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In The Open Air - Notes on repression and related matters

Wednesday 25 June 2008

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The notes that follow spring from a need: that of reflecting together
on the current situation with the aim of finding the thread of
a possible perspective. They are the fruit of various discussions in
which the critical balance of past experience, the dissatisfaction
with endeavors of struggle now going on and hope for existing potentialities
blended together. They are not the line of one group in
competition with another. Nor do they have any pretense or illusion
of filling the voids – of life and projectual passion – with any more
or less formal agreement on a few theses. If they contain unpleasant
critiques, it is not for the sake of advancing them as an end in itself,
but rather because I believe that it is still necessary to say unpleasant
things. Like all the words in this world, they will only find an
echo in those who feel a similar need. In short, a small basis for discussion
in order to reach an understanding of what we can do, and
with whom.

« We must abandon all models, and study our possibilities. » –E. A. Poe.

We know from experience that one of the greatest powers of repression
is that of spreading confusion and instilling distrust in others
as well as in ourselves, or else of determining rigid attachments
to identity and more or less paralyzing suspicions. In this sense, it
would be best to examine certain problems in depth as soon as possible.
Difficult years lie ahead that will shake up many of our mental
and practical habits. If it is true that the most dangerous prejudice
is that of thinking one has none, I would still prefer that these
notes get criticized for what they say, without preconceived interpretations.
Such a desire will explain their tone and even their style.

An Uninhabitable House

The condition in which we find ourselves seem to me to be that
of someone who barricades herself inside four walls in order to defend
a space in which no one has any desire to live. So much discussion
of opening out, of expansion, of alliance, hides the fact that
we are defending a tumbledown house in an uninhabitable
neighborhood. It seems to me that the only way out is to set fire to
the defense posts and go out into the open air, shaking off the moldy
odor. But what does this mean beyond the metaphor?

The age in which we live is so lavish with disruption that our
very capacity to interpret, and still more, prefigure events is collapsing beneath the rubble. If this is valid for all revolutionaries, the visions
of the world and of life based on authoritarian and quantitative
models have come out in particularly bad shape. The more or less
knowing managers of other people’s struggles manage only useless
political representations of already pacified conflicts; the struggles
that burst through pacification don’t leave any space for managers.
The illusion of the party – in all its variants – is now the corpse of
an illusion.

The spreading out, aligning and breaking up of forces on the
field, in small as well as great conflicts, becomes increasingly mysterious.
The thing that has always been our distinctive trait – a nonhomogenous,
non-cumulative vision of force, a repugnance for the
dictatorship of the Number – corresponds in part to the current social
conditions and to the unpredictable possibilities for rupture that
these conceal. From the transformation of the ruling order itself –
through its network of structures, technologies and knowledge – to
events like the guerrilla struggle going on in Iraq, we can draw
some lessons. It seems clear that conflicts occur less and less in the
form of the confrontation between two armies or fronts, and more
and more in the form of a myriad of widespread and uncontrollable
actions. A ruling order made of thousands of centers of vital points
pushes its enemies to make themselves more unpredictable. Thus, a
non-centralized way of conceiving actions and relationships is not
only more libertarian, but also more effective against the nets of
control. If such an awareness exists on a theoretical level, we don’t
always manage to maintain it in practical proposals. On the one
hand, we affirm that power is not a general headquarters (but rather
a social relationship), but on the other hand we propose endeavors
that depict it as just that. I think that we have to start seeking the
forms of action most fitting to our characteristics, to our (quantitative
and qualitative) strengths. Unfortunately, we still think that acting
in small groups must necessarily mean acting in isolation. This
is why, in the face of the arrest of comrades and the more general
increase of repression, the usual proposals always come out: the
rally, the march, etc. Of course, it isn’t a matter of criticizing these
forms of action as such, but the mentality that usually goes along
with them. In certain contexts – at present, particularly, local ones –,
the march or rally might have their meaning as part of a series of
endeavors. But when this weaving together of various forms of actions
is lacking, and especially when we are thinking within the narrow
circle of comrades, I think that repeating certain models ends up creating a sense of powerlessness and reproducing the wellknown
mechanism of more or less militant set dates. Here as well,
there is a need for fresh air. Even by organizing with a hundred, if
we want, we can intervene in interesting ways in rather huge
marches. But if there are just a hundred and that is all, let’s ask, why
a march? What can a hundred comrades do in a city where they
know the key points well? What do all the struggles going on
around the world that are rediscovering a passionate and potentially
subversive use of the blockade have to teach us?

