–but two Australian examples will suffice. Alexander Downer and Mark
Vaile both made unpopular decisions in favour of Big Energy and were richly
rewarded after subsequently losing office. There is a robust sense in which
politicians do not even care if you vote them out.
Keeping such folk honest from below will not work. Given
what has just been said, even making investment portfolios public will have
limited effect. The usual betrayals, scandals and disappointments are the most
common results. Only a total fool who does not learn naively celebrates the
grim duty of the polling booth, and a fresh round of punishment, ready to once
again be disillusioned.
Surely though, voting means some promises are kept, and some
dire exploitative measures are averted? To answer this question, readers should
consider not the result of elections, but the pre-existing political management
of class conflict–that is the level of exploitation generally acceptable in a
society. This is changed and contested
by direct action. If we consider for instance the short-lived Australian Labor
Party government of 1972-1975, what we find is not the granting of reforms so
much as the formalisation of gains already made elsewhere. One instance was the
growing combativity of organised labour. Consider the general strike of 1969
over Clarrie O’Shea’s
imprisonment. There was also the development
of the anti-Vietnam war campaign, which was related to increasing student
radicalism, and grass roots radicalism in pubs as represented in Sydney by the
ongoing radicalisation of The Push.
The process formalising critical practices through
parliament–and even business–is also a process of dilution–what the
Situationists called the “recuperation” of radical critique. How else can one
understand that it was this self-same reforming Labor government that in 1975
introduced “economic rationalist” legislation and budgeting under the charge of
a vigorously and extremely conservative future Governor General? Similarly, the
later Mabo legislation of the 1990s signified the watering down of initial
proposals. Of course: how could we forget? Political and economic conditions
had forced the hand of the erstwhile reformers.
There is no practical sense in which the needs of capital
must be such a determinant of life. In fact, there are strong environmental and
social reasons why these needs should not now and never be met. Only not voting
makes the importance of a denial of these needs clearer.
However, it is true we have so far neglected certain
In Australia, many supposed progressives consider it just
that a failure to vote incurs a punishment–a fine or even jail term. In fact,
this incentive to vote presents an argument that deserves respect, especially
if you can’t afford to pay the fine. No one wants to be even more exploited
than they already are. Still, there are a couple of legit ways out of the
electoral treadmill. If you have an illness, whip it out. There are other
reasons too that you can give for not voting–like not being able to reach a
polling booth. Otherwise try to stay off the electoral role. If you are forced
to attend a booth, blank vote and perhaps print-up this article or one like it
and leave it around in pamphlet form. Be careful if doing so. Discouraging
voting remains basically illegal in Australia, though details of how vary
across places and times.
The fundamental illegality of circulating this missive helps
meet the objection that it could only have been circulated in a voting democracy,
thereby under cutting its own point. Additionally,
the objection is met by the fact that even in open authoritarian nations there
is samizdat, zines, communiques etc. In more authoritarian nations such dissent
is even more dangerous. It is hardly a mark of democracy that tolerance is
exercised when all of those with the most significant audience–numerically
speaking–say much the same. Where someone does start to make a real
difference, they’re likely to wind up like Juanita Nielsen or
countless Aboriginal activists: dead or imprisoned. As concerns anti-voting
activism, to the extent that he was successful in the 1990s, Albert Langer, was fined
and thrown in jail. In the early 2000s anarchist group FUCKED (Freedom Urban
Collective Knowledge Expansion Division) were chased away from polling booths
by Queensland Police for trying to convince punters to not enter. This missive
is circulated against, not because of the idea of Australian democracy.
It was interesting to watch an attorney general desire to
prosecute satirists Juice Media in
2018 for detourning the “Australien” coat of arms. Another political
ghoul opposed and mocked him. Nonetheless, this ghoulish opposition is a choreographed
dance, where each “side” benefits from the other. One looks tough, the other
looks free. Good cop, bad cop. Both come to seem to be a part of an institution
in which such a prosecution can be debated, and both implicitly thereby support
misleading liberal nationalism. We are supposed to rely not just upon one or
the other to keep society functioning, but also upon the dynamic between them. Such
political debate and difference are in reality ghoulish phantasmagoria. We must
reject both on the grounds that we need neither.
The idea that Australia is a democracy is in fact an utterly
absurd security blanket cherished by those who cannot accept the fact that
their lives are currently run by and for capitalism. It will not do, then, to
favourably compare Australia with other nations even more obviously not democratic.
