Rethinking Anarchism


Alienation and Commitment
June 6, 2010, 5:25 am
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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.