Many have become aware that the problem of repression cannot
be reduced to the sphere of revolutionaries. Repression – both direct
and indirect – involves ever broader portions of the population. It is
the response of a ruling order that feels the earth slipping under its
feet, aware of how wide the gap between general dissatisfaction and
the capacities of its historical servants (the parties and unions) is becoming.
Without looking into the reasons for all this here, it is
enough to say that subversives speak so much about prisons because
it is so much easier to end up inside, and at the same time, they feel
the need not to limit themselves, within the totality of life, to the defense
of their arrested comrades. Here problems arise. If we can
only oppose repression as it relates to those on which it falls, then
everyone will defend her own friends and comrades, those with
whom he shares ideas passions and projects – and this is unavoidable.
Solidarity against repression that strikes revolutionaries with
whom we don’t have any affinity has to be quite clearly distinguished
from support for political projects we don’t share that are
downright antithetical to our anti-political desires. Now, the more
we limit the sphere of our endeavors to revolutionaries, the more we
risk precisely giving a hand to reviving authoritarian theories that
are fortunately in ruins. On the other hand, the broader this sphere
is, the easier it seems to be to distinguish the two levels (that of
solidarity against and that of solidarity with, i.e., complicity). It is
therefore rather astonishing that, despite awareness of the social and
universal range of the repressive blade, the “solution” proposed
from most sides is unity of action among … the revolutionary elements.
In this way, we don’t just isolate ourselves from the rest of
the exploited who feel the weight of social control and policing like
us, but we also fool ourselves about an important facet: such “unity
of action” has a price (maybe not immediately if the relationships of
force are favorable, but certainly in the long run). If , instead of one
hundred anarchists, there are one hundred fifty people involved in an endeavor because fifty Marxist-leninists join in, and to accomplish
this, we have to sign manifestoes and flyers written in a relatively
impenetrable jargon, is this really about “expansion”?
Wouldn’t it possibly be more meaningful for even just ten people to
organize an endeavor that confronts problems felt by many and expresses
contents closer to our way of thinking and feeling? As to the
solidarity that relates specifically to comrades inside, quite different
forms exist…

I don’t want this attitude to be interpreted as an “ideological closure”
or as a search for hegemony over other groups. Precisely in
order to avoid reasoning in terms of acronyms, strained ideological
interpretations and formalism, it is best to keep our proposals broad
and clear, without any particular political groups acting as spokespeople,
but rather everyone who feels involved speaking for herself.
After that anyone who wants to participate as an equal among
equals is welcome. If other revolutionaries apply the same methods,
it will benefit everyone. There is an atmosphere of alliance based on
reciprocal favors that I find unbreathable. United fronts, unity of action
among revolutionary forces – quite apart from any specific objective
of struggle in which anyone who was interested could meet
together, whether comrades or not – are a part of the defense of an
uninhabitable house for me. And this, regardless of what fine, correct
or sympathetic people these guys may be. It’s a question of perspective.
Once in response to Bordiga, Malatesta said, “But if, as
these Marxists claim, the difference between us and them is not so
substantial, instead of making us join their committees, why don’t
they come to ours?” Doing things among anarchists, then? Not at
all. Acting on clear foundations, even in small groups, but addressing
all the exploited, all those dissatisfied with this social prison.
And including in what we do and say – whether it’s a struggle
against incinerators, against expulsions or for housing – the problem
of prisons (and thus of our comrades inside). Not juxtaposing and
pasting the “prison question” onto the rest, but rather exposing the
real connections on the basis of common experience. Every
autonomous struggle sooner or later comes up against repression
(whether it faces it openly or retreats in order to avoid it). House
occupations also pose the problem of the police, of the interests they
defend, of ghettoes and jails. Social self-organization is also always
self-defense against repression.