Neither Australia nor these others classify as “true” democracies. Moreover,
should we simply fetishize democracy in the abstract? We want direct creative
control over our lives, and democracy is not sufficient for this, even if the
principle of democracy is necessary and widely applicable in particular cases.
That is all the more reason to cease pretending that we have
democracy now. We must not glorify the existing political charade by voting. It
would be preferable to not participate. Or if we must, then it would be better
to or engage in a public criticism of this democracy at the polling booth, or
in some other way refuse to act as a good, faithful cog in a machine beyond our
We must never rely on politicians in community and wage struggles. We must take direct action for ourselves. On no account should struggles be used to bolster the electoral ambitions of a politician. If such a ghoul bandies about their political phantasmagoria, they must be combated with solid arguments like those we have presented here.
Editorial note: The first version of this article incorrectly claimed that the second referendum on conscription in Australia in 1917 was won by the federal government.–prole no prole, 14 May 2019
Since the following was written, protesters–including ‘yellow vests’–at the traditional May Day march in Paris have been confronted with a violent police crackdown. It is hard to read the course of the yellow vest phenomenon in France. Are we witnessing its slow decline? Or is its persistence a sign of a new proletarian movement? What is beyond doubt is that the conditions that brought the yellow vest movement into being have neither been ameliorated nor solved. Indeed, Macron–despite the spectacle of debating and listening to the yellow vests–has not only refused to roll back his pro-capitalist ‘reforms’ but has prepared the French state for further disruption by way of beefing up anti-protest legislation and policing. It is clear is that the capitalist crisis is not going away. The capitalist class know that their rule is precarious. Today there is less carrot and more stick, while the rich bunker down behind their wealth and their cops to watch the world slowly burn. We too must come to an understanding of what is at stake, and not retreat from the consequences of this clarity. The question then remains the same as the one faced in the 1840s: the proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing.
–prole no prole
Sunday April 13–one week after their weakest mobilisation–‘Act 22’ of the ‘yellow vests’ (gilets jaunes) protests took place in Paris and regional France. Act 22 was the first since the ‘anti-rioters bill’ (‘loi anti-casseur’) came into effect. Despite being bigger than Act 21 on 6 April, it was far from the beginning of the hoped for ‘yellow tsunami’ wanted by so many of its participants as well as those supporting from the sidelines. A week later tension returned with ‘Act 23’: widespread footage of burning barricades, looted shops and more bloody confrontation between demonstrators and the forces of (dis)order. Undoubtedly fuelled further by the hypocrisy of the French elite’s response to the burning of Notre Dame. ‘Everything for Notre Dame’, cried a group of protesters, ‘but nothing for Les Misérables’.
Despite this heightened conflict, the yellow vests have
nonetheless been losing momentum. This tendency is partly being driven by the
repression from Macron and his supporters: the ongoing and intensifying police
violence towards those demonstrating–pacifists and ‘casseurs’ (rioters) alike, and the persistent demonization of the
protesters by the capitalist media and its allies. This has been topped off
with another draconian measure: the anti-rioters bill mentioned above, which
rules that that all masked demonstrators (as well as those carrying bags) shall
be considered criminals. Additionally, the new law effectively bans anyone from
assembling in any of the monumental public areas–and above all in those places
important to capitalist valorisation, such as the battle ground on the Champs-Élysées which so many have
witnessed over the last 23 weeks.
On the other hand, this loss of momentum is also linked to a
perspective unfolding within the movement itself. Common to this perspective
has been a vague opposition to ‘neoliberalism’, to ‘financialization’ and to
the reduction of ‘purchasing power’. Regrettably, such an approach leads to the
belief that the problem lies solely in the hands of a small, greedy elite. One
sees here the re-emergence of the 1% vs 99% rhetoric so prevalent in the last
decade of social movements–a rhetoric that falsely pits ‘bad’, ‘useless’,
finance against ‘good’, ‘useful’, production. This simplistic view, apart from
its dubious moral absolutism, is incapable of reckoning with the real
entailment of finance and production in capitalism over the last century and
more. Worse still, it reproduces elements of the fascist worldview, in which
finance capital is bad to the extent that it is associated with a spurious
Jewish cabal. It is hardly surprising then that a small minority of Nazis and Alt-right
cave dwellers have tried–and largely failed–to hijack the movement. What is
clear, however, is that the state’s recipe remains the same as it has been for
the last 40 years: the fallout from capitalist crisis is dumped onto the
majority of working people, who are then obliged to carry the burden of the
crisis under the guise of ‘austerity’.
