Archives for category: anarchist thinkers
occupy the ballot?

A blog post by Nate from http://www.libcom.org. This blog post raises some questions posed by the election of Kshama Sawant to Seattle City Council and related developments, questions for people who are pro- and who are anti- this kind of electoral effort.

Some of my friends and comrades have written about the election of Kshama Sawant to Seattle City Council and related developments, here and here. I wrote this because I want to think some more about this election and many leftists’ response to it. It seems to me there are two basic reactions by people on the left. Some people see important possibilities in efforts to elect candidates like Sawant – I’ll call these people electoral optimists, and some people don’t see such possibilities – I’ll call these people electoral pessimists. I have the pessimistic response. The normal functions of the capitalist state will only ever result in creating or maintaining some version of capitalism. As such, I think electoral optimists are mistaken in their belief that they can still use the state for worthwhile radical political purposes in a non-revolutionary time.

That said, I think we should discuss this across different positions on the left. One of the unfortunate aspects of the left is that it’s hard to have conversations about these issues across different political perspectives. A lot of people on the left tend to limit who they talk with about these issues, talking about this stuff mostly with people they agree with. In some cases, comrades are in organizations that deliberately restrict who and how their members discuss ideas like this, which is very unfortunate. (This is one of many problems with democratic centralism.) It’s also hard to discuss these issues because of the short term stakes: the need to win an election can crowd out any discussion of the issues involved. I know some of my friends who have expressed skeptical views have had people get frustrated with them for expressing the skepticism, because it can detract from the effort to win these elections. That’s very unfortunate, and we should discuss this stuff anyway.

For the electoral optimists, above all, I want to ask you: comrades, what are your goals? Where do you think all of this is going? And what do you think will accomplish aside from your goals? After all, as Marx put it, people make history but not in the manner of our own choosing: most human efforts produce effects beyond those we want and intend. How will you deal with those additional effects? What’s your plan? I don’t know the answer to these questions, and I would like to. I also am very interested in hearing what ideas and writings inform your thinking on these matters. We come from different experiences of political traditions and organizations, so some references that may be obvious to you are not obvious to me. So, if I want to understand your outlook, are there things I should read?

For my fellow electoral pessimists, I think we have some work to do as well, to better articulate the reasons for our pessimism and our arguments as to why others should share our pessimism. I should add, I’m a state pessimist generally. I’m suspicious of the idea that the state can be used for any emancipatory political purposes. At the same time, I’m not sure I know how to articulate this in a way that will convince people who are optimistic about the state. I also think that there are important differences in the particulars – being optimistic about elections in the capitalist state in non-revolutionary times is different from being optimistic about, say, seizing state power in revolution, or being optimistic about the possibilities for a good
society to exist after a revolution while still having a state. These are related issues, but different ones, and I would most like to discuss the issue of electoralism. I think too often some of us rely on criticisms of other scenarios in order to criticize elections, as if a criticism of the direct seizure of state power automatically does all the work of a criticism of electoral participation. (I should also add, I may mostly be reflecting the gaps in my own reading and thinking here and unfairly attributing those failures to others. If so – someone school me!)

Anyway, for my fellow electoral and state pessimists, I would like to know, how do you argue for your pessimism? What do you recommend people read on this? My own views on this are primarily informed by various marxists who are skeptical about the state (I particularly like the short discussion of the capitalist state in Michael Heinrich’s recently translated book) and by parts of volume 1 of Marx’s Capital. I’m interested in other comrades’ go-to ideas on how to understand the state. I also think we should gather up as many of the current and historical arguments we can find that argue in favor of radicals pursuing elections in the capitalist state as a tactic, in order to evaluate and respond to those arguments. (I touch on these themes in some other blog posts, like “Workers, the state, and struggle,” and “Navigating negotiations.”)

In the rest of this post, I lay out two general theoretical points about the capitalist state and the state in general. I argue first that people who try to make use of the state will find that they end up becoming different people as a result of their efforts. I then talk about what I think is the general role of the state in capitalist society.