Leaping to the Heart of the Opportunity

In certain respects, we have an opportunity: the opportunity to
intervene in social conflicts – present and to come – without mediation.
If the second-rate followers of authoritarian forces that have
smothered so many subversive drives are down-at-the-heels in
terms of numbers and projects, why should we help them out of
their troubles? Why linger among the mummies when a strong wind
blows? They make political calculations, we do not. In practical experience,
it will be seen who is really for self-organization. We base
ourselves on this.

With the general reformist retreat, the few realities about anticapitalist
and anti-institutional positions are like a fire in the night –
and so the temptation is strong to keep them tightly clasped on one
side of certain barricades. But our strength is not there. Fourier said
that a passion is revolutionary if it brings about an immediate increase
in the enjoyment of life. This seems to me to be the most
trustworthy standard. I know from experience that various young
people have embraced some anarchic realities because they have
discovered that in solidarity and with the courage of one’s ideas,
one lives better. Why? Because the weight of the commodity and of
work is not so heavy if we face it together, because outlaw behavior
is contagious for those who love freedom, because loving relationships
without restraint can be more sincere and fulfilling, because in
the union of thought and action, as Simone Weil said, the pact of the
spirit with the universe is renewed. Here then is the enthusiasm that
should inform our practice – the enthusiasm of thoughtful levity, not
of demeaning frivolity. Because “bringing panic to the surface of
things” is thrilling; because there is no festival without a rupture
with normality. Let’s leave certain words of sad militants to others
and avoid the models that power knows and expects.

We will not manage to get across the river we find ourselves in
now through any single endeavor no matter how good it is. We’d
better say that it will take quite a bit of time. To find real affinity, to
experiment with new articulate and imaginative forms of collective
action, to mock police control, these are possibilities for us to reinvent
amidst thousands of obstacles. One might respond, “Yes, but in
the meantime there are comrades inside, in the meantime, repression
is on our tail.” But isn’t the best thing that we could undertake for
the imprisoned comrades perhaps to make those demands for life
for which they have been locked up become socially dangerous? In this sense it is useless to look into political mirrors that tell us that
we are not nude. Better a conscious nudity than any garment woven
from illusions. Better to start again from scratch, far from the odor
of corpses and the ideological rubbish incomprehensible to the undesirables
of this world.

Thus, from so many sides, there is a need for a strong breach that
brings unheard-of behavior into individual relationships as well as
into the public squares. Not in the dramatic and self-promotional
sense preferred by the sort with an artistic streak – notoriously
corpse-like –, but rather in the sense of a new urgency for life that
affirms itself without shame. There is a need for a class hatred that
does not know what to make of the old complaints, and attacks the
myriad nodes of daily exploitation. There is a need for an ethical
tension that never confuses oppressors and oppressed, and that
doesn’t waste its breath against the slaves of power – because it
seeks to free itself from them, even with violence, but in order to go
beyond. There is a need for a new generosity, armed and resolute,
capable of overturning the shopkeepers’ calculations of our contemporaries,
capable of making contempt for money an individual
and social behavior. In short, there is a need for us to find ways to
express the unbearable reality of this world – of its jobs and its
houses, of its consumption and of its morality – daily, constantly,
insatiably. The social war plays out in our lives, because it is in
daily life that capital weaves its web of alienation, of dependence,
of great and small capitulations. Here is the alpha and omega of all
social subversion.

Don’t Say that We Are Few…

Say only that we are. This is how a famous anti-militarist sticker
from many years ago began. It then went on to say that it was only
some black cloud that darkened the sky. It wasn’t just an artifice of
optimism, but also a real experience.