The point is, that in order to draw out a serious critical
practice and avoid being derailed into the dead end of racism and fascism, we
must target capitalism in its entirety. As long as such vague oppositions
exist, all the fragmentary remedies which have thus far been proposed serve
only as an impotent outcry against the symptoms
of current capitalist barbarism. This theoretical disarray, coupled with the
heightened repression from the state, limits the potential development of a more
subversive movement. As long as the yellow vests confine themselves to
embracing capitalism with a more ‘human face’, and/or concede to the increasing
populism of the right and left, they will condemn themselves to being a part of
the capitalist circus rather than its remedy.
Nonetheless, there exists a revolutionary proletarian tendency
within the movement. The ‘East Parisian Yellow Vests’, associated with the
GARPA group, are one instance of such. GARPA (Groupe d’Action pour la Recomposition de l’Autonomie Prolétarienne;
Eng.: ‘Action Group for the Recomposition of Proletarian Autonomy’) have for
their goal the redirection of the yellow vest movement towards the critique of
capitalist production, the increasing precariousness of work, and the growing
pool of proletarian labour which is no-longer necessary to the valorisation
process–a critique, moreover, that avoids the pitfalls of nationalism,
neo-liberal reformism and fictitious conspiracy (as opposed to the real conspiracies of the ruling class). Additionally,
GARPA also recognises the heterogeneous nature of the protest up until now–manual
and intellectual workers, government and office workers, small business owners,
etc. This is just one of the reasons why the unions and workers’ parties haven’t
been successful in co-opting the movement–yet. Such diversity is for GARPA an
important step in restabilising a critique which targets the entirely of
capitalist production (regardless of whether or not a revolutionary
subjectivity is being constituted), and at the same time avoids the deadend of
Marxist orthodoxy and anarchism that ignores the negative content of
What follows is an English translation by prole no prole of an East Parisian
Yellow Vests leaflet.
More information on GARPA–in French–can be found here.
PD April, 2019
AN APPEAL FROM THE EAST PARISIEN ‘YELLOW VESTS’
Our yellow vests are no longer the uniform of road safety. They
have become the rallying signal of the global contestation of the established
order. If they reflect the light, it’s not to alert the authorities of some
emergency or social distress. We do not wear them in order to demand something
from the powers that be. The yellow of our vests is not what the labour
movement traditionally connects to treachery. The colour of this vest is that
of the lava of rage, which the long dormant volcano of social revolution begins
to spit out. It is only yellow
because it embraces the red.
Under the name ‘yellow vests’ a titan is beginning to awaken,
though still groggy from the coma into which it fell for more than forty years.
This colossus no longer knows what to call itself, no longer remembers its
glorious history, and does not recognise the world into which it wakes . Yet as
it wakes, it discovers the magnitude of its own power. Words are whispered to
it by false friends, jailers of its dreams. It repeats these words: ‘French’,
‘the people’, ‘citizen’! But in pronouncing them, confusion prevails as vague
images emerge from the depths of memory. These words have been worn out in the
streets of poverty, on barricades and battlefields, during strikes and from the
heart of prisons. Such words come from the language of a formidable adversary,
from the enemy of humanity, which for the last two centuries has masterfully
wielded fear, force and propaganda. This deadly parasite, this social vampire–is capitalism!
We are not a ‘community with a shared destiny’, proud of its
‘identity’, full of national myths, which does not know how to resist social
history. We are not French.
We are not a mass made up of ‘ordinary people’ ready to ally
ourselves with our masters, if only we were ‘well governed’. We are not the people.
We are not an aggregate of individuals who owe their
existence to the State–whether by virtue of being acknowledged by it or
defending it. We are not citizens.
We are those who are forced to sell our labour power to
survive, those from whom the bourgeoisie extract their profits by dominating
and exploiting us. We are those which Capital, by way of its survival strategy,
tramples, sacrifices and condemns. We are the collective force that is going to
abolish all social classes. We are the proletariat.
Conscious of our historical interests, we warn that:
• The yellow vest movement will be destroyed
if it persists in believing that the interests of workers can be reconciled
with those of the bosses. This illusion is already causing harm because Macron
is using it to redirect the protest movement against the exploited. The poor
capitalists– small business people, artisans and other self-employed people, opportunely
depicted as struggling capitalists–are also victims of social ‘costs’, and
share the same fate as their employees. Therefore, it will be necessary on the
whole to spare them and be content with begging for money from the biggest
amongst them. Such an approach allows the powers that be to insult us all, while
pretending to respond to our demands. For instance, the supposed increase in
the minimum wage (Salaire Minimum Interpersonnel de Croissance, SMIC) will only
be paid for by wage-earners. And the cancellation of the rise in the social
security tax (Contribution Sociale Généralisée CSG) hides the ongoing reduction
of the pensions of the poorest retirees.