As far as I can tell, the comrades I’ve called electoral optimists believe it is possible to make some kind of politically worthwhile use of the capitalist state at a time like today, when there’s not a revolution happening. That’s what I want to talk about, which means I’m not going to talk about the relationship between states and ongoing revolutions, ideas about revolutionary states, or ideas about states after the revolution. Those are important ideas that are worth discussing but they’re not my topic here.

The State As Tool And As Activity

When politicians and state institutions use phrases like “we, the people” and “the public” and so on, those phrases are supposed to make it sound like the state represents everyone’s interests and is basically neutral. People on the left are relatively good at seeing through those kinds of claims about the neutrality of the state. As Engels put it, the state is “the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class.” Leftists tend to agree with Engels’s basic assessment, but tend to disagree on some important details.

A key area of disagreement among leftists is about using the state to accomplish political goals. The idea of using the state implies that the state is a tool people can use. It’s a thing which can be picked up and put down, or a place which can be occupied. That understanding makes sense. At the same time, there is another important understanding of the state: the state is an activity, many activities, actually. That is, the state is a social practice, a social relationship. This phrasing sounds awkward, but in a way, the state is something people do: people do the state, people act the state, the state is a collection of processes that people do.

The idea that the state is a thing that can be used is sometimes called the instrumentalist idea of the state, the idea that the state is just a tool to make use of. From that perspective, the state is used by the capitalist class to accomplish its goals. In his recently translated introduction to Marx’s Capital, Marxist economist Michael Heinrich writes that it is definitely true that parts of the capitalist class sometimes succeed in using the state for their purposes. “The question,” Heinrich asks,” is whether or not this gets at “the fundamental characteristics of the modern bourgeois state.” Heinrich answers no. The idea of the state as an instrument focuses only on “the particular application of the state” but neglects the state as a kind of social relationship and social practice.

A narrow focus on what Heinrich calls the application of the state instead of thinking of the state as a social practice leads some leftists to neglect at least two important aspects of the state that I want to highlight here. First, it neglects the effects of doing state activity on the people who do that activity. Second, it neglects the relationship between state activities and the maintenance of capitalism.

Making Use of the State Makes You A Different Person

Doing state activity shapes the person doing that activity. Who we are is partly the result of what we do. For example, workers bodies are shaped by the work we perform, and our emotions and ideas are shaped by the experiences of taking orders and in some cases giving orders to others. (We are also shaped by our experiences of race, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of social life.) Capitalists are similarly shaped by being capitalists: their experiences and activities shape their consciousness and their way of being in the world – shape who they are as people.

Imagine that a sincere radical won the lottery, then used that money to buy a factory. Would that person’s ideas and outlook change as a result of their new social position and their new experiences? It seems very likely. At the least, they would face pressures to be a different person and would face difficult decisions about what kind of person they want to be. If they prioritized their financial interests as a factory owner, they would become a different person. The same thing happens at a smaller level: workers who get promoted to positions at work where they are supervisors and managers begin to become different people as a result of their new experiences of giving orders and facing resistance to their orders. (Or, again, they at least face pressures to become different people, and hard choices about what kind of person they want to be, being pulled between their priorities and interests as a boss and their other values and commitments. This is part of why leftist bosses in union drives tend to act basically like any other boss. The realization that they are acting basically like any other boss, and so are not living up to the person they want to be, tends to be unpleasant for them and is a realization they often try to hide from.) The same thing happens to workers who become small business owners and/or landlords.

