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Let’s give up the Struggle, or, An Ultra-Left rant

May 30, 2004

I want to give up the struggle for communism. – emphasis on struggle. Revolutionaries, I believe, have to far too great an extent bought into a belief that politics must be a struggle, a sacrifice. These elements exist, but politics needs to be turned around so that the emphasis is on the pure visceral joy of political engagement, rather than the sacrifice.

To hell with aluta continua, I want to get on with my life. Countless hours in meetings, debating the same fine points with the usual suspects, has not brought the revolution any closer. It has bored the crap out of me, though. I thought the revolution was supposed to be sexy? I know that’s why I got involved. Yet all the passion got sucked into platforms and minimum and maximum programmes.

Perhaps what I am getting at is what Negri and Hardt refer to in ‘Militant’, the conclusion to their book Empire. The whole piece is worth reading, but the last sentences are:

“This is a revolution that no power will control – because biopower and communism, cooperation and revolution remain together, in love, simplicity and also innocence. This is the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist.”

I am also pointing to what I see as the poverty of working from the perspective of what is called a ‘transcendent critique’ – in other words, developing a clear idea of what you see as good or desirable in the abstract – an anarchist world, a theocratic state, heaven or whatever – and basing your politics around this. I believe that this is doomed to failure, because the abstract will always be only a poor reflection of the real, and most revolutionaries get so sucked up into their abstract interpretations of what is happening around them that they forget to check into the real world. More on this later, when I deal with spontaneous uprisings.

I prefer the idea of ‘immanent critique’, where we confront the limitations placed on us by this reality and work to overcome them. We may use anarchist tactics, but we are not ‘struggling for an anarchist world’. That is so abstract and distant from the reality we find ourselves in as to be ridiculous, and to me, insulting. If I take part in a group erecting barricades it’s because I want to help stop cops oppressing people, if I help to plant veggies, it’s because I want them to be self-sufficient and have healthy food. It is part of living like an anarchist now, not ‘building an anarchist world’. That’s far too zealous, and feels almost religious.

Transcendence defers the world we want to live in.

If we use anarchist tactics – non-hierarchical organising that respects the individual while understanding that collectives are needed to achieve large goals – I believe we have a better chance of waking up one morning and finding that it is, indeed, a red, green and black dawn.

My problem with transcendence is that it has too much potential to divide people. We work things out in theory and abstract, and then organise around these ideas, and separate ourselves from those who disagree with us. The worst example, obviously, is the Trotskyists, who keep splitting over who has the purest doctrine, and never ever actually do anything concrete to advance communism. I believe the same problem has the potential to manifest in all transcendent politics. We spend too much time defending intellectual positions and too little being constructive.

DOWN WITH TRANSCENDENCE, DOWN!

I am appealing to those who dropped out because of the frustrations I mention, and I am encouraging them to get involved again, not by joining a ‘new improved’ revolutionary organisation, but getting together with like-minded folk, taking action, and learning by trial and error what works.

My barb is directed essentially at Trotskyists, who take a really important issue that many people feel strongly about – like the invasion of Iraq – and release tedious pamphlets detailing minimum and maximum programmes and calling for a general strike and for everyone to build the vanguard party. How fucking disempowering! I believe this has the potential to destroy struggle. People come to a political meeting, maybe the first in their lives, and are confronted with a bunch of tired old ideologues all wanting to have their say. I think it sucks the power out of political action, and I don’t believe that having an anarchist speaker also standing up to have his or her say will necessarily make the situation better – I believe that whole way of doing politics is rotten.

So: I oppose all parties, platforms and programmes as traps for activists – or at least, for this particular activist. If you want to do it, more power to you, and I wish you the best of luck, every success, and may you unite millions. Really.

I just don’t see it happening that way. I don’t think you can build anything really useful just around ideas. Ultimately, humans are not logical beings, and will not be swayed by the best arguments (if they were, we’d be in anarchist utopia now), but rather by a feeling of wanting to work with a group because they ‘like’ the feel of the organisation, and see potential for empowering activity and fun. “Wow, what cool people, I want to get involved with them”. Not “wow, what an impressive analysis, I’d better join, since it’s better than mine”.

I think the anarchist platform is a case of putting form above content. My opposition started as being a vague mistrust and has developed into a more substantive critique over time.

The platform has always struck me as a sort of ‘soft Leninism‘. It takes the same Leninist idea of having to a present an ideologically united front, but without the coercion. Because there is no coercion, I won’t oppose it. I will be overjoyed if you build a platformist network that unites millions of class conscious activists. I think it’s a waste of energy, though, and would rather channel my energy into projects that I think will be more effective.

I am all for practical projects with clearly stated objectives and boundaries. I am not calling for amorphous, instinctive rebellion. Stamping your foot will not bring about change. I agree that it needs real activity involving collectives in physical reality. I am saying that I believe most revolutionary politics starts from the wrong point – i.e. the transcendent desire to build a certain world, rather than the immanent desire to see a certain project – the creation of a free space -succeed.

This is one monumental advantage anarchism (and autonomism) has over other forms of communism, the desire to create a different world, and a different way of interacting, in the here and now. This is the thrust of my argument: the Gnostics preached that the kingdom heaven is on earth and we should enjoy it now, rather than wait for ‘pie in the sky when we die by and by’ – in the same way, we shouldn’t wait till ‘after the revolution’ to begin living differently. We need to claw back alternative spaces for ourselves where ever we can.