• From this flawed approach,
a fraction of yellow vests claim that a state that spends less would cut back
on the tax burden which is crushing businesses, and that economic activity
would thus be revived and everyone would be onside. This approach is a bad
fairy-tale. It’s not the state which suffocates small capitalists, but rather
the law of competition, which not only allows them to exist, but also allows
them to grow and take their share of the market. The social problem is thus so
poorly posed by the movement–to the extent to which the ‘badly governed state’
is targeted instead of the capitalist system–that the government program of
dismantling the ‘social state’ in the name of the ‘optimisation of public
action’ is in fact strengthened. Ironically, the predatory social politics of
abolishing the redistribution of wealth to the poor, which up until now has
being carried out by means of social security and public services, is
reinforced. Likewise, the measures to reduce overall wages through the
compromises of deferred wages (e.g. retirement funds, unemployed benefits…) are
now also justified. We give them the stick
with which they beat us.
• According to this
perspective–which gives pride of place to economic equilibrium as long as it’s
well managed–what is ‘bad’ in the economy comes in from the outside: e.g. from
the fiscal state, the European union, ‘finance’, ‘cosmopolitans’ (behind which
are sometimes said to be ‘Jews’ and the ‘illuminati’) and immigrants. The inability
to understand or the refusal to admit the blatant truth that it is capitalism (a
system of the production of wealth based on the exploitation of human labour) that
is in crisis, opens the door wide to reactionary idea which safeguard the
established order. Ten years of
far-right activism on the internet weighs heavily on this suicidal state of
confusion in which a number of yellow vests believe to have found a solution to
• Amongst these ‘solutions’ the Citizens Initiative
Referendum (Référendum d’Initiative Citoyenne), long promoted by the
‘fasho-sphere’, and which the Mélenchon conformists eventually rallied to, is a
farce which will allow the social question to be suffocated by institutional garbage.
This alteration of democracy will solve nothing, even if it was to be adopted.
It would only draw out the electoral elastic while maintaining the relationship
between social classes–their conditions as well as their stakes–with the
addition of the strengthening of legal reformism, the poor parent of the
already illusory economic reformism. This would amount to condoning everyday servitude
a little more directly.
Conscious of our tasks, we recognise that:
• The yellow vest movement stops at the doors of business–which is to
say, where the totalitarian reign of the boss begins. This phenomenon is the
result of different factors. Let’s restrict ourselves to three:
1) the atomisation of production, which sees a great number of employees
working in (very) small businesses in which the close proximity of their
employers makes the possibility of a strike very difficult.
2) The precariousness of work for many employees seriously worsens their
capacity for conflict with their company.
3) Exclusions and unemployment place a great number of proletarians
outside of production.
A large part of the yellow vests are directly concerned with at least
one of these three facts.
• The other group of wage
workers, those who work in large companies and who have greater employment
security, seem to be isolated as if under glass, and upon which the powerful
force of the movement breaks like a wave upon rocks. Special treatment, made up
of managerial efficiency and shameful union collaboration, is reserved for this
segment of the working population. The bourgeoisie well understands that this
category of workers has the power to strike at the heart of capitalist
production, by way of unlimited general strikes. This is why the bourgeoisie secures
its pacification through the use of sweeteners like ‘end of year bonuses’.
Conscious of our goals, we maintain:
• The calls of the yellow
vests of Alès, Commercy and Saint Nazaire (who refuse all hierarchical
organisation, all representation, and target capitalists) signifies for us the
path to follow.
• The desire to smash
ideological, managerial and union barriers which keep the yellow vest movement
outside of production. We must use the extraordinary force and determination that
this movement is developing in order to achieve that which millions of the
exploited have wanted for so long (without ever having been able to reach it): to
paralyse production from within, to decide upon and coordinate strikes in
general assemblies, and to unite all the categories of waged workers with the
same aim of overthrowing the capitalist system and the reappropriation of the
productive apparatus. Let’s put an end to hierarchical, capitalist and state
• Today, if you want to discuss these strikes, their triggers,
extension and coordination, then contact us, and join us!