What do we expect will happen when leftists become part of the state? I think we can expect the same sort of results, and I think the historical record supports this. When leftists become state personnel, they eventually become different people. Or at least, when leftists become state personnel they face pressures and have to make decisions about what kind of person to be, and it is very difficult to not become at least a somewhat different person as a result. These dynamics are more intense the more decision-making power someone has within the state. I can imagine a response which says “Yes, when we become part of the state, we take these risks, because being a radical means taking risks and making unpleasant choices.” That’s fair. But I wonder, what is the plan, comrades, for those of you who seek to be part of the state or who seek to help another comrade become part of the state? How will you deal with these transformations or pressures to transform who you and your comrade are as a person? The idea that we can become part of the state without becoming different people strikes me as utopian, just as utopian as saying we can become capitalists or landlords or police without becoming different people. People who seek to use the state to accomplish radical goals will very likely find that they become different people as a result. Making use of the state eventually makes you a different person.

Capitalists And The State, Production and Reproduction

The idea of using the state to accomplish leftist political goals tends to involve some understanding that the current state favors some groups over others. Leftists efforts to use the state involve forcing the state to change how much it favors different groups. As Michael Heinrich puts it, “the instrumentalist conception of the state usually leads to the demand for an alternative use of the state: the claim of common welfare should finally be taken seriously and the interests of other class more strongly taken into consideration.” The idea that the capitalist state can be used for radical political purposes outside of revolutionary times seems to involve this kind of understanding of the state: under the right circumstances, the state can be used for other purposes than just serving capitalists’ interests.

Above all, the role of the state in capitalist society is to keep society capitalist. As Engels put it, the state is the “ideal personification” of the capitalist class. As Michael Heinrich puts it, this means the state serves the general interest in capitalist society, which means a specifically capitalist version of the general interest, or the general interest of the capitalist class. That does not mean all capitalists get what they want. That doesn’t necessarily even mean that any capitalists get what they want. The capitalist class’s most basic interest is that it continue to exist as a class, which is to say, the capitalist class’s most basic interest as a class is that our society remain capitalist. That continued existence of capitalism explains why the state sometimes acts in opposition to the desires or interests of particular groups of capitalists.

Capitalists tend to focus on their own short-term interests. They are not automatically class conscious, nor are they automatically loyal to their class. Just as some workers will sometimes betray each other and their class by serving as scabs and police informants or by otherwise harming other working class people, similarly sometimes individual capitalists will harm other capitalists and the capitalist class as a whole. Indeed, capitalists have to compete with each other as part of their class position, and this competition pushes against capitalist class consciousness and class loyalty. This also means that individual capitalists or groups of don’t necessarily seek to preserve capitalism as a whole. The current threats to our planet’s environment illustrate this: if climate change gets too intense, we face some terrifying potential futures. This is in part the result of the petrochemical industries. Those capitalists profit greatly through actions that threaten other capitalists and perhaps the continued existence of the capitalist class as a whole.

The possibility of ecological devastation is an example of some capitalists threatening the conditions that make capitalism possible. One of the most basic conditions for capitalism to exist is the existence of the working class. Capitalists pay workers to produce goods and services which belong to the capitalists. Capitalists sell those goods and services. Workers get a portion of the value of what they produce. Workers’ portion is smaller than what we contributed. That difference is what Marx called surplus value. Surplus value is key to capitalism, and our labor is what produces surplus value. No workers, no surplus value, and so no capitalism. Each capitalist enterprise is largely focused on the continued production of surplus value at their enterprise and is less focused on maintaing the overall conditions for the existence of capitalism. This is where the state comes in. The state’s role is reproductive. The state helps maintain and reproduce capitalism. The state helps make sure that capitalist production can continue. The state’s role is to prevent capitalist production from undermining the reproduction of capitalist society. The state is in part an institution for introducing some measure of planning into capitalist society.

