An eye for an eye . . .

fig. 1. A photo reproduction of Asger’s Jorn’s modified painting, ‘Le canard inquiétant’ (The Disquieting Duck).

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.  

Gerald Keaney
Anthony Hayes
May, 2022

fig. 2. Photo reproduction of Asger Jorn’s 1959-1960 collaboration with Pierre Wemaëre, Le Long Voyage, a tapestry more than fourteen meters long and twenty-four meters high. Travelling between continents or galaxies, or in the labyrinths of everyday life, in his n-dimensional continuum, Jorn looks like a Science Fiction painter. But contrary to the general spirit of this genre, creatures are well met. Inheritor of revolutionary universalism, Jorn proclaims: “Monsters of all planets, unite!” Anyone who disfigures Jorn’s work on the basis of misplaced personal and anecdotal prejudice is wrong.
fig. 3. Photo reproduction of an oil painting sketch, Le Long Voyage, by Jorn and Wemaëre, 1959.
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Spectacle in Space

originally posted on Notes from the Sinister Quarter

the spectacle in space…

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.

Does identity politics have racist roots?

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.

However,

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 abolition.

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 and money.

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.

–APH

This image is appended to Richard Gunn’s article “Notes on ‘Class'”. In the article Gunn contrasts the Marxist view of class with the academic sociological one–the former having a ‘relational’ viewpoint in which class is a result of a social individual’s position in the production relations of capitalism, whereas the latter has the viewpoint of a fixed, categorical conception of class. Gunn is arguing against the identitarian notion of class and in favour of a relational, and so too an historical and ephemeral one. We have a lot of time for Gunn’s article. However, we would correct his picture by saying that the so-called ‘Marxist’ view is in fact Marx’s viewpoint (and those inspired by such, like prole no prole), whereas much of what is described as ‘Marxist’ over the last two centuries advocated what Gunn calls the sociological view. When Gunn’s article was published–in 1987–many heterodox Marxists were still engaged in an operation of recovering the ‘true’ or at least more critical version of a Marxian viewpoint from under the dead weight of really existing socialism. Today, we can clearly enunciate the perspective that sees all Marxisms–even the more interesting, ‘heterodox’ versions like Gunn’s–as necessarily ideological in Marx’s sense of the term. As the situationists said more than 50 years ago: we are Marxists to the same extent that Marx was when he declared he was no Marxist.

Don’t vote

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 determinants. 

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 condescendingly dismissed.

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 practical considerations.    

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 control.

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.

–GAK

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

The yellow days of May

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 proletarian identity.

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 their misery.

• 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 oppression.

• Today, if you want to discuss these strikes, their triggers, extension and coordination, then contact us, and join us!

gilets-jaunes-revolutionnaires@protonmail.com

Against Anzac Day

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.

APH

Of streetcars and desires

originally on totaltantrum

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.

IMG_0694

Why does Fred Smith support the war in Afghanistan?

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, well-resourced governance.

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, here, and 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 his mistake.

Anthony Hayes & Gerald Keaney
April 2019

148 years after–better late than never

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.

About ‘prole no prole’ (1)

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 all alienations.

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!