Apparently, Benjamin Péret’s poem, ‘Epitaphe pour un Monument aux Mort de la Guerre’ caused a scandal in the late 1920s on its submission to an Académie française competition. The competition sought a poem for a national war memorial. Péret, World War One veteran, and by this time ex-Dada and staunch revolutionary Surrealist, submitted what he believed to be the only appropriate memorial to the farce and horror of war. A fitting tribute to the absurdity of Anzac Day. Below is a new translation of the poem. It originally appeared in La révolution surréaliste, N°12, 15 décembre 1929.
There is no other way to put it. Anzac Day is a lie–which is to say a myth in the worst sense of the word.
The Gallipoli campaign by any measure was a disaster. Anzac Day was conjured by supporters of the war, in the face of the fact that as the war pointlessly ground on, recruiters found it increasingly hard to convince more people to join in the slaughter–or be slaughtered for the British Empire.
Since the First World War, Anzac Day continues to be used by
capitalists and their state to encourage workers to sign up and kill–or be
killed. Even when it becomes painfully clear that we have nothing to gain and
everything to lose from fighting their wars, the Anzac myth lends a hand in papering
over the truth of war.
No doubt many people fought heroically–and less than heroically–and have died and been maimed under the banner of Anzac. But today, as yesterday, this interpretation of Anzac serves a dual purpose. Firstly, to paper over the truth of war–that war is always the murderous continuation of ‘politics by other means’. And secondly, to assure those people who have fought for the Australian state that their service was not in vain–even when this patently was the case, for instance in the First World War and Vietnam.
However, there is an even more sinister side to Anzac Day. Many
supporters of Anzac Day believe that it marks the coming of age of the
Australian state, and more broadly the experience of what it means to be Australian.
Here, the pointless slaughter of Gallipoli serves as bloody foundation myth, a
nation forged in war and comradeship. Certainly, the dull and bureaucratic nature
of the birth of the Australian state lacks the legendary aura of many national
myths–for instance, the American War of Independence or the French Revolution
and revolutionary wars.
But the truth is that Australian ‘federation’ in 1901 is a pivotal moment in a longer process, which not unlike Anzac Day disguises more than it reveals. Anzac Day serves the role of national foundation myth to the extent that the true story of Australia’s foundation cannot: the brutal and murderous displacement of indigenous peoples. The fact that the attempted extermination of the indigenous peoples constitutes the real foundation of the Australian state is, by turns, obscured, hidden or denied by supporters of the idea and reality of Australia.
This article concerns the recent launch of light-rail in Canberra and its relation to ongoing processes of gentrification and development in the city and inner-north. Any discussion of urban space, or contestations of the nature and function of the city, are defunct without an acknowledgement of the violent processes of colonisation and dispossession of indigenous people which have been integral to the formation of modern cities. This blog is written on Ngunnawal land.
Light-rail has launched in the Australian Capital Territory. Trivial
news on the Grand Scale of Things perhaps, but a big deal for
Canberra. Or so we are told. Particularly if we listen to the likes of
chief minister Andrew Barr, who has declared that the event marks the
date when Canberra “grew up as a city.” Barr’s
remarks that the light-rail project is a century in the making may be
somewhat disingenuous, but he has reason to celebrate nonetheless. The
laying down of tracks between the satellite centre of Gungahlin and the
CBD has been described as the largest infrastructural project in the
city’s history, and has come in at a cost of around one billion
dollars. On the date of its launch, the ACT government has spent up to
$100,000 on opening festivities, including live music, food stalls, and
free rides on the city’s favourite new novelty trolley. Months, or even
weeks from now, sleepy commuters scrambling for a seat on their way to
work will be unlikely to remember this initial enthusiasm.
Behind the flurry of media excitement sits a relatively banal
reality; they have built just one more means for transporting us between
the buildings where we work, the buildings where we shop, and the
buildings where we sleep.
What Barr and his consortium are celebrating has less to do with a
light-rail scheme than it does with their own demonstrated power to
redesign and reconfigure the operations of a vast tract of public
space. The light-rail project has been a driving force behind the ACT
government’s plan to rebrand Canberra as a “confident, bold and ready
city.” In the process, they have swept away historic public housing
estates and released swathes of land along the Northbourne Avenue
corridor for the development of so-called “luxury apartments” and
townhouse complexes. Higher rent for smaller quarters. Intensified
atomisation and social alienation for the city’s inhabitants, and
increased profits for its owners.
Barr would have us believe that the advent of light-rail is a
necessary step toward the development of a “real public transport
system” befitting a population of half-a-million. Likewise, transport
minister Meegan Fitzharris has claimed
that the project responds to the challenges of population growth and
climate change. These are ambitious claims, particularly considering
the limited extent of the light-rail route itself. Servicing a thin
corridor between the rapidly growing town centre of Gungahlin and the
city proper, the vast majority of Canberrans living in the
outer-northern suburbs and the city’s south will nonetheless continue to
rely on their cars, or on the under-developed bus network to ship them
to-and-fro between spaces of production and spaces of consumption.