If left unchecked, individual capitalists and groups of capitalists tend to threaten the reproduction of capitalism. And so, the reproduction of capitalism requires some control over capitalist production. This is part of the state’s role, to govern capitalist production in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole and in the interest of society continuing to be capitalist society. This is part of why we have laws like social security, workers compensation, food stamps, limits on work hours, occupational safety and health regulations, and so on. As Heinrich puts it, these laws “limit capital’s possibilities (…) but secure them in the long term.” That is, these kinds of laws restrict individual capitalists and groups of capitalists, in order to preserve the existence of capitalism. Individual capitalists and groups of capitalists tend to see these kinds of laws as a limit on them and a cost for them, and they often oppose these kinds of laws. This is part of why it often takes social struggles to create these kinds of laws which improve aspects of workers’ lives under capitalism. This does not mean such improvements are necessarily steps toward ending capitalism. In chapter 10 of Capital, Marx describes the English Factory Acts as greatly improving the lives of the English working class by reducing work hours. English capitalists greatly opposed these laws, and they lost. And these laws improving workers’ lives pushed English capitalism into an even more profitable form. Marx describes these laws as helping cause a shift from capital accumulation based on what he called absolute surplus value, meaning extension of work time, to accumulation based on what he called relative surplus value, the intensification of labor productivity. That is, what may seem to individual capitalists like a limitation can eventually result in higher profits for capitalists over all, and not just a limitation imposed for the sake of capitalism’s long-term health.

I think this is one possible role that radical involved in efforts like the Sawant election could end up playing. Radicals don’t care about capitalists and their interests. This indifference to capitalists means that radicals are willing to push through limits on current capitalists. Which is to say, radicals in political office are willing to rise above the particular and current interests of individual capitalists and groups of capitalists and to act in line with a larger general interest. In my view, though, this larger interest is always and only going to be a version of the capitalist general interest, at least when exercised through legitimate political offices in the capitalist state. Mamos from Black Orchid Collective refers to “capitalism’s shock absorbers,” which refers to the institutions that govern society in the interests of capitalism. Mamos argues that what made the Sawant election possible is the thinning out of those shock absorbers. I agree with that. I also think, though, that the Sawant election and similar efforts could result in a renewal of existing shock absorbers or the creation of new ones. This is not because of the individual intentions or sincerity or political outlook of the people involved, it’s just what results from the state.

To put the point abstractly: the capitalist state is a set of institutions that organizes the capitalist class and the working class as interest groups within capitalism, that regulates the specific forms of social relations in capitalist society, and that maintains society as capitalist society. The capitalist state is only ever going to produce some version of capitalist society. Individual state personnel having radical ideas will not change that. If anything, state personnel with radical ideas might ultimately improve capitalism, because those radical ideas will help state personnel disregard any particular capitalists’ interests, but the result will
be only a different capitalism.

Meaningful work: an appeal to the young

An article by Scott Nappalos about meaning in choosing employment, from Libcom.org.

From the time I was a child, I was told to follow my dreams and do something I truly loved. Granted I rarely met an adult who was passionate about their work, but they seemed sincere in their desire for others to take that path. The advice of course usually had a piece of bitterness attached to it. As I came of age, the terrain didn’t look pretty. Most of my personal passions were deserts for employment. Nor did I really know anyone who was living the dream, so to speak, at work. My path began from leaving that advice behind.

Society is littered with talk of meaningful work. The creative class, jobs that means something, doing something with one’s life, work that matters, helping people; we’re inundated with phrases, words, and images that describe our poverty and the future that we are supposed to aspire to.

It’s actually worse for people who commit themselves to making radical change in society. A confluence of pressures pushes down on them year after year through family wondering when they will grow up, friends perpetually moving on to something better, and a gnawing sense of wasted potential. Why bother with the endless meetings, the mindless work, and for what?

Unless you’re born into a situation where work is unnecessary, nearly everyone experiences the modern workplace. Service work in particular serves as a stark reminder of reality and alternatives. The unending drudgery of task after task slinging fatty coffee that literally poisons people’s health, selling useless items created on the backs of abused workers elsewhere, cardboard boxes rolling down the line that just keep coming and coming, forcing a smile when we are cursed at or harassed; Nearly everyone has been forced to participate in the bitterness of having our time stolen. It’s perhaps harder to bare for those who know the widest extent of the misery of humanity and understand how preventable it all is.