For several years – at least fifteen – in the anarchist direct action
movement (the one autonomous from the Federation and from syndicalism,
to clarify), there has generally been little attention given to
social conflicts and the more or less significant forms of the selforganization
of the exploited. Aside from the historical reasons (the
great pacification of the 1980’s), this has been due to a problem of
mental attitude. Many comrades who spoke of insurrection – an unquestionably
social event – perceived society as a space inhabited
almost entirely by the servile and the resigned. With such a vision they thus remained suspended between declarations of principle and
their effective experience: undecided with regard to an openly solitary
revolt, slow to open the door to collective possibilities. (Who
knows, maybe this is what gave birth to a certain rancor that spilled
out in the disputes between comrades). Alongside this low sensitivity
toward struggles that break through massification – but that
nonetheless come out of massification – a certain capacity for
autonomous intervention has developed, with a significant spread of
practices of attack against the structures of domination (among them
the nuclear industry, the military, banks, equipment of technological
control and vivisection laboratories). Now something is changing,
as if a confused individual need met with new social conditions –
and from this come the comrades who speak unexpectedly of class
struggle, perhaps even taking on loan interpretations and jargon
from Marxism. It’s just that often, aside from the rhetoric of flyers,
their vision of society has remained the same: in short, that we are
surrounded on all sides by accomplices of power. I believe that a
lack of experience in directly lived and incited social struggles plays
a major role in all this. Some local attempts have existed without yet
reaching those instructive difficulties typical of expanded conflicts.
Once again, we are at a crossing. Some practical reflection has been
born on the basis of various blockades carried out by workers and
others. Many of us have thrown ourselves into it, asking much more
of these struggles than what they could express – safe then to turn
around and complain of the servility of the exploited. Other occasions
will not be lacking, nor perhaps will a greater attention on our
part be missing. But that isn’t enough.

I think that this is not at all the time for abandoning the taste for
direct action, still in small groups. It’s just that this should be better
linked to social contexts, to perceivable dissatisfaction. How many
opportunities have we lost (after Genoa, during the blockades of the
death trains, after Nassiriya, during the tragedy of Cap Anamur,
etc.)? Time is the element in which human beings live, and revolt is
made of opportunities. We will have to study our possibilities better,
instead of chasing our tails. Obviously, there have been a few
noble exceptions (various actions after Genoa, others against biotechnology
or the mechanisms of expulsions, some sabotage against
the war, etc.), but they have been sporadic, surrounded by the
clamor provoked by useless rhetoric, by proclamations thrown into
the wind and by a practical (and ethical) distinction utterly lacking
in clarity about who the enemies are. Precisely at a time when this clarity is necessary in the face of the indiscriminate violence that
more and more often takes over in the moments of resistance and
potential liberation of the damned of the earth. Those who continually
repeat that the best theory is practice, but then leave much of
what they do up to chance, particularly need this clarity. Maybe,
blinded by the special effects of the spectacle, we either have too
little trust in the consequences of our actions (allowing ourselves to
get sloppy), or else we exaggerate their importance (allowing ourselves
to be caught up in media illusions). There are effects that go
on producing their causes.

The Great Game

It seems to me that the great game lies in the capacity for uniting
a certain amount of daily daring (disrupting social normality is possible
everywhere, from public debates to fairs of consumption and
cultural stupefaction, from work to the paranoia of control) with the
readiness to act when moment is opportune. In order to be catalysts
of the joy of living, and not Cassandras of the future capitalist collapse.
Because anonymous and destructive action expresses the construction
of a life that is not anonymous. Too vague? Of course, and
it cannot be otherwise. Being the most serious of games, the match
concerns everyone of us. Difficulties most certainly exist, considering
the progressive loss of autonomous spaces, tragically eroded by
the present social system and its many technological narcotics. And
yet, the limits are often, above all, in our resoluteness and our
imagination, weighed down as we are by the burden of habit in gestures,
words and relationships. A wider encounter between various
local realities will be come to be from respective autonomous pathways
in thought and in struggle, not from an adding up of forces
dictated by urgency. Then discussion will not be a motionless dance
of set phrases, but rather the opportunity for learning from one another,
for finally making the ways of living, i.e., the mutual worlds,
communicate. Then, confidence and enthusiasm will be found
again, and something resembling a common experience will be

Revolt is where levity and rigor meet.

A friend of Ludd,
September 2004.