Behind the triumphalism of Barr and Fitzharris is the reality of the
function of the light-rail corridor: the unlocking of development
potential. Ex-chief minister Katy Gallagher admits as much,
noting that when the government first seriously considered the project
back in 2011, a key interest was in the prospect for development. While
light-rail would cost significantly more than improving the bus
network, Gallagher admits that the potential for land development along
the Northbourne Avenue corridor more than made up for the difference.
The business class is not hiding its satisfaction with the attempt. Paul Powdler, CEO of Colliers International ACT, has candidly remarked
that “what we’ve seen happen as a result of this light rail is new
development all along Northbourne Avenue. There’s cranes, there’s new
apartments being built. It’s delivering what the government wanted which
is economic activity along this corridor”. The last four years have
seen a hyperactive process of neo-gentrification in the construction of
new commercial precincts in Braddon, the planned further development of
Dickson and the removal of public housing to clear the way for luxury
apartment and townhouse complexes as noted above.
We are no more ‘anti-tram’ than we are ‘anti-car’ or ‘anti-road’.
This is not a question of denouncing a tram, or a light-rail vehicle or
whatever else they would like us to call it. Rather, we situate the
light-rail project as a moment within a broader movement of the
capitalist restructuring of daily life in this quarter of the city.
Life in capitalist cities consists of dead repetition – trams embark
every six minutes. Who gets to decide when a city has grown up? Whose
interests does this growth serve? Those who determine how we experience
the city, whose interests it serves, who is included and excluded from
its avenues and its bespoke apartment precincts, are the same who line
their pockets with our rent and our taxes.
The development along the Northbourne Avenue corridor has been an
exercise in refining the social practice of the construction of lived
urban space, in the interest of the accumulation of capital and at the
expense of the ‘undesirables’. Homeless people living in tent
communities in the city have been banned from working
on the key intersections, and will now need to venture further for the
pittance they raise through the degrading labour of cleaning the
windscreens of bored and irate commuters. Also banned are activities
such as hitch-hiking. The state and capital dictate the limits to our
experience of the city and its potential.
Let’s not swallow the platitudes of mogul developers and real-estate
capitalists when it comes to the renovation of our neighbourhoods – they
only want one thing from us.
The last few years have changed the face of this city. We can’t go
back now. We also don’t want to romanticise what existed before.
Rather, we seek to always extend our critique of the rationalism of
capital and the state, and their dictatorship over the possibilities we
have to live our lives and realise our desires within the urban field.
This is a tension that exists in all cities across the world.
The capitalist city will always be a mausoleum. Only a revolutionary
contestation will bring life back into the streets, and lead the way
toward more emancipated forms of collective life.
Fred Smith, folk musician and government bureaucrat, is a supporter of the Australian government’s participation in the invasion of Afghanistan. The following article calls into question his support for the war and the ongoing involvement of the US, Australian and other militaries and businesses in Afghanistan. Next week Smith is celebrating the chief pro-war ritual of the Australian and New Zealand states: Anzac Day. Indeed, he is a part of the official Australian government service in Canberra–something his leftie fans should keep in mind when they see him at the Street Theatre the night before. Smith once styled himself as a left-wing critic. Today he is just another deceptively sweet voice justifying imperialist war under the cover of humanitarian aid.
In the longer term, naive views about the wars of today are every bit as dangerous as war itself. Singer Fred Smith wants us to join in his heartfelt praise for the Australian army in Afghanistan, and the schools and other infrastructure he has seen them build there. But behind his meek feel good folk rock, Fred provides a sad example of the dangers of naivety. Fred is notable for endorsing the war in Afghanistan while taking a stand against the war in Iraq. Here we call on him to go the whole way and denounce both wars.
When the US and its allies–including Australia–invaded
Afghanistan in 2001, the governments involved and their medias and allied
public relations firms, put it about that the US had launched a humanitarian
war. Additionally, in the wake of 911, the US government said it was embarking
on a war to finally crush terrorism. To those that would listen–and they were
many–the US presented its crusade as one against a backward Islamic
fundamentalism and the last hold-outs of authoritarian rule in the Middle East.
But to sweeten the deal, the US also trumpeted its humanitarian chops, arguing
that their real concern was for democracy and the reestablishment of just,
We now know these claims were false. The war in Afghanistan
was launched by the US with the intention of its extension to Iraq.