The sense of meaninglessness in jobs is a strong current in society. Tv shows, films, music, and other forms of pop culture repeat the comedy, frustration, and depression of spending one’s time on tasks that seem pointless. This isn’t to say that people’s jobs don’t make a difference. Many things we do keep society running and contributes to the social good. The meaninglessness of work in today’s society arises out of the reflection of workers that their time is not really benefiting the people they serve or advancing them as people. As a healthcare worker I can see both sides of this. Obviously healthcare is crucial for societies. At the same time any hospital worker can recognize how it is that the healthcare system not only harms people, but also in general contributes to people staying sick. Meaning is something deeper than just keeping the gears moving and helping our fellow human beings. Meaning is about where we are headed and who we are. This is where youth get squeezed and falter.

Modern capitalism with its base of debt makes everything seem possible. The compulsion to put food on the table is softened by easy credit. We can go back to school, live on credit cards, travel to cheap places, and find means to delay work enough to get by. Young people accumulate useless degrees and insane debts while deferring the future and often slipping into the delusions of jobs that simply do not exist. Choosing what to do with our lives takes on the characteristic of other more banal decisions. We are shopping for an ethical product. Validation stands at the core of this, and plays off the fear of a wasted life, idle efforts, and ending up trapped chasing false ideals. What to tell worried parents who watched their child squander what chances they had for material success? It is better to say that one is employed fighting poverty, educating the youth, or some other remix of Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or perhaps Bono.

The problem is that there is no escape. Professors spend decades moving town to town as itinerant adjuncts teaching the most bland classes, writing mechanical essays in desperation to stay published, and constantly struggling for something more stable. Even at it’s best, University life leaves less time for liberatory thought and action than the part time service worker. Union organizers spend seventy or eighty hour weeks at the service of hostile bureaucracies, and too often find themselves in the position of pimping the Democratic party and selling backroom deals with management to disillusioned workers. NGO staff share the same fate, bending to the will of the funders and forced to represent the interests of the powerful under false flags of social change. Self-employment and cooperatives turn activist efforts into business efforts, and consume more time than any capitalist could ever demand from a job. Good people find themselves lost there, tired of all the worn appearances that hide a rotten structure, yearning to escape too their work and get back to something more authentic.

We need to question and even condemn the pressure on youth to find meaningful work. As long as we live in capitalism, its deep wells will poison all the streams flowing into our cities. With capitalist work, even the most holy pursuit will end up in mindlessness, subservience to stupid management, and in fighting the current trying to make some good out of a hostile situation that constantly tries to undo our efforts. This isn’t to say that some don’t enjoy their jobs. Some do. Yet on the balance, the vast majority can’t find employment that will engage them, and those who do generally must sacrifice the rest of their lives for the privilege. The real question to be raised isn’t whether you should enjoy your job or not, but whether you should dedicate your life to work. Or better, what is the relation of living to working?

This logic should be turned on its head. It’s not what we’re employed doing that should define, validate, or give meaning to our lives; it’s our life itself that does. How much brighter does the future look to liberate oneself from the oppressive concept of boundless sacrifice to meaningful jobs? Why shouldn’t youth seek to maximize their lives against this work? There are other roads open to us. We can work, as we must, but can struggle to find the most time for ourselves and our causes. Better we write, protest, organize, and gather in our workplaces on time off, than to cement that relationship into employment or worse into our identities.

Our lives are defined by what we do, not who writes our paychecks. A political life is an attempt to regain a meaningful life. It is a task for all of society, and not monopolized by a special class employed as professional politicians, bureaucrats, and humanitarians. Meaning is not at work, but in the beauty of daily living, in struggling for a better world, and whatever path your desires take you towards. Our joy is not found in simply imposing our will onto the world, but in the happiness that can only be found in fighting for a more just and beautiful world around us. Dedicating oneself to the struggles of others changes you. Within, we must fight to constantly overcome ourselves against the current, a process that can be deeply enriching. The commitment and work of liberation makes all of society our classroom, our workplaces gymnasiums, and our neighborhoods galleries.