Free spaces can be won, defended, and then linked with other free spaces, and part of our ‘job’ is looking for places we can get involved in this kind of alternative and extend it.

But we need to also look outside the rather small universe inhabited by the Old Left.

The mass organisation is what fucks the revolution up. Every time in history when there has been a mass, spontaneous uprising, it has failed when some fucking busy bodies have got up and said: “OK comrades, well done, this is what your revolution means, this is where it should be going” – and in some way or another, directs or assumes some control over the situation.

Remember that one of the most auspicious uprisings in history, Paris 1968, was started by horny students protesting about not being allowed to have girls in their rooms – proof that humanity’s urge to revolt can be triggered by anything, including ideas we may see as sub-revolutionary. Of course there were material conditions as well – there always are – but it is almost impossible to tell what will spark the fire. History shows, I believe, that whenever there is a mass uprising, the first response of organised revolutionaries is generally “what the fuck just happened?”

After a few days, when they are able to contort reality sufficiently to suit their theories, the revolutionaries “intervene”, and create a narrative about the uprising. While I believe that developing an anarchist narrative is infinitely better than having a Trot one, I still find it limiting. Those who rise up did not do so because they are anarchists, but simply because, on the spur of the moment, they said “fuck this shit, I don’t want to live like this anymore”. Then some revolutionary comes along and “explains” the meaning of the uprising.

The uprising has its own meaning and logic, and people will form “mass organisations” as and when they need them – and those with well-grounded, coherent anarchist-communist politics should be very much part of those people’s assemblies (or whatever they are), arguing not for platformist politics but for the continued removal of all barriers to freedom.

I believe that as soon as you take that spontaneous energy and try to channel it – by coercion if you’re a Leninist, by persuasion if you’re an anarchist, you are in grave danger of oversimplifying what has happened to the extent of destroying it.

Remember that organised politics is what destroyed Paris 1968 – the Socialist and Communist parties and unions – which too many people still had illusions in – essentially said “thanks for the revolution comrades, we’ll run it from here” – and promptly sold it out.

Of course, anarchists will argue that this is a problem with those specific political parties, and they will be right. But every revolutionary group I have ever encountered – anarchist, Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist or other – has claimed, essentially, that history would be different if “we” (or sufficient people with our ideas) were there. So platformists will claim that Paris 1968 would not have failed had there been a large platformist organisation, and the Trots will say the same about a vanguard party.

In the end, though, you can’t know that. The problem for me is not the politics involved, but the annoying habit of humans to give over responsibility for their lives to others. As I say in my last two paragraphs:

“And so the problem is the refusal of people to maintain control over their lives. People wake up from their trance of subservience, seize the day, shape and create reality in the image of their desires – and then abdicate the throne in favour of chosen administrators who are mandated to manage reality on their behalf. They want to go back to their soap operas.

This will always be doomed to failure. You cannot take your freedom and power, and then give it to someone else to look after for you. Once you have grasped the world in both hands and forced it to change its shape, you need to maintain the responsibility and be fully present in your life from now on until forever. No more switching off. The revolution demands your full attention. Begin to live like a communist now, like a genuine free-range human, and the world you dream of will be born around you.”

So while I believe platformist ideas are much better than other ‘brands’ of revolution, I don’t see them as being sufficient to counter the problem of people abdicating responsibility. There is far too much to a human being to try and channel all our desires into one direction. I believe that we should rather work towards the awakening and self-actualisation of the multitude: let each individual manage his or her own personal revolution in his or her space: home, work, relationship etc. This will have a ripple effect that will be truly anarchist, because they’ll be no kids in black running around saying what is and is not anarchist. We are social beings. We will work together, and create the means to do so.

I don’t reject class struggle, I reject the assumption that it will take (or need to take) a specific form, as I believe this limits its potential to actually manifest.

I don’t believe it is possible to have, and maintain, a political revolution without the personal revolution as well. I believe that the oppression we see in the material world is a mirror of our own psyches, our oedipalised, schizophrenic souls. For me ‘The Revolution’ is about finding ways for all human beings to liberate all of themselves. The most obvious way to do this seems to me to encourage people to follow their deepest desires no matter what. If you try to follow you desire, pretty soon – like within one twentieth of a second – you are going to come up against the oppressive mechanism of society. What you want to do will either be illegal, or will cause you to be shunned – and this will take you on a path towards “making kaputt what makes you kaputt”.

The challenge is for people – whether or not they are part of that minority which is actually still in the industrialised working class, and not outsourced, unemployed or self employed selling sweets on the train – to refuse to accept any obstacle to the realisation of their desires.

Obviously there will be contradictions resulting in conflict. The obvious lesson to be learnt from this is that it is impossible for us to realise our desires alone – we don’t have the power. Then we will need to work with others on projects, which will look very like the ‘mass organisation’ m. speaks of. We will need housing committees, defence committees, whatever, and they will need to be organised democratically or by consensus to deal with real, practical, day to day facts on the ground. I don’t dispute this. I just find all politics too limiting, and I believe most others do as well – which is why most people are essentially apolitical.

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