Additionally, the US’s geo-strategic interests in Afghanistan
date back at least to their support of the Mujahedeen against the Soviet
Union–not to mention the US’s more long-term interests in securing its oil and
other interests throughout the region. Afghanistan has large untapped energy and mineral resources–a fact established by the United States
Geological Survey (USGS) and the British geological surveys. Given
the many widespread problems caused by the burning fossil fuels, it would not
be an exaggeration to say that the war there is crucial to the current
exploitation of the globe.
Exploitation needs infrastructure. Not just mines, roads and
factories, but also–and especially–the schools and hospitals Fred witnessed
being built. That Fred wants to emphasise the “giving” moment of the broader
question of capitalist exploitation only shows us that he wears his blinkers
tight. Exploitation never gives, it only takes. And without schools and
hospitals there can be no markets, exploitation or wars.
In 2016 SIGAR
confirmed that poverty, unemployment, underemployment, violence, out-migration,
internal displacement, and the education gender gap have all increased since
the US led invasion. In
2016 over half of children receive no education and 60% of
them are malnourished–while opium production is at near record levels.
Unemployment is sky high, between 40% and 70%. Only 27% of people have access
to clean water (see here).
Fred Smith presumably believes that these are the very
problems that infrastructure, installed by US led military, will fix. But
neither the Afghan people nor anyone else can afford to just sit around and
wait, lulled by folk rock. The truth is that in the wake of the business opportunities
opened by the US invasion, daily life has become more not less precarious for Afghanis.
Indeed, there has been no humanitarian triumph to date.
To consider this further, let’s briefly look at the origins
of the Taliban, the Islamicist force the US-led invasion attacked. From the
1980s on, the Afghani Mujahedeen forces–from which the Taliban would later
emerge–were in fact funded by the US and her allies to fight the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The US adopted this strategy for two chief
reasons: firstly, the Mujahedeen would fight a proxy war for the US against
their number enemy of the day, the Soviet Union; and secondly, in the wake of
the defeat of the Russians, the US hoped that the Mujahedeen would form the
basis for a stable state, and so to for the profitable exploitation of
Afghanistan. Indeed, the US government is no intractable enemy of
fundamentalism or authoritarian dictatorship. It supports the Islamic theocracy
of Saudi Arabia, and also the presence of Christian fundamentalists at the
highest levels of the state and private business. Christian fundamentalists in
the US, moreover, ensured overseas wars–such as that the one in Afghanistan–are
well funded, and, for instance, pushed for massive increases in Cold War weapons funding
during the 1980s.
Fundamentalism of all stripes reacts to the uncertainties of modern
capitalist society by encouraging work, traditional families and civil obedience.
In other words, by making society stricter. And more profitable. For instance,
the US not only differentiates on questionable grounds between the “good”
fundamentalism of the Afghani Northern Alliance and the “bad” of the Taliban
and others. Christian fundamentalism continues to play a role in US military
life. This is both in terms of governmental support for military funding, and
in terms of religious commitments of many soldiers.
How then can a military invasion of Afghanistan remedy a
humanitarian crisis already bound up with exploitative fundamentalism? After
the invasion, reports came out of increasing attacks on effeminate men. In 2008
it was impossible to find a gay rights organisation in Afghanistan. Today,
punishment of gays has become more extreme–for instance, three gay men were
brutally executed in 2018, whereas previously they would have suffered only the
shaming familiar in western society (here) Additionally, the maternal death rate is higher than before the
invasion. Not to mention that the murder of civilians by both
warlords and US and allied armies have been covered up, and often hidden behind
the so-called “humanitarian” work that Fred Smith applauds–see, for instance,
the revelations of brutal crimes committed by Australian soldiers by ABC news here,
Indeed, Fred’s blindness to what else is going on apart from what he has seen
with his own eyes, speaks only to his refusal to listen to what other people
have seen and heard.
Incidentally, besides not just fostering but embodying
fundamentalist ideals, there is another reason the Afghan war has failed to
prevent terrorism. Recall that preventing terrorism was the other purported aim
of the Afghan war, allied to the humanitarian one. The reality for many people
today in Afghanistan–as well as Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries that
have been caught up in the extension of the US war against terrorism–is often death
from US military intervention. One thing is clear, no one feels safer
today–maybe not even the political and economic stooges of the US and
Australia. It is hard to believe that ongoing war, increasing poverty,
fundamentalism, despair and anger, are ways to prevent future terror.
