Rethinking Anarchism

Alienation and Commitment
June 6, 2010, 5:25 am
Filed under: Random Shit, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been reading John Reed’s “Ten Days that Shook the World.” There is a preface to the mid-1960s edition I am reading that describes the alienation Reed felt as an upper class intellectual who saw the horrors of war and exploitation that undergird the peace, prosperity, and happiness of the possessing classes. Alienated from the community of the bourgeoisie, he found a place in the movement of the workers against their oppression. Today, some might say he ‘bore witness’ or ‘accompanied’ the oppressed in their struggles. Reed overcame alienation through commitment to the cause of the proletariat, pursuing this commitment to an early death. He is buried in Red Square in Moscow.

Almost 100 years after the October Revolution, the world is still in the hands of a bloodthirsty and greedy capitalist minority. Their rule is now entirely global. The geographic breadth of the reign of the bourgeoisie’s reign is complemented by the depth of their cultural hegemony. The specter of communism still haunts the world. but it has been reduced to just that- a spectral apparition appearing only faintly, washed out by capital’s brilliant projection of itself as an eternal Reich.

The situation is basically hopeless. The proletariat is nowhere to be seen. I wish I could say otherwise, but there have been no large, serious autonomous workers movements in the US since before World War II. There have been occasional ruptures, even up to the present with the May Day 2006 marches for immigrant rights, but nothing stays. The movement does not grow, the struggles do not intensify, even as the horrors of global capitalism become even more horrific. The situation is alienating in the extreme.

In the face of total alienation from the mediated bourgeois society, some seek to create a kind of “community” with vegan potlucks, radical community meetings, countercultural bike collectives, and worker co-ops. The contrived “communities” of the radical left are merely the mirror image of the alienated “community” of the commodity society. The radical left seeks to elevate community as a value in itself, severed from any rooting in a material base. By attempting to overcome alienation, the ‘radical community’ succeeds only in commodifying, and thereby alienating, the concept of “community” itself. There is no way out. We are in the desert of advanced capitalism.

What flower can grow in this desert? We need forms of organization and modes of struggle that can flourish and thrive in these toxic sands. Such forms can only be derived from the proletarian struggle itself. We must scatter our seeds on the most fertile ground, the substrate upon which capital reproduces itself must also be the ground upon which we build the struggle.

The task of revolutionaries today is to take on the most difficult tasks- to accept total alienation , to go into the desert and seek to put down roots amongst the exploited and oppressed masses to participate in and build the struggle. From our alienation must come our commitment to build the workers movement. If there is any happiness to be found on this earth, it can only be in the struggle.

Obsolete Lenin
October 14, 2009, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I have four jobs- two in the fast food industry, one in a large multinational clothing retailer, and another as a substitute teacher. On my way to work today, I was thinking about the different flavors of alienation I have to look forward to. First, I will have to “manage” classrooms of children for eight hours. I have to follow a lesson plan set out by another teacher and approved by the state. But despite the drawbacks, teaching will be the easiestand best-paying job I will do all week. I will get several breaks, including a full paid hour for lunch. I can use the computer while at work. In fact, I’m writing this while on the clock right now.

After my day of substitute teaching, I’ll head to a fast food restaurant for a second full shift. At the restaurant, I’ll work on an assembly line, closely monitored and supervised by management, unable to answer my phone and confined to a ten-sq. foot area for eight hours. I will be physically and emotionally exhausted by the time I get home at the end of the day.

It seems to me that each of these types of work will give rise to different kinds of demands stemming from the particular nature of the alienation workers in each industry confront. Fast food workers are alienated at an intellectual level and a physical level. We have to produce emotion and feeling on the demand for customers. In addition, our bodies are put to work, our motions Taylorized down to the last twitch.

Teachers face a much more subtle alienation. Teachers are forced to “teach to tests” and stick to state-sanctioned curriculum. They are alienated from the students they teach, who confront them as alien objects that must be controlled and somehow brought to reproduce state-sanctioned knowledge. The alienation of teachers is primarily at an intellectual level.

Lenin claimed that socialist consciousness would have to come to the working class from outside because workers would only be able to advance to “trade union” consciousness, making “economistic” demands on their own. However, I think there is a tendency for the demands of workers to become more inherently “political” and less “economistic” as capitalism advances. How can a teacher make a demand without calling into question the legitimacy of the state’s plan?

I believe all workers should organize. However, I think it is worth noting that as workers refuse to perform the most alienating types of labor or as technology makes these jobs obsolete, most workers will face circumstances that are alienating on a more intellectual than physical level. As capitalism advances, every demand will be a demand for workers power, since every demand will be a refusal of capital’s right to manage the social factory. Similarly, as capitalism seeks to manage its crisis, the power of the state has become increasingly interwoven with the power of the bosses on the shop floor. The economic has become political, the political has become economic. Lenin is obsolete.