Sacco and Vanzetti remind us of the infinite potential and beauty of life even from within the walls of prison. The two Italian anarchist immigrants dedicated their lives to the causes of their class working as a cobbler and a fish peddler respectively. Their sacrifices were more than just in their professions, as they were framed for murder and executed by the state of Massachusetts. The writings of the pair from prison are inspiring not only for their perseverance and insights, but for their joy. Sacco wrote to his son Dante his final letter before his execution, sitting down as we do, to find words for the path life carries us down. Facing his own death and the life of his son in front of him, he wrote

“Don’t cry Dante, because many tears have been wasted, as your mother’s have been wasted for seven years, and never did any good. So, Son, instead of crying, be strong, so as to be able to comfort your mother, and when you want to distract your mother from the discouraging soulness, I will tell you what I used to do. To take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wild flowers her and there, resting under the shade of trees, between the harmony of the vivid stream and the gentle tranquility of the mothernature, and I am sure that she will enjoy this very much, as you surely would be happy for it. But remember always, Dante, in the play of happiness, don’t you use all for yourself only, but down yourself just one step, at your side and help the weak ones that cry for help, help the prosecuted and the victim, because that are your better friends; they are the comrades that fight and fall as your father and Bartolo fought and fell yesterday for the conquest of the joy of freedom for all and the poor workers. In this struggle of life you will find more love and you will be loved.”[1]

In spite of all the sadness that surrounds us and plagues this world. Our daily lives can be the work of love. We do not need titles, positions, or to be taken into service to achieve this work. We only need the commitment to set ourselves to the betterment of all and to dive head in to the struggle against power. Against the monotony and pervasive depression we see, Vanzetti offers this:

“I am convinced that human history has not yet begun; that we find ourselves in the last period of the prehistoric. I see with the eyes of my soul how the sky is suffused with the rays of the new millennium.”[2]

Beyond the horizon of today lie potentials for humanity freed from the artificial constraints of society twisted by the contours of power and wealth. We do not need to imagine paradises, utopias, or that any political movement can solve all of humanity’s problems to see how much more is possible. This is the task of youth today, to constantly push further in practice and expose the expanding vista of human potential.

[1] Sacco, Nicola. 8/18/1927. Letter to Dante Sacco. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/SaccoV/sacltrchar.html

[2] Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The Story of a Proletarian Life. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/bartolomeo-vanzetti-the-story-of-a-proletarian-life

thoughts1

Recently a draft on organization by Juan Conatz—a member of the Twin Cities IWW and former member of the Workers Solidarity Alliance and Wild Rose Collective (USA)—appeared on his new wordpress blog dedicated to unfinished drafts and assorted thought fragments.

The piece is called “Liquidationism” and is some what of a sister piece to his earlier released “Fragmented thoughts on political organization”. The prolific Scott Nappalos has already written a reply here, as has Klas Batalo here.

These are certainly interesting discussions, and are worth reading. Although the context is strongly centred around US organisations, much of what it said can be generalised to Aotearoa. Indeed, Juan’s first post and ensuring discussion on libcom spurned my own initial thoughts of organisation. These expanded into two further posts on the content of my own activity, as opposed to its form (here and here).

I am unsure how I feel about these thoughts now, but with the emergence of POA in Wellington, and with Beyond Resistance exploring new content and form as on organisation, Juan’s new post and the detailed reply by Klas and Scott are very timely.

I hope that comrades here can glean what they can from the discourse.

An article from De Moker, written in 1924.

‘There is in language, words and expressions that we must remove, because they designate concepts which constitute the disastrous and corrupting content of the capitalist system.

Firstly, the word to work (werken) and all the concepts in relations with this word – ‘workman’, ‘worker’, ‘time of work’, ‘salary’, ‘strike’, ‘unemployed worker’, ‘people with nothing to do.’