One answer to this is to provide solidarity to people who are
opposing the wars in the countries in question, and the poverty and destruction
in their wake. However, such solidarity immediately poses the necessity of
opposing the war machines in the heart of the war-making countries like
Australia and the US. A struggle against militarism and the politics of war in
our own cities and towns assists those fighting against war in Afghanistan. Additionally,
it should not be forgotten such a movement involves genuine care for the US and
Australian and other allied soldiers who fight the wars for their political
masters, and in the process are maimed, traumatised or die.
Fred Smith has played acoustic folk rock for more than two
decades now, a musical form that at its best helps us make this exploitative
society we find ourselves in, feel–and be–less heartless. But the radical
promise and potentiality of folk rock is broken once Fred supports war in
Afghanistan. By obscuring the truth of what has happened–and continues to
happen–in Afghanistan, Fred endorses a key part of the globally destructive
and anti-humanitarian project of the US and Australian governments and militaries.
Having already had the good sense to oppose the war in Iraq,
Fred is capable of being an inquiring and engaged person. We therefore call
upon him to be consistent and still more thoughtful. At his Anzac Day eve
performance at the Street Cafe, we call on Fred to renounce his support for the
war in Afghanistan. Recent history and careful consideration show that he was
wrong about it. Now the time has come for him to show his own courage and admit
The story of the arsonists who during the final days of the Commune went to destroy Notre-Dame, only to find it defended by an armed battalion of Commune artists, is a richly provocative example of direct democracy. It gives an idea of the kind of problems that will need to be resolved in the perspective of the power of the councils. Were those artists right to defend a cathedral in the name of eternal aesthetic values–and in the final analysis, in the name of museum culture–while other people wanted to express themselves then and there by making this destruction symbolize their absolute defiance of a society that, in its moment of triumph, was about to consign their entire lives to silence and oblivion? The artist partisans of the Commune, acting as specialists, already found themselves in conflict with an extremist form of struggle against alienation. The Communards must be criticized for not having dared to answer the totalitarian terror of power with the use of the totality of their weapons. Everything indicates that the poets who at that moment actually expressed the Commune’s inherent poetry were simply wiped out. The Commune’s mass of unaccomplished acts enabled its tentative actions to be turned into “atrocities” and their memory to be censored. Saint-Just’s remark, “Those who make revolution half way only dig their own graves,” also explains his own silence.
from Sur la commune (1962), by Guy Debord, Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem. A complete English translation available here.
We are proles–and not just proles. We work because we have
to, not because we want to. Like Marx we believe that to be a worker is a
misery. In modern society we are reduced to our capacity to work–Marx called
this ‘labour power’. Work negates us insofar as it reduces the manifold
potentialities and diverse possibilities of the human and human community to
the unquestioned “good” of abstract wealth and labour–that is reduces us to
money, labour-power and production for profit.
The joys we find in work we find despite it–in the smile of
a colleague; in goofing off and daydreams; in stealing from the boss. We only
struggle for better pay and conditions as meagre compensation for a life stolen
from us for money. But even when we’re away from work, our “free-time” has
become more labourious. Meanwhile we plot and plan the complete abolition of
Those who believe that work can be made more meaningful and
fulfilling forget–or just ignore–that even the “good” jobs are rendered
boring. Under capitalism any and all tasks tend to be evacuated of interest and
enjoyment to the extent that they are reduced to a monetary measure. In the
example of so-called “creative” jobs, the measure of extra freedom
and control over work is undermined by ever-present competition and concern for
the bottom line (experienced, moreover, as externalities beyond our control).
In those cases in which such workers more closely identify with their creative
labours the sting of alienation can be even more tragically felt. Nonetheless,
for every “creative” worker who still juggles the never-ending labours of a
“work-life balance”, thousands more are submitted to the monotonous rhythms of
the schools, shops, call-centres, offices, warehouses, factories and prisons.
Which is to say, the expansion of so-called creative jobs paradoxically brings
even more–and more intensely felt–alienation in its wake.
So, we are proles who want to do away with the proletarian
condition. We do not celebrate labour or see it as the essence or the goal of
life. This is the grim fantasy of capitalism as much as really existing
“socialism”–and a good deal of the anarchist imaginary too. No doubt there
will be laborious tasks in a society freely and rationally organised by the
individuals that make it up. The difference, however, will be that the Janus-faced
idol of money and work will no longer maim us and mark us from birth to death.
[to be continued]
Don’t miss out on our next installment of ‘About prole no prole’ in which we will move from the negative to the positive, and reveal all about the coming communist utopia!