Work is the greatest affront and the greatest humiliation that humanity has committed against itself. This social system, capitalism is based on work; it has created a class of men who must work – and a class of men who do not work. Workers are compelled to work, otherwise they will die of hunger. ‘Whoever does not work shan’t eat’ profess the owners, who pretend furthermore that calculating and protecting their profits, is also to work.

There is the unemployed and the idle. If the first are without work with no fault of their own, the second simply do not work. The idle are the exploiters, who live on the work of the workers, the unemployed are the workers who are not allowed to work, because no profit can be extracted. The wonders of the apparatus of production have fixed the time of work, have set up workshops and ordered to what and how workers must work.

These only receive enough in order not to die of hunger and are hardly able to nourish their children during their first years. Then these children are instructed at school, just enough so that they can in turn go to work. The owners equally have their children educated so they can also be in charge of workers.

Work is the great curse. It produces men without spirit and without soul.In order to make others work for one’s benefit, one must lack personality, and to work one must also lack personality; one must crawl and traffic, betray, deceive and falsify.For the rich idlers, the work (of the workers) is the means of providing oneself with an easy life. For the workers themselves it is a burden of misery, a bad fate imposed from birth, whch prevents them to live decently.When we will cease to work, then life will start for us.Work is the enemy of life. A good worker is a beast of burden, with rough legs, with a moronic and lifeless glance.When man will become conscious of life, he will never work again.

I not not pretend that one must simply leave one’s boss tomorrow and see later how you will gobble up without working, whilst being convinced that life starts. If one is compelled to be down and out, it is already quite unfortunate. This fact of not working results from then on, in most cases, to live at the expense of comrades who work. If you are capable of earning your living bypillaging and stealing – like the honest citizens say – without being exploited by a boss, well then, go for it; but do not think nevertheless that the great problem is resolved. Work is a social ill. This society is the enemy of life and it is only by destroying it, that all societies of labour which will follow – that is to say by having revolution upon revolution – that work will disappear.It is only then that life will come – the full and rich life – where everyone will be brought, by their pure instincts, to create there, of its own movement, each man will be a creator and will produce exclusively what is beautiful and good; this is what is necessary. Then there will be no more worker-men, then each one will be man; and for vital human need, for internal necessity, each one will create in an inexhaustible manner that which, under all reasonable relations, cover vital needs. Then there will be but life – a grand life – pure and cosmic and the creative passions will be the greatest happiness of human life without constrant, a life where one will no longer be found either by hunger and neither by a salary, either by time or neither by the place, and where one will no longer be exploited by parasites.

To create is an intense joy, to work is an intense suffering. Under the actual criminal social relations, it is not possible to create. All work is criminal. To work is to collaborate, to make profits and to exploit. It is to collaborate to falsification, to deceitfulness, to poisoning, it is to collaborate for the preparations for war, it is to collaborate in the assassination of the entire humanity.

Work destroys life.

If we have well understood this, our life will mean something else. If we feel within ourselves this creative urge, it will be expressed by the destruction of this vile and criminal system. And if, by force of circumstances, we have to work in order not to die of hunger, one must through this work, contribute to the collapse of capitalism.

If we do not work to the collapse of capitalism we work towards the collapse of humanity.

That is why we are going to sabotage consciously each capitalist enterprise. Each boss will bear losses by our act. There, where we, young in revolt, are forced to work, the raw materials, the machines and the products inevitably will be put out of action. At any moment the cogs will go off in the gearing, the knives and the scissors will break, the most indispensable tools will disappear – and we will communicate our recipes and our means.

We do not want to kick the bucket because of capitalism. That is why capitalism must die because of us.

We want to create as free men, not work like slaves; for this reason we are going to destroy the system of slavery. Capitalism exists because of the work of workers; that is why we do not want to be workers and why we are to sabotage work.’

 

About the article

Bibliographical notes: Herman Schuurman (1897 – 1991), the author of the pamphlet ‘Work is a Crime’, was one of the co-founders of the Mokergroep (‘The Sledgehammer Group – a ‘moker’ also called ‘vuist’ [‘fist’] in working slang is a sort of small beetle) which rallied young proletarians who were keen about revolution, very freely organised around the newspaper De Moker which had as a subtitle Opruiend Blad Voor Jonge Arbeiders (Agitation Newspaper for Young Workers) The Mokergroep shook the workers’ and libertarian movement during more than four years, from the end of 1923 to the summer of 1928. The original title of Herman Schuurman’s text wasWerken is Misdaad, de Orkaan (‘The Hurricane’) It was republished by Vitgeverij de Dolle Hond (‘Vitgeverij the Enraged Dog’) in Amsterdam in 1999.

Biographical notes: Other members of the ‘De Moker’ group included:

Anton Constandse (1899 – 1985), he founded the newspaper Alarm. Anarchistisch Maandblad. he was not allowed to work as a teacher because of his police record. When he saw anarchists as ministers in Republican Spain (which he thought was inevitable) he started to doubt the anarchist methods.  He got into Wilhelm Reich and introduced his theories in Holland. He was taken as a hostage by the Nazis with a group of intellectuals, he remained interned during nearly all the war. After the war he became an essayist and journalist.

Jo de Haas (1897 – 1945), was the son of travelling comedians. At the age of fifteen he was ‘sold’ to the navy, from which he deserted in 1917. After ten months in prison, he rejoined the social anarchist youth and founded De Opstandeling (‘The Insurgent’). Very active and a good orator, he used to make propaganda tours on his bike all over the country. In the thirties he converted towards religious anarchism. He was executed by the nazis during the Second World War because of acts of resistance.

Jacob Knap (1903 – 1999) left the Mokergroep in September 1926. During the next ten years, he was active in the movement of Freethinkers. Translator, amongst other things, of the anti-war poems of the German Askar Kanehl, of which some were already published in De Moker. He also wrote a short biography of Fransisco Ferrer.

Klaas Blaw (1901 – 1924) was born into a poor family, in the little village of Wijnjeterp, in Friesland, where the anarchism of Domela Niewenhuis had a foothold. Klaas was this little intelligent and curious guy who had the privelige of having been able to study and become a teacher. But he had understood in the meantime that the existing social system was too hateful to make him take upon himself the responsibility of taming the children of workers according to the ‘norms and values’ compulsory of the epoch. The ‘deserter schoolmaster’ as he defined himself, refused also, of course, to do his national military service. In the course of the summer of 1924 whilst going to a conference during the anti-militarist international association in Wijnejet, he stopped at a friends, where he met with comrades, Herman Schuurman amongst others. There, he showed his new browning, which was not too current in that milieu. Then, by misfortune, the weapon went off and killed him on the spot. He was regarded in great esteem everywhere, and his comrades collected money in order to erect a monument on his tomb, a bas-relief in stone, representing a worker shattering his chains, his face turned towards the sun of a more promising future.

Translated from the French by M. Prigent, February 2009

Fighting for ourselves: Anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle - Solidarity

This excellent book by Solfed aims to recover some of the lost history of the workers’ movement, in order to set out a revolutionary strategy for the present conditions. In clear and accessible prose, the book sets out the anarcho-syndicalist criticisms of political parties and trade unions, engages with other radical traditions such as anarchism, syndicalism and dissident Marxisms, explains what anarcho-syndicalism was in the twentieth century, and how it’s relevant – indeed, vital – for workers today.

You can buy hard copies of Fighting for ourselves for £6 (including p&p) from Freedom Press (UK – £5 in the shop), and for $10+p&p from Thoughtcrime Ink Books (North America). For other countries please contact Solidarity Federation.

Book information
Publisher: Solidarity Federation and Freedom Press (London, UK)
Publication date: Oct 27, 2012
ISBN: 978-1904491200
Paperback: 124 pages.
Dimensions: 210 x 148 x 8mm

Taken from http://www.selfed.org.uk/read